Paso Robles High School Writing Handbook for
9th and 10th Grade Students and Parents

Paso High Homepage

Table of Contents


  1. Introduction - Purpose of the Handbook, Writers Inc, Plagiarism and Ethics1
  2. Writing Expectations< - Types of Essays2
  3. The Writing Process - Stages and Descriptions3
  4. Rubric - Method of Grading3
  5. Models - Example Papers7
  6. Troubleshooting - Solutions to Common Problems10
  7. Parent Helps - An Aid to Parents12
  8. General Questions and Answers13
  9. Parent Signature Form14



"Clean, precise writing or speaking requires systematic, sequential thought. Words have to be crafted, not sprayed. They need to be fitted together with infinite care."

- Norman Cousins

Purpose - This writing handbook has been designed as an aid for ninth and tenth grade Paso Robles High School students and their parents. The information and expectations contained in the handbook

are standards for every English class at the school. Included in the handbook are the expectations for student writing, explanations of the types of writing Paso Robles High School ninth and tenth grade students do, a review of the writing process, examples of the rubric used to score student papers, some models of strong papers by students, some troubleshooting aids, and a section entitled "Parent Helps." At the end of the handbook is a list of frequently asked questions and a parent signature tear-off form. Except for the signature tear-off form, which should be returned as instructed to the student’s English teacher, the handbook should be kept as the first item in the English section of the student’s binder or notebook where it is readily available to the student and the parent.

Writers Inc - Frequently the handbook will refer to Writers Inc. Every teacher at the school has a copy of this resource; the library has several copies, and every English teacher has a class set. These books are usually available for overnight check out, and have been an invaluable aid to students who wish to improve their writing.

Plagiarism and Ethics- It is the expectation of the members of the English Department that work will be original, student work. Students who find it necessary to include the ideas of others in their writing must credit the source in the accepted MLA format (see Writers Inc, topics 179-184 and 240). Plagiarism is a serious breach of personal and academic codes, and instances of plagiarism will be dealt with accordingly.

On the other hand, it is often difficult for parents and teachers to know how much help is appropriate for a student effort. Certainly discussion with the student in the pre-writing, drafting, and revision stages of the writing process is appropriate, and assistance in the proofreading stage is welcomed by nearly any writer. Clearly, it is unethical for the parent to take over the basic thinking or writing responsibilities for the student.

Back to top


The focus of the writing program at Paso Robles High School is to enhance writing skills, which are closely intertwined with thinking skills. Writing organizes and clarifies our thoughts. It is how we think our way into a subject and make it our own. Writing enables us to find out what we know - and what we don’t know - about what we are trying to learn. Improvement in student writing requires stringent practice, and those improvements may not come as quickly, or as easily as the student, the parent, or the teacher wishes. Indeed, not all students will be able to achieve at the highest levels. Nevertheless, it is the expectation at Paso Robles High School that students will participate in writing opportunities and will make continued progress in this vital area. We realize these are challenging expectations, but we are prepared to support students with instruction, resources and guidance, and we are confident parents will do their part in support of genuine improvement.

Students enrolled in English I and II are expected to be familiar with the Writing Process (see Section III) and to use it to their best advantage. They will be expected to write in response to a variety of assignments and situations, but some modes of discourse are practiced by all English I and II students. Specifically, all English I classes will emphasize the writing modes of Descriptive/Narrative, Reflective/Self-Expressive, and Informative/Expository. English II classes will emphasize the latter two modes and the mode of Persuasion.

Descriptive/Narrative is writing which presents a clear picture of a person, place, thing, or idea and/or which relates to a story or incident. To be most effective, this type of writing relies on powerful verbs and sensory details. Particularly helpful topics in Writers Inc for this mode include topics 136, 137, and 138.

Reflective/Self-Expressive is writing which searches for personal meaning in experiences, explores, speculates, and/or makes personal commentary. Particularly helpful topics in Writers Inc for this mode, including model papers, can be found in topics 337-353.

