A Writing Process

1969185955_8add08fc7dMost of the writing advice I see says this:

  1. Think about what you want to write.
  2. Write an outline.
  3. Write out the whole piece.

Is that how you write?

Most students I’ve met don’t write that way. Many people like to think while they write.

I also like to think while I write. I don’t usually outline.

However, my writing tends to have these weaknesses:

  • too long
  • repetitive
  • odd organization
  • it takes a very long time to edit!

I’m starting to think of a better writing process for myself. Maybe it will be useful to you, too:

  1. Free write on the topic for 10 minutes.
    (free writing is just writing all the ideas you can think of as fast as you can)
  2. Use those ideas to build a logical outline.
  3. Write out the whole piece.

What is your process? Are you getting good results?

Listen to Emily read this post. (A new window will open.)

Photo Credit: Marco Arment on Flickr


Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What do you see? What colors? What time? This photo was taken in the USA – what month do you think it was?

Level 2: Use the past tense to describe the photographer’s day. Use clues from the photo to guess what the weather was like, what the photographer did, and how the photographer felt. Write at least 5 sentences.

Level 3: Same as level 2, but use modals to express uncertainty. Write enough details to form a well-organized paragraph.

Creative Writing: Write about this snow storm from the point of view of an outdoor cat. What does the cat notice? Do? Feel confused about?

Academic Writing: How do you feel about snow? Write a five-paragraph essay explaining why you would prefer your future home to have more or less snow than your current home. Be sure to tell how much snow you get these days. Give three different reasons you want more or less snow in your future home. Be careful of your verb tenses in this one!

Photo Credit: thelittleone417 on Flickr

Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1:  What is this? When is it? Write everything you see.

Level 2: Practice using different verb tenses. Write two sentences about what was happening 15 minutes ago. Write two sentences about what is happening right now. Write two sentences about what is going to happen next.

Level 3: Write about a time you watched or played in a soccer game (or another sport). When was it? Was it formal or informal? Fun or awful? Include at least three interesting details. If you have never ever played a sport, write about why and what you did instead.

Creative Writing: Write from the point of view of the coach of one of these teams. Describe a problem s/he has been working on with the team. Through action (not description), show whether the problem is conquered during the game.

Academic Writing: Write an argumentative essay that asserts that soccer is (or is not) the best sport in the world. You will have to define “best” clearly and use supporting examples. If you research facts, cite your sources! Be sure to include one argument your opponents would make and refute it well.

Photo Credit: Florian Cristoph on Flickr

7 Tips for Making the Most of Your Tutoring

Have you ever thought about working with an English tutor?  Are you wondering if it’s really worth the money?

It definitely can be worth the money, but it’s not magic. You can’t just sit at the same table as an English speaker and wait for your English to improve. You need to find the right tutor for you, and you need to participate.

Here are tips for getting the most value out of your private tutoring sessions:

1. Attend Regularly!

Canceling once a month is way too much canceling!

Let’s imagine you have a tutor four times a month for six months. If you cancel once a month, you’ll miss 25% of your sessions. That is a lot of missed opportunities!

2. Arrive On Time

16198597361_3d775d86ddIn the USA, it’s fairly important to usually be on time. 5:00 doesn’t mean “sometime before 5:30.”

Make it a priority to be at your tutoring appointment on time. This way you don’t miss out on any of your tutoring time and you show respect for the tutor and his/her schedule.

My advice for how to be on time: plan to be early. Then if you really do arrive early, you can play a game on your phone in your car while you wait for your appointment time.

3. Take Notes

3503394977_e6a711d1f0Use a three-ring binder with loose leaf paper. This way if your tutor gives you any hand-outs, you can place them in your notebook.

Date every single page, including the year. Keep them in chronological order in your binder.

Take notes as logically as you can. Group together similar ideas on the page. Star or highlight difficult things you want to review later (see the next step).

Paper is cheap, and tutoring is not. Use that paper to help you learn and remember, even if some space is wasted. Better to waste a few inches of paper than a half hour of tutoring.

4. Review Between Sessions

Set a regular calendar reminder for 3-4 days after your regular session. Take out your notebook, glance over what you did, and remember the session. Then go back and really read your notes.

Can you still do what you did during the session? If so, practice it for a few minutes. If not, write down exactly where you’re stumbling.

That’s it! Simple, but very powerful. It helps retention and helps you communicate with your tutor.

5A. Ask for Homework

If you have the time and motivation to do more than just a mid-week review, ask for some homework!

