Category Archives: School

Essay Writing Tips

With just one week of school left, summer break is so close you can almost taste it. But chances are there are a still a few assignments and projects in between you and your two and a half months of freedom…and perhaps even a few dreaded essays. Maybe it’s hard to even imagine summer break right now because you’re so overwhelmed by your papers. They’re the worst, right? Maybe not. There are several strategies and habits you can develop that can make essay writing easier, more painless, and maybe even fun! Here are some tips to get you started.

  1. Start ahead of time

I know, I know. You have a lot going on, it’s too hard to start things early…basically you always hear this advice and never follow it. But just this once, make time and try it out. Prioritizing your essay writing will severely reduce your stress, make the writing process more enjoyable, and give you a better paper in the end. This is because you’ll have plenty of time to brainstorm, research, try out new ideas, get feedback, edit and revise, and take breaks. You’ll be calmer and less anxious as you write, and perhaps you’ll find that essays aren’t that bad after all!

  1. Follow the prompt/ answer the question

This may seem like common sense, but it’s very important. There are many types of essays, and teachers often have specific guidelines for you to follow and questions for you to answer. You could turn in a well-crafted, organized, and informative essay but still get a bad grade if you didn’t pay attention to the prompt. If your teacher wants you to use quotes from a text, use quotes from the text. If you’re supposed to have five sources, make sure you use five sources. If you’re asked to answer a specific question, make sure you answer all parts of the question directly, completely, and thoroughly. Your teacher will almost always notice if you tweak the prompt, so don’t even try.

  1. Plan ahead

Brainstorm what you want to write about before you start writing. Do all your research ahead of time, and make a rough outline of your paper. You can change this outline as you go if necessary, but it’s much easier to get started if you have at least a rough plan and a good amount of data. This helps with writer’s block, and it ensures that you actually have ideas and examples to include in your essay.

  1. Get rid of distractions

When you’re ready to begin writing, it’s important to find a good working environment. Find a place where you feel relaxed and comfortable, but not so relaxed that you won’t be able to buckle down and write. Also make sure there aren’t too many distractions around you. Can you hear the TV? Can you smell your sister’s snack? Can you see your neighbors having a water fight outside? These are all distractions that will make writing harder. Try working at a desk in your room with the door shut, at a table in the library, or in another quiet space.

  1. Develop a working thesis

Your thesis statement tells your reader about your interpretation of the significance of the subject matter of your paper. It is usually one sentence (but is occasionally two or three) somewhere in your introduction that presents your argument and tells your reader what to expect from the rest of the paper. It directly answers the question or prompt, making a clear claim that others could dispute. Clearly your thesis is central to your paper, so in order to help you write well, it is important to develop a working thesis early on. This simply means you can change your thesis as you go; often after you’ve written some or most of your paper you’ll gain a clearer understanding of what precisely you want your main argument to be.

  1. Just write!

Often people have trouble writing essays because they don’t know where to start. They stare at a blank computer screen, wondering what to write first, and then get stressed and frustrated. If this happens to you, try starting somewhere other than the introduction. Sometimes it’s best to actually end with the intro, once you know what the rest of your paper is like. Often you even end up tweaking your thesis some. So the main point is: just write. Start wherever you want, jump around some, relax, and let your first draft flow. Don’t worry if parts don’t sound good; since you started early you’ll have plenty of time to reword, add, delete, and move phrases around. You’ll also have time to fix grammar and punctuation, so don’t worry about that yet either. The important thing is to get something written and get your mind working.

  1. Take breaks

Studies show that you are actually more productive if you take breaks every fifty minutes or so. Depending on your attention span, sometimes as often as thirty minutes is desirable. So don’t stare at your screen for hours on end! Get up and eat a snack, walk around outside, or chat with your family. This will keep you from getting discouraged and help you focus while you are writing, and you’ll be thankful that you started early enough to allow time for breaks. It may even be best to set a timer to remind yourself when to start and stop working.

