Literacy Advice Article

The Bare Necessities for College Success

Most teachers that teach high school Senior classes await and long for graduation day. This is mainly because they are proud to see their students grow into intelligent young adults that will eventually be in college, but in some cases it is also because they are just done with the class as a whole. Come graduation day, a handful of students walk across the stage to collect their diplomas and say their goodbyes to their educators before leaving to celebrate, like their teachers, that high school is finally over! But after those few months of summer vacation, everything changes once those students attend their first college classes. They look at the syllabus of their English course or a similar course that requires a term paper that is worth 30% of their final grade, suddenly sinking down in their seat.  It requires information to be found by means of three different sources including a book, there has to be a 1500 word count, all sources have to be cited in a specific way, and it is due by the end of the quarter. I’m sure they did not expect that within the first few hours of attending college. However, this is normal considering that the transition from high school to college can be difficult. Therefore, students should be able to go through and learn practical literature processes that can be applied in college, so that they will be ready for the upcoming difficulties that college life brings.


When I was in high school I had wonderful English teachers for all four years. All of them pushed me to be a better writer and reader, and they taught me very valuable lessons that are applied within my collegian life today. Although they taught lessons that were (and are) useful for college, they did not teach them in the full depth that is required for success in writing college level papers.  You as an educator do your best to meet the needs of your students, grade assignments, and teach valuable lessons all the while. Not to mention, you do this on an extremely tight schedule therefore it would be difficult to squeeze in every single detail of a specific lesson set. But maybe you could try and focus on your main lesson plans while implanting some of the most important ideas needed for college success? I present to you what I consider to be the essential pieces of advice needed to prepare your students for college, and I call them: The Bare Necessities of College (my own personal parody of the Jungle Book song).


  1. Reading is Crucial for Success

For high school students, it is easy to claim to have done the reading for a class because it is easy to skim through the material by using Google or Sparknotes to search for the answers to comprehension-type questions. However in college, it is necessary for students to actually read the given material or else they will fail. I will admit there have been times during my first quarter of college in which I skimmed through chapters of a book or an article and still managed to get away with it. However, there have also been times in which I skimmed through or skipped the reading, ultimately failing some minor in-class quizzes. Most professors recommend for students to do the reading in order to understand the course as a whole, yet some do not resort to the reading because they know they do not have to. Reading is not to be treated as just an ordinary assignment, but should be treated as a necessity for academic success. Not only does it allow for students to understand what they are trying to learn, but it gives them an advantage for any surprise quizzes that might pop up. I recommend that you should possibly give short answer reading comprehension quizzes for any readings that you intend to introduce to your students. Another helpful suggestion would be to assign reading comprehension type homework, which usually consists of doing a specific section of reading and doing comprehension questions that correspond to it. This especially helped me in high school because doing comprehension questions allowed for me to understand and learn from the assigned reading, rather than just completing the assignment for a grade. These methods are not meant to be tedious, but rather to ensure that your students are actually doing the reading so that they will be better prepared for college reading.

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  1. Oh, That Darned 5-paragraph Essay Formula!

The 5-paragraph essay style is simple, effective, and has proved to be successful in crucial testing moments, i.e., the SAT, and essay-type examinations, overall. However, it cannot be used for every single assignment in college. Going into college, I thought the 5-paragraph essay formula would be used in every instance of writing a paper considering my instructors put a big emphasis on it, but I could not be more wrong. College professors prefer to see a unique variety of papers that are not based on the same, average introduction with a thesis statement, three main paragraphs based on that thesis, and a conclusion to regurgitate said thesis. I recently read in the article titled “Unteaching the Five-Paragraph Essay” by Marie Foley in which she describes some methods that can be used to help students stray away from using the formula. She says that students can view paper organization as a type of “journey” by means of pattern use, such as “moving through time (chronological order)”, “moving from outside to inside (spatial order)”, and organizing ideas “from least to most significant (emphatic order)”. As a college student, such methods have proven to be useful for me because I learned how to expand my creativity instead of being restricted to expressing my ideas in only 5 paragraphs. I am not saying to throw away the 5-paragraph formula entirely, but you should open your students up to other types of paper formatting styles so that they are not lost come the first few weeks of college. Similar to what I suggested for the word count necessity paragraph, you could possibly give your students some exercises or assignments that require them to use their creativity and write outside of the classic formula.

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  1. Word Count Actually Matters Now

In high school, some teachers were not too interested in how many words I could fit on my paper, but were rather more considered by the quality of the content within the paper. Unfortunately, I was never warned that both word count and content would matter in college. At first, it was difficult to write a thousand words or more for prompts, but eventually I got the hang of it because of all the writing assignments I was given. Your students might not like the idea of this, but after they do an assigned reading, you could also assign for them to do a short analysis on what they read, but with a specific word count. Starting with a 700-1000 word count can be overwhelmingly difficult to start for high school students, therefore you should start with general analysis assignments of 200-500 words until your students are ready for a heavier amount. Not only does it improve their ability to write lengthy papers, but it also improves their literary analysis skills. Sometimes tough love can be a good thing, at least in the world of education, anyway.

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Overall, you as an educator do the best that you can to prepare a group of high school students to go to college, which is not an easy job. At times it can be the most stressful thing in the world, but usually it can actually be quite endearing to see your students become successful young adults in college. Not only will your students be rewarded with useful skills that they can utilize for the rest of their college careers, but you will be rewarded with the satisfaction of knowing that they will excel because of the lessons that you taught. I hope you consider some of my suggestions, as I want them to grow to be successful as well.


Works Cited

Foley, Marie. (1989). Unteaching the Five-Paragraph Essay. 233-234.