Throughout your child’s education, great focus is given to reading and writing skills, but how often do you see them presented as one permanently linked set of skills? They should be. “Reading and writing are reciprocal processes that strengthen each other,” according to Susan Taber, former communication arts consultant at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

College students study specific areas of knowledge, such as politics or psychology, not specific skills such as reading and writing. It is expected that, by this time, reading and writing skills are more or less fully developed and ready for application to more theoretical sets of knowledge and application.

High school is a time for transition to this method of learning. Classes increasingly focus on reading and writing. The goal is to be able to read source material, interpret it and write an essay—or a longer paper—that either analyzes what has been learned or presents the information with a new angle. You can help your child further improve his writing by encouraging him to keep a journal. Taber says, “journal writing about the day’s events, current events or anything,” is a good way to improve comprehension. She adds that children should be doing this on a daily basis in order to see true improvements.

Organization is the key to successful writing, and outlines and thesis statements are an integral part of organization. The explanations below will get your child started on a path to clear writing, and the worksheet will allow your teenager to put these techniques into practice.

One of the critical organizational skills for essays is writing an outline. It helps organize thoughts into a coherent structure that works toward proving or supporting the thesis. Logical thinking is key to developing a useful outline—organization is key to writing a clear, understandable essay.

Before writing the outline, brainstorm a list of all the topics that should be included in the paper. Then begin to organize by grouping similar ideas. Are some of the items on your list more specific aspects of another list item? If so, begin to make sub-categories. Once everything is grouped, think of the order in which the topics would be best presented.

At this point, the outline is almost finished. The only step left is to format the outline. Each subcategory must contain at least two items. However, it is acceptable to list more or even none at all. Expand on this guide as needed.

  1. Introduction
  2. Main Point
    1. Subtopic
    2. Subtopic
      1. Specific point
      2. Specific point
        1. small detail
        2. small detail
        3. small detail
    3. Subtopic
  3. Main Point
  4. Conclusion
Try to finish the outline before beginning to write, but it’s okay to make small revisions in the outline as needed. Each paragraph will comprise one single line of the outline or a subgroup. This depends on the final length and detail of your paper.


Thesis statements are important to any piece of academic writing. The thesis statement is a specific statement that clearly lays out the paper’s topic and the analysis, explanation or assertions regarding that topic. The thesis is usually written in one sentence and appears at the end of the introductory paragraph. It should leave no surprises in the rest of the paper as far as the topics general information that will be covered.

For more information on outlines, thesis statements and many other aspects of clear writing, see the Purdue University Online Writing Lab at

By Jamie L. Scheppers


On a separate piece of lined paper, outline the following passage. After this, formulate a thesis on which an essay can be based. This exercise will help hone your note-taking and report-writing skills.

[Note: This is a direct excerpt from]

Origin of the Solar System
Besides explaining the birth of the sun, planets, moons, asteroids and comets, a theory of the origin of the solar system must explain the chemical and physical differences of the planets; their orbital regularities, i.e., why they lie almost on the same plane and revolve in the same direction in nearly circular orbits; and also account for the relative angular momentum of the sun and planets arising from their rotational and orbital motions.
The Nebular Hypothesis
The nebular hypothesis, developed by Immanuel Kant and given scientific form by P.S. Laplace at the end of the 18th century, assumed that the solar system in its first state was a nebula—a hot, slowly rotating mass of rarefied matter—which gradually cooled and contracted, the rotation becoming more rapid, in turn giving the nebula a flattened, disk-like shape. In time, rings of gaseous matter became separated from the outer part of the disk, until the diminished nebula at the center was surrounded by a series of rings. Out of the material of each ring, a great ball was formed, which, by shrinking, eventually became a planet. The mass at the center of the system condensed to form the sun. The objections to this hypothesis were based on observations of angular momentum that conflicted with the theory.

The Planetesimal Theory
Encounter or collision theories, in which a star passes close by or actually collides with the sun, try to explain the distribution of angular momentum. According to the planetesimal theory developed by T.C. Chamberlin and F.R. Moulton in the early part of the 20th century, a star passed close to the sun. Huge tides were raised on the surface; some of this erupted matter was torn free and, by a cross-pull from the star, was thrust into elliptical orbits around the sun. The smaller masses quickly cooled to become solid bodies, called planetesimals. As their orbits crossed, the larger bodies grew by absorbing the planetesimals, thus becoming planets.

