writing a coherent essay. Students should
be able to write smoothly and easily without jerkiness or long pauses. A realistic
benchmark for handwriting speed is to
smoothly and legibly write about 200
words in 15 minutes. If this is not happening, make sure the student is using
correct posture and pen hold (http://
www.doingwhatmatters.com/how-to-hold-a-pen-or-pencil/), and use daily
copywork to increase speed and fluency.
Once the mechanical skills of writing
are in place, it’s time to begin regular
timed writing practices. Because the essay tends to be the most frequently assigned piece of writing in high school
and college, my favorite assignment is
to teach students how to draft an essay
(about 500 words) in thirty minutes or
less. There are five steps to the process:
1. Read and understand the assignment,
the essay prompt, and any supporting
2. Think on paper (brainstorm ideas
with a mind map).
3. Organize ideas.
4. Write the draft.
5. Review and revise.
The first time you present this process
to students, they may protest that it is
impossible to do all five steps in thirty
minutes. Remind them that the SAT essay must be written in just twenty five
minutes, so thirty minutes is actually a
generous allotment of time! Consider
sitting down and writing an essay along
with them if you can manage it. Just having you there can be a tremendous encouragement to them, and it will remind
you of how challenging it is to think and
The Timed Writing Process
These are the prewriting steps (20-25% of
1. Read and understand the assignment.
The student should know exactly what
kind of essay and format (expository,
persuasive, argumentative, compare/
contrast, or other) is expected, and have
access to at least one example of the format. For a timed essay, most of the information you will need comes from the essay prompt. In order to fully understand
the prompt, it can be helpful to copy it at
the top of your paper.
How to Test
• Use lined paper and a pen.
• Set a timer for 15 minutes.
• Have your student copy a text of
• Focus on smooth, steady writing,
• Do not cross out or erase.
• At the end of fifteen minutes,
count words written.
To quickly count words, select a text
passage that can be found online (a
Psalm, poem, essay, or other passage). At the end of fifteen minutes,
copy and paste the portion of text the
student copied into WordCounter
.net. For example, if he copied the
first ten verses of Psalm 103, that
would equal 141 words. If you prefer,
you can obtain a rough word count
by finding the average number of
words per line in the first ten lines,
then multiplying that average by the
total number of lines written.