  1. Intro: Grab the reader

Although the order you write your paper in doesn’t matter, eventually you’ll need an introduction, some body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction is the first paragraph(s) of your essay, and although introductions vary based on the type of essay you’re writing, most follow a general format. Your essay should begin in a creative way that grabs the reader; thus the very first sentence of an essay is sometimes called the “hook.” Your introduction should also contain a brief overview of what you’re going to talk about in your paper. Most importantly, it should contain your thesis sentence(s), often toward the end of the first paragraph.

  1. Body: Be specific!

The body of your paper should contain the bulk of your research, arguments, examples, and quotes. Again, papers will vary greatly, but there are general guidelines to make the body of your paper stronger. Here are a few:
-After you state an argument, use specific examples and explain them thoroughly. Explain both the examples and how they relate to your argument.
-Make sure your transitions from topic to topic are smooth. New main ideas usually need new paragraphs, and you need to make sure your sentences and paragraphs connect to previous sentences and paragraphs. Sometimes using words and phrases like “also,” “next,” “in addition,” and “along with” are helpful, but don’t overuse these words and phrases.


-If you’re using quotes in your essay, utilize the “quote sandwich.” This means that before you state the quote you should introduce what you’re going to say (the bread). Then you should say the actual quote (the filling), making sure never to begin a sentence with a quote. In other words, start each sentence with your own words. Finally, after you end the quote you shouldn’t move on until you explain what the quote is talking about and how it connects to your essay (the bread). Another general rule of thumb is you should almost never include a quote in your essay that is more than two lines long.

  1. Conclusion: Don’t copy the intro!

The conclusion of your essay should wrap everything up. Often people overlook the conclusion, but it is very important and makes your paper much stronger overall. The conclusion should connect back to your introduction, thesis, and body paragraphs, but don’t bore your readers by essentially copying your intro. Changing the phrasing of the introduction isn’t good enough; instead try adding at least one compelling idea as an intriguing thought to end on. Again, conclusions will vary from paper to paper.

  1. Revise!

Often people write one draft of an essay and then turn it in. But revising and editing are just as important as the initial writing phase, especially since you shouldn’t have aimed for perfection on your first draft. Revising and editing are two different things, and revising refers to making organizational and content changes in your paper. When you revise you should look at your paper as a whole, considering voice, strengths, weaknesses, and more. Often you’ll end up making extensive changes, so give yourself plenty of time to change things, move things, delete things, add things, and try new ideas. Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you revise:
-Use VARIETY! This one is so key. Make sure your sentences vary in length, structure, and type. Use a variety of words as well.
-Use an active rather than a passive voice. When you use an active voice the sentence subject performs the action, but when you use a passive voice the action is performed upon the sentence subject. This sounds confusing, but hopefully an example should help: instead of saying, “The sandwich was eaten by the girl,” you should say, “The girl ate the sandwich.”  

-Avoid clichés. You know, like “in the nick of time” or “without a care in the world”. Find original and descriptive ways to present your ideas.

  1. Edit: Grammar matters!

Editing refers to making changes in grammar, punctuation, spelling, and more. Sometimes editing isn’t the most fun, but it’s important! You could have great ideas, examples, and quotes, but your paper won’t be strong unless you pay attention to grammar and punctuation. You can also look at your word choice, and get rid of unnecessary words. For example, instead of saying “due to the fact that,” you can just say “because” or “since.”

  1. Read your paper out loud

If you’ve never done this before, test it out! You’ll be amazed at how many mistakes you didn’t catch when you just read your paper in your head.

  1. Get feedback from others

Having others look over your essay can be really helpful. You already know what you’re trying to say, but a fresh set of eyes can find mistakes you overlooked, parts that aren’t as clear as you thought they were, places where the paper seems choppy, and more.

  1. Format your final copy correctly

Teachers have different guidelines for papers, so make sure you know exactly what your teacher wants. In general teachers will expect 12-point Times New Roman font, one inch margins, and double spacing. A reference list, works cited, or bibliography is also often necessary. Perhaps your teacher wants you to follow a certain format like MLA, APA, or Chicago-Turabian. If so, Purdue Owl is a website that helps with formatting and more. Check it out at https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/.  

Now that you have some guidelines, essay writing will hopefully be more fun! Get started today so that by this time next week you can be enjoying summer break!

~ Natalie

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LGBTQ Bullying: It Needs to STOP

That’s so gay. She’s such a lesbo. Look at those pants, he’s so gay. What a fag. They’re such a homos.