The tidal theory, proposed by James Jeans and Harold Jeffreys in 1918, is a variation of the planetesimal concept: It suggests that a huge tidal wave, raised on the sun by a passing star, was drawn into a long filament and became detached from the principal mass. As the stream of gaseous material condensed, it separated into masses of various sizes, which, by further condensation, took the form of the planets. Serious objections against the encounter theories remain; the angular momentum problem is not fully explained.

Contemporary Theories
Contemporary theories return to a form of the nebular hypothesis to explain the transfer of momentum from the central mass to the outer material. The nebula is seen as a dense nucleus, or protosun, surrounded by a thin shell of gaseous matter extending to the edges of the solar system. According to the theory of the protoplanets proposed by Gerard P. Kuiper, the nebula ceased to rotate uniformly and, under the influence of turbulence and tidal action, broke into whirlpools of gas, called protoplanets, within the rotating mass. In time the protoplanets condensed to form the planets. Although Kuiper's theory allows for the distribution of angular momentum, it does not explain adequately the chemical and physical differences of the planets.

Using a chemical approach, H.C. Urey has given evidence that the terrestrial planets were formed at low temperatures, less than 2,200 (1,200). He proposed that the temperatures were high enough to drive off most of the lighter substances, e.g., hydrogen and helium, but low enough to allow for the condensation of heavier substances, e.g., iron and silica, into solid particles, or planetesimals. Eventually, the planetesimals pulled together into protoplanets, the temperature increased, and the metals formed a molten core. At the distances of the Jovian planets the methane, water, and ammonia were frozen, preventing the earthy materials from condensing into small solids and resulting in the different composition of these planets and their great size and low density.

The discovery of extrasolar planetary systems, beginning with 51 Pegasi in 1995, have given planetary scientists pause. Because it was the only one known, all models of planetary systems were based on the characteristics of the solar system—several small planets close to the star, several large planets at greater distances, and nearly circular planetary orbits. However, all of the extrasolar planets are large, many much larger than Jupiter, the largest of the solar planets; many orbit their star at distances less than that of Mercury, the solar planet closest to the sun; and many have highly elliptical orbits. All of this has caused planetary scientists to revisit the contemporary theories of planetary formation.

Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition, Copyright (c) 2003.


There is room for variation in this exercise so use this example outline and thesis as a guide as you work to come up with something that works for you.

Solar System Formation
  1. Intro—A theory of solar system origin must account for:
    1. Current physical and chemical properties
      1. Angle of rotation
      2. Pattern of orbit
    2. Orbital regularities
    3. Relative angular momentum
  2. Nebular Hypothesis
    1. Developed by Immanuel Kant
    2. Revised by P.S. Laplace (late 18th century)
    3. Specifics
      1. Slowly rotating cloud of hot gas
      2. Gradually cooled and contracted into a disk
      3. Rings separated from the edges
      4. Planets formed from the material in the rings
      5. Remaining material at center became the sun
    4. Weakness in theory appears in observations of angular momentum
  3. Planetesimal Theory
    1. Enounter/collision theories
      1. Developed by T.C. Chamberlain and F.R. Moulton in early 20th century
      2. Specifics
        1. A star passed closely by the sun
        2. Waves formed on the surface of the sun
        3. Material broke free from the waves and entered orbit around the sun
        4. Planetesimals formed from the smaller masses
        5. Some of the larger bodies absorbed the planetesimals upon crossing orbits, becoming planets
    2. Tidal Theory—variation of above
      1. Proposed by James Jeans and Harold Jeffreys in 1918
      2. Same as encounter/collision theory, except:
        1. One huge tidal wave formed
        2. Long stream of gaseous matter extended from sun
        3. The stream separated into masses
        4. Masses condensed into planets
    3. Angular momentum is a problem for planetesimal theory
  4. Contemporary Theories
    1. Revised nebular hypothesis—protoplanets
      1. Proposed by Gerard P. Kuiper
      2. Specifics
        1. Nebula becomes turbulent and breaks apart
        2. Explains angular momentum
        3. Lacking in explanation of chemical and physical differences
    2. Chemical Approach
      1. H. C. Urey
      2. Planets formed at low temperature
        1. Light substances disappeared
        2. Heavy substances collected (formed planetesimals)
      3. Temperature increased
        1. Cores melted
        2. Planetesimals become protoplanets
      4. Distance of Jovian planets accounts for large size and low density
  5. Revision of older theories
    1. Extrasolar planetary systems have been discovered which behave differently than our own
      1. Larger planets
      2. Orbit closer to their star
      3. More pronounced elliptical orbits
    2. The above has cause scientists to re-evaluate formation theories

Although there are many theories designed to explain the formation of the solar system, subsequent observations of other planetary systems have led many scientists to re-evaluate formation theories.