Homeschool High School Writing Tip #3: Combine Multiple Sources


Homeschool Writing Success Strategy

Tip # 3: Integrate

When coming up with a debatable idea for an essay or research paper, your homeschool high school student needs to learn three "must-know" writing strategies.  We've already covered how important it is to (1) work backwards to establish hard writing deadlines and (2) eliminate all but three key writing topics using the 80-20 rule.   With due dates and three topics in hand, it's time to learn the third high school writing strategy:  integrate key ideas from multiple sources.

Read Passages, not Whole Books

Now that we've narrowed the topic from our initial broad "survey-type" reading with the 80-20 rule, we need to dive deeper.  Do not read the entire book!  Read only those passages that deal with your three topics.   By reading passages, rather than entire texts, less time elapses between the various readings.  This concentrated use of time to focus on the meaty content will help your home school high school student retain the main ideas.

Remember the 80/20 rule even in your in-depth reading.  Look for the topic sentences in each paragraph of the related passage.  Jot down the main ideas from the topic sentences to highlight the issues.  Reflect on these ideas.  Teach your high school teen to take his time during this phase of the work so that he can absorb, evaluate, and integrate the ideas that he is discovering.

Make a Note-Taking Grid

When my high school kids were learning how to integrate multiple sources for a mini-research paper, I showed them how to create a multi-column, multi-line chart.  First, grab some blank copy paper and a ruler:

  • Draw a 4 x 5 chart (4 vertical columns + 5 horizontal lines)

If you'd rather not draw the chart by hand, you could create it electronically in excel (microsoft) or numbers (mac).  If you teen is more creative and likes hands-on learning, you could use a white poster board and colored sticky post-it notes for the cells.

  • Label the columns [ C1 - topic | C2 - source # 1 | C3 - source # 2 | C4 - source # 3]

You can write the titles of the multiple sources (3) instead of "source #", or just go on and create your bibliography or citations page with the title, author, date of publication, and other data needed for your preferred MLA (literature essays), Chicago Manual (historical/social studies essays), or APA (science essays) style format.

  • Label the lines in column 1 [L1 - topic | L2 - idea # 1 | L3 - idea # 2 | L4 - idea # 3]

Again, if you want to be more specific than "idea # 1," you can write the keywords.

For example, if I were writing a three point essay on "humidity," my 3 ideas might be "effects on animals," "effects on humans," and "effects on electronics."

Now comes the fun part:  reading and note-taking, except your note-taking happens in the cells of the chart! Instead of cramming a lot of info in the chart, I prefer using bullet points of the main ideas (page #s in parenthesis).

To continue our humidity illustration, let's say I read a text called "Atmospheric Science" to learn how our subject impacts electronics.  I might have 3 bullet points in column 4 (source #3) like this:

  • specifications 5%-95% (pp. 32-35)
  • moisture causes insulator malfunction (pp. 57-66)
  • condensation=short circuit (pp. 70-73)

Like This Writing Series? There's More...

TIP # 1

TIP # 2

Highlight Related Facts

Once all three books, magazines, documentaries, or web references have been consulted and key ideas summarized, it's time to integrate multiple sources.  With the chart in front of you, ask your son to point out or highlight elements from each source that are related, similar, or can be combined into a whole idea.

Why highlight related facts?  Well, the more times a fact shows up in multiple texts or other resources, the more likely it is that the fact is key to understanding the broad subject.

Back to the humidity essay...if all three sources mention the fact that "condensation causes short circuiting" then we know we've got concrete evidence to include in our written essay, speech, or research paper.

At this point, your homeschool high school student should be able to take multiple sources and hopefully produce a more fully developed idea on the subject than he could have composed on any one of the stand-alone sources.  Three sources are better than one.

Synthesis of multiple sources produces more creative, strategic thinking, plus the final written essay or research paper will be more credible and authoritative.  Gathering and highlighting the info on the chart may even initiate your teen's divergent thinking processes as he brainstorms new ways to approach the topic.

Now you understand why knowing how to read independently is not enough.  Synthesis of meaning for essay writing and research papers is tough work, but if you do your part and teach your homeschool high school teen the secrets of successful integration, you'll definitely see the benefits, and your rising classical scholar will create thoughtful,  meaningful content in every essay and research paper.

Now go teach the kids how to write!


P.S. Make sure your teen's presentation is perfect with this free punctuation infographic (PDF).

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