How many times a day do you hear statements like these?

Approximately 1/4 of all high school students are bullied because of race, ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation. About 90% of gay teens are bullied… and half of them report being physically harassed by their peers. Most of these kids feel unsafe going to school.

Can you imagine what that’s like?

Teens who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, or Questioning are 3 times more likely to commit suicide, 5 times more likely to skip school, and also very likely to drop out of school altogether. Many of them don’t further their education and go to college because they’re afraid the bullying will continue. I mean, really, can you see why they feel this way? Everyday is a battle for them. They can’t get away from the negative comments, the name-calling, the physical harassment.

Bullying happens lots of different ways:

  1. Verbal bullying: Calling names and saying negative things to a person’s face
  2. Physical bullying: pushing, shoving, hitting, kicking, punching, slapping, putting someone in a locker, anything else where you physically harm them
  3. Cyber bullying: Posting things online about a person, gossiping about someone via social media
  4. Indirect bullying: Gossiping about a person behind their back, spreading rumors, making comments like “that’s so gay” in front of someone who you know is gay

Whether you realize it or not, if you do any of these things, YOU ARE A BULLY.

Why do we treat each other this way? Like, seriously. When are we ever going to get over this? Will there ever be a day when people don’t feel like they have to pretend to be someone else, or like they’ll have to suffer if they don’t?

Although there is some progress, the LGBTQ community still gets an overwhelming message from society that being gay is wrong. So don’t make things harder for them.

Next time you see someone bullying a LGBTQ peer, speak up. Tell them it’s not cool. Stand behind the kid being bullied and tell the other kids to knock it off. Let them know that you accept them for who they are, and if they ever need anyone to talk to, they can trust you. Bullying is always wrong, and it’s really wrong when it happens because of someone’s sexual orientation. Really, who cares? Why does anyone care about anyone else’s sexuality? Let them be them, and you can be you! Don’t worry about it!

If YOU or a FRIEND are being bullied, here’s what you can do:

  • Tell a teacher, counselor, coach, or someone else at school. Tell them everything that’s been happening. If they don’t do anything about it, or you feel like they don’t do enough, talk to someone else. There ARE people who care and who will do everything to help you. You just need to tell them… don’t be embarrassed.
  • Let your parents know everything that’s been going on.
  • If necessary, tell the authorities and press charges.
  • There are several hotlines you can call for help, or even if you just need someone to talk to: GLBT National Help Center (1-800-246-PRIDE), The Trevor Project Hotline (1- 866-488-7386 or text “Trevor” to 1-202-304-1200 or chat on their website, http://www.thetrevorproject.org), or The National Suicide Prevention Line (1-800-273-TALK),

LGBTQ bullying needs to stop, but it’s never going to if we all continue to say and do things that make it hard on everyone in that community. That means you need to quit saying “that’s so gay” and calling your friends “fags,” even if it is a joke. We’re getting closer and closer to getting past this, guys… but we need to do it together.

Cliques Aren’t Cool

When you’re at school, sure, you usually hang out with the same people everyday. Or maybe you have a few different groups you hang with. Makes sense… they’re probably people that you have a lot in common with. It isn’t bad to have a group of friends, or to hang with the same people. It only gets bad when you and your friends become “clique-y.”

A “clique” is a tight group of friends that have a strict code of membership and ways to act. They’re not so much about the friendships, but more about maintaining their status and popularity. Sometimes they use their status and power to exclude and be mean to other people. A group of girls might laugh and make fun of another group of girls they pass by in the halls, to make them feel not as cool as them… or they might get mad at a girl in their own group for wearing a sweatshirt and jeans, and not dressing up like them everyday.

If you feel like you’re in the middle of a drama-filled high school movie… your friends are probably too clique-y.

Obviously, girls aren’t the only ones in cliques. While girls usually form their cliques around style and fashion, guys tend to form cliques around a sport, video game, or music.

Cliques can lead to bullying, and that’s something you don’t want to have any part in. There’s no sense in making someone feel bad and like they aren’t as “cool” as you, just because you so desperately want to be cool yourself and fit in, Really… is it worth it? Is it worth being a jerk to someone, just so you can impress your supposed “friends?” Do you REALLY think they’re your friends, if that’s what it takes for them to like you?

