How to Prepare High School English Students for College

Looking for how to prepare high school English students for college? We all are.

I’ve known Ms. F. for years on digital platforms. I’ve found her both passionate and helpful. She has a unique perspective: she taught high school English before teaching college English.

When I had questions about how to best prepare my high school English students for college, her responses gave me so much insight that I asked if I could share them with my audience. Thankfully, she agreed.

Keep reading to see what questions I asked (what questions would you ask a college professor?) and to read her responses.

High School English teachers wonder how to prepare high school English students for college. Read these ideas from a college professor who has taught high school too.

As a high school teacher, I struggle with providing structure for my students and getting them to think analytically. It’s a balancing act – solid writing with big thinking. What are your expectations for your college freshmen?
Thinking and reading and writing critically and doing solid analysis is a skill I see almost all of my English 101 students struggle with. I ask my students “why?” and “so what?” a lot. They need to learn to back up their claims more. We also have in-class discussions on readings where I give my students question starters based on higher level Bloom’s and have them create questions to ask of each other. I call them Higher Order Thinking (H.O.T) Book Talks.
Are there any “absolutes” for teaching writing in high school that you see as a college professor? For instance, (I think) I saw you remark once that high school teachers should not use the funnel method for teaching introductions. I do that! Can you tell us high school teachers more about these ideas?
The biggest issue that I see with essay writing in general is that the students have never been taught to break out of the standard molds of the 5-paragraph essay, the inverted triangle introduction, or even the idea that a paragraph always has 5-7 sentences.  However, a lot of style choice depends on the professor- so teaching students to follow their teachers’ lead is key.  If I were back teaching high school- especially 11th and 12th grade, I’d focus on teaching different organizational structures such as compare and contrast, definition etc.
The other issue I see is that students aren’t being transitioned into the current MLA format. They are still underlining titles (which went out over 10 years ago), and messing with fonts etc.
What is going well? Do you see any trends in high school that are helping you as our students come to you?
I do like that my younger students- though my students range from 12 to 60+, are comfortable with digital tools such as Google Drive. They also aren’t intimidated to try a new program.
In general- I think high school seniors need to be transitioned to working more independently.  They need to learn to advocate for themselves and not rely on their parents. They need to write. A lot.
In my state, students are expected to write 20 pages of formal writing both first and second semesters. Most of my incoming students have never written close to that much. And they also have to write for their other classes as well! And, they need to know that they truly will only pass if they put in the work and perform to a high level.
Teachers looking at how to prepare high school English students for college, what did you learn? I took away that I should have my students write more, push them out of the standard formats, and release them for more independent work.
Thanks to Ms. F for helping my starting the conversation!
Ms. F is a licensed 7-12 Integrated Language Arts teacher who made the switch to teaching college writing and literature at a community college four years ago. She has worked primarily with special education, at-risk, and urban youth during her 9 year career. You can find her thoughts on teaching on her blog, Ms. F’s Teaching Adventures, or follow her on IG @Ms_Fs_Teaching_Adventures.

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