I suggest that you and your tutor both consider homework time in two ways:

Time between sessions. If you can only commit to ten minutes once a week, communicate that. A ten-minute assignment is still valuable practice.

Time during sessions. How much time do you want to spend going over your homework? If you only want to spend five minutes on it, don’t request three essays!

A few ideas for types of homework:

  • practice pronouncing specific difficult words/sounds in the mirror (5 min)
  • record yourself pronouncing five difficult words (15 min)
  • write five thesis statements on different topics (30 min)
  • write five spelling words five times each (10 min)
  • read or watch TV (any amount of time)
  • re-read something specific, circle specific grammar/vocab (30 min)

5B. Do the Homework

2837855969_63e4c584f9_nDon’t wait until it’s convenient! You need a more specific plan to get your homework done each week.

I recommend making a “tutoring homework” appointment on your calendar. Don’t schedule over it. Make it regular if possible so that it can become a habit. Set your phone to beep reminders at you.

6. Ask Questions

You will get the most out of your tutoring sessions if you bring questions and topics of interest to your sessions.

You and your tutor should still keep an eye on your larger goals. If you notice many of your questions are not related to your goals, you should decide together how to find a good balance. One easy way to start is to allot 10 minutes to weekly questions and 50 minutes to pursuing your bigger goals.

7. Ask About Study Skills


8504153041_dd0ae0fcce_nI hope that if you ever have to cut down a tree, you have the sharpest axe possible. And I hope that if you are learning English, you also have the best tools possible!

Making even just one small improvement in your usual study habits can save you time, improve your understanding, and help you get better grades for years. It’s worth looking into!

Your tutor is a great resource for learning how to study more effectively. It’s a part of most teacher training.

I suggest you ask about a specific type of studying. “How would you recommend I practice listening?” or “How do you think I should study this grammar point?”



If you ever decide to work with a private English tutor, I hope you will follow some of these tips to make the best use of your time.

If you have additional advice, please tell us in the comments!

Listen to Emily read this. (A new window will open.)

Photo Credit 1: frankieleon on Flickr
Photo Credit 2: Jinx! on Flickr
Photo Credit 3: Adreanna Moya Photography on Flickr
Photo Credit 4: Ted Murphy on Flickr



Writing Prompt Wednesday


Level 1: What do you see? What kind of plants? What colors? What is the person doing?

Level 2: Pretend that you will interview the swimmer in the picture. Write 5 – 7 questions to ask him/her.

Level 3: Write 5-10 sentences about underwater safety. If you need help, search for articles about SCUBA diving.

Creative Writing: Write a short poem (it does not have to rhyme) about this picture. Choose an interesting point of view.

Academic Writing: Research the plant and animal life that lives in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Write an informational essay that tells the reader about three of these life forms. Be sure to indicate why you chose these three. Cite your sources!

Photo Credit: Rafael on Flickr

There is No “Normal” American English Accent

Did you know that there’s no official standard accent for American English?

2848390389_5b612c5130In the UK, they have a great many accents, but there is one that is called the standard (Received Pronunciation, or the Queen’s English). From what I understand, the standard is not the most popular or the most common accent, but it’s a starting point.

In the US, we have a great many accents, and none of them are called the standard. The closest we have is how most TV news anchors speak, but I don’t think we all agree on this.

This means that every speaker of American English sounds weird in a pretty large region of the USA. And we often disagree about how things “should” be pronounced.

My Accent

I grew up on Long Island, near New York City. I spent about eight years in Minnesota, then moved to Maryland. I have a Master’s degree.

My accent is not super strong, but it’s definitely North and it’s definitely East. It likely sounds educated, too.

A few details about my accent:

  • Harry and hairy are different. In much of the Midwest, they’re the same.
  • Cot and caught are different. On the West Coast, they’re often the same.
  • Pen and pin are different. In many places, particularly near the middle and south of the country, they’re the same.

A couple of things I’ve changed over the years:

  • I pronounce my husband’s name the way he pronounces it, which is Midwestern.
  • I used to pronounce orange as “ar-ringe” (this is common on Long Island) but I’ve switched to “ore-ringe.”

Think About This

  1. If you are learning American English, you are learning an accent. Even if you learn to speak exactly like a native speaker, you will not always sound “just normal” depending on where you go in the country. None of us do.
  2. If you listen to my recordings on this blog, you are listening to my accent. This is not what everyone from the USA sounds like. This is not what everyone from the USA should sound like. My accent is just one out of many.

Listen to Emily read this post (a new window will open).

Photo Credit: Sam Beebe on Flickr