Again, being in different groups isn’t bad at all. Maybe you hang with your soccer friends sometimes, your choir friends other times, and the other girls who share your love for reality shows at other times. That’s perfectly normal, and JUST FINE. You should be hanging with people you feel comfortable with, and that you share similar interests with.

It only becomes a problem if you and your friends become obsessed with your status and start bullying other people because of it. Usually, people in cliques aren’t true friends. They’re bossy and demanding. They tell you how you should dress, how you should act, what you should say. Who needs friends like that?

Always remember to be TRUE TO YOURSELF. Make sure you always do the things you love, listen to music you enjoy, and dress how you want to dress. If anyone else isn’t cool with that, you don’t need them. Make sure that all of your friends are cool with you for who you really are.

If one of your friends is getting clique-y and is being a jerk to other people, tell them. Tell them they’re being ridiculous and they need to stop. Be kind and sensitive towards others… you wouldn’t want someone else to be mean to you, or any of your friends. Also don’t let them pressure you. Who cares if they’re giving you a hard time about hanging with that other guy that’s “too lame”? Don’t quit hanging out with him if you enjoy his friendship. YOU are responsible for your own actions. Have a mind of your own.

One thing that seems to be true in most high schools, is that usually it seems to be underclassmen who are more obsessed with cliques and popularity. Once high schoolers get older, they realize that it doesn’t really matter. It isn’t worth it. After high school, nobody will care that you were on homecoming court. All the status and popularity points will disappear. So do you really want to work that hard and sacrifice that much for something that only lasts 4 years??

It’s pretty simple… if you want good friends, BE A GOOD FRIEND. Be a good listener. Be caring. Always check in with your friends to see how things are going. Don’t be mean. Don’t be rude or make anyone feel bad. Be the type of friend you want other people to be to you. Don’t get mixed up in the lame high school drama.

Gender Roles & Expectations: Just Be YOU!

Girls and boys are born different. Girls like makeup, Barbie’s, painting their nails, and pink; boys like trucks, sports, and playing in the dirt. That’s just how it is… We can’t help it, we’re just programmed differently. 

Right?

Not necessarily.

Many people don’t understand the difference between sex and gender. Sex is biological. So, sex is how male and female’s bodies are different. Gender, however, has more to do with their personality and how they identify themselves. Gender roles, more specifically, are the expectations of how a person should act, dress, and talk based on their sex.

For instance… girls are not born loving all things pink and boys are not born loving all things sports. Rather, the majority of girls learn to like “feminine” things and boys learn to like “masculine” things because of the expectations society has for girls and boys. People buy baby girls certain things, and baby boys other things. Girls are dressed a certain way, boys are dressed a certain way. On TV and in movies, men and women are portrayed differently. Men are tough and strong, women are emotional and nurturing.

Am I saying that there’s anything wrong with girls being feminine and boys being masculine? Absolutely not. I’m a girl, and I love pink, shopping, makeup, and accessories. My husband loves sports, hunting, and video games. There is nothing at all wrong with that… that’s the way WE are.

But there IS something wrong when people are afraid to be who they are, so they conform to society’s standards. It’s wrong when boys get made fun of for enjoying things like singing and dancing, and when girls get made of for not wearing makeup and playing football. 

Given, for some reason, society is a lot more lenient on masculine girls than feminine boys. It’s kind of okay for girls to be tomboys, but it is never okay for boys to be sissy’s. Boys are under a lot more pressure to be a certain way than girls are. But, nonetheless, girls are also under a certain amount of pressure, too. 

Gender roles are limiting because people feel pressure to act a certain way, other than who they really are, just to fit it and avoid being made fun of. Why is society like that? Why can’t people just express themselves and do the things they love, without worrying about what other people might think?

If you feel like you aren’t masculine or feminine enough, I encourage you to JUST BE YOU. Who cares. Express yourself. Do what you love. Don’t put on a show for anybody. Don’t fake it and be miserable when you can be yourself and do things that make you happy.

In the same way, for others of you, stop making fun of the boy on the dance team. He loves to dance! Who cares? More power to him. Stop making fun of the girl who wears baggy T-shirts and basketball shorts everyday. That’s her style, just like you have your style. Who cares?

Nobody deserves to be made fun of or have to hide who they really are. JUST BE YOURSELF! If anyone chooses to make fun of you, that’s their problem. Don’t let it get to you.

Dating Abuse: Get Help & Get Out

It usually starts out fine… You meet somebody. After spending some time with them, you decide you really like them. They’re nice, funny, they make you feel good. They treat you right. You start dating them and you fall in love. But, sometimes, after you REALLY get to know somebody, that will all change and stuff will start happening that you never thought would happen to you.

Dating abuse happens a lot more in teen relationships than a lot of people realize. In fact, over 1.5 million high school students experience physical violence from someone they’re dating every year. Approximately 1 in 3 teens are victims of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner.

What exactly is dating abuse?

Here are the different types of abuse:

  1. Physical abuse is when your significant other hurts you physically in any way. It could be punching, hitting, slapping, grabbing, pushing, shoving, kicking, choking. It could even be holding you down or not letting you get away. Those kinds of things are NEVER okay.
  2. Sexual abuse is when your partner makes you do things sexually that you don’t want to do. It could be that they want to make out and fool around, you say no, and they do it anyway. It could be unwanted touching. It could even be rape. 
  3. Emotional abuse is when they make you feel bad about yourself, make you feel like you’re doing something wrong, try to control you, embarrass you in front of others.
  4. Verbal abuse is when they say things to you that are negative and hurtful. For example, telling you you’re fat and ugly, you’re stupid, they don’t know why they’re even with you,you can’t do anything right, calling you names, etc.

People abuse others because of THEIR OWN ISSUES… it has nothing to do with the victims. They just feel like they need somebody to lash out at to fix their problems with themselves. They like having control over someone, and they like making someone else feel worthless because THEY have self-esteem issues of their own. It could also be that they grew up seeing an abusive relationship, so they think it’s normal.  Or maybe they have anger issues, they hang with the wrong crowd, they’re on drugs and drink alcohol, they have a history of being aggressive and bullying other people. Whatever it is, it isn’t YOUR fault that they’re doing that to you. There are no excuses. You have done NOTHING to deserve that.

Teens who are victims of dating abuse are more likely to do bad in school, drink alcohol, do drugs, attempt suicide, get in physical fights with others, and carry violence into their future relationships.

As a teenager who is still developing emotionally, your relationships affect you tremendously. A really good, healthy relationship can do wonders for your self-esteem and emotional/mental development. At the same time, a bad, unhealthy relationship can cause some terrible short term and long term negative effects that you will carry with you.

People who are victims of abuse often continue to stay in the relationship and pretend like nothing is wrong. It’s usually because they’re embarrassed to admit that something like that is happening to them. Or sometimes, again, if they’ve grown up seeing an abusive relationship, they might even think it’s normal. Or they could be blind to it because they really are in love with their abuser.

If you think one of your friends is in an unhealthy relationship, talk to them about it. Tell them about some of the signs you’ve seen based on the way their partner treats them. If they’re in denial about it, tell an adult what’s going on and get help. The longer you wait, the worse it could get.

If YOU are in an abusive relationship, don’t be ashamed. It isn’t your fault! It really has nothing to do with you. Your partner has issues, and they are not your problem… Don’t try to fix them, because it won’t work. Get out ASAP. Let the people around you know what’s been happening so they can support and protect you if your partner gets angry when you break things off. 

There are several hotlines you can call if you’re in an abusive relationship and need help. These people are available 24/7 to give you tips, advice, point you in the direction of services and help, or just when you need someone to talk to. 

  • Love Is Respect: you can call them at 1-866-331-9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or chat online at loveisrespect.org.
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network): call them at 1-800-656-HOPE or chat online at rainn.org
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: call them at 1-800-799-SAFE, or chat online at thehotline.org

Dating is supposed to be FUN! Your significant other is supposed to make you happy, make you feel special and loved, and take care of you. Someone who truly cares about you will do everything in their power to make you happy. Don’t settle for anything less than that.