Informative/Expository is writing that presents information or explanations about a specific subject. Particularly helpful topics in Writers Inc for this mode, including a model paper, can be found in topics 121 and 122.

Persuasion is writing which convinces readers about a subject. Particularly helpful topics in Writers Inc, including a model for this mode, can be found in topics 125-127.

Back to top


Writing is a demanding and complex task. Successful writers tend to employ predictable methods and approaches in the development and completion of their writing efforts. These methods and approaches are often described as "The Writing Process." Although successful writers may employ different methods in each stage of the process, or may call the stages different names, it is rare that a successful writer will not employ at least some basic form of the writing process. There are five sequential stages of the writing process, completely detailed in Writers Inc. The basic stages are as follows:

Pre-writing: Methods can include outlining, researching, listing, clustering, free-writing, and others illustrated in topics 16-26.

Drafting: The first complete look at the writer’s idea. Considerations in the drafting stage might include clarifying the thesis statement and writing a strong lead paragraph. These and other drafting techniques are illustrated in topics 27-33.

Revision: Revision includes such things as reviewing the first drafts, adding, deleting, re-organizing ideas and sentences, and refining the style. Revision techniques are illustrated in topics 34-48.

Proofreading: The efforts made to bring the writing into conventional form with respect to spelling, usage, grammar, mechanics, etc. Proofreading techniques are illustrated in topics 49-54.

Publishing: The creation and submission of the final product, illustrated in topics 55-58.



Back to top


Ninth and tenth grade English teachers have agreed on a basic "rubric," or scoring template for student essays. It describes the attributes of papers at any given level of success. A copy of this essay grading tool follows. Students and parents are encouraged to refer to the rubric not only to interpret a student’s score after the essay is graded, but also as the essay is assigned and developed. Specific expectations for particular modes follow the basic rubric. Teachers are allowed to add to the basic rubric in order to address writing needs they perceive, or to tailor the rubric more specifically to the writing mode attempted, but these additions will always be provided to the student in writing and should be retained with this handbook.


Essay Rubric

Exceptional (6)





Commendable (5)





Advanced (4)





Proficient (3)





Developing (2)





Emerging (1)

The paper does not meet the minimal requirements for the essay.

Expectations for Particular Modes

Descriptive/Narrative Mode

Reflective/Self-Expressive Mode

Informative/Expository Mode

Effective use of technical terms and notations where appropriate.

Persuasion Mode

Back to top


Examples can be invaluable in improving student writing efforts. A variety of model papers appear in Writers Inc including, among others, exposition (topic 122), persuasion (topic 126), and literary analysis (topic 413). Additionally, some student-written models are attached. Although these models may contain imperfections, they clearly display elements of successful papers, such as clear focus, sentence variety, support for the thesis, specific language, strong thesis and introduction, and strong paragraph development.

When appropriate, individual teachers will provide their students with additional models.

Example #1

Humanity Through the Eyes of Science

Mary Shelly’s horror novel Frankenstein had many main ideas including man manipulating life by creating life from death, gothic horror, the capacity of human ability, the human emotions, and the way that Victor Frankenstein, as a human being, handled a dilemma. Victor Frankenstein was a man very interested in science, who began a project where he ‘played God’ and created his own ‘Adam,’ out of curiosity, human will, and for the benefit of science. "I will pioneer a new way, explore the unknown powers, and unfold to the world the deepest mysteries of creation" (47). The way this book described the monster being created, and his visual aspects, were examples of gothic horror, a European style of writing horror which was present throughout the story. Victor often referred to his creation in this way, "...Its gigantic stature, and the deformity of its aspect, more hideous than belongs to humanity...the filthy demon to whom I had given life" (73). Human ability, restricted as it may have seemed, contained a limit that Victor Frankenstein worked on and attempted to raise. "So much has been done...far more, will I achieve..." (47). But Frankenstein was not only interested in the science of human physiology, anatomy and decay, but he also became impelled by the mystery of the human emotions. "My attention was fixed to the delicacy of the human feelings" (51). Victor experienced emotional turmoil, and stress as his creation became a threat to him, and to others. Although when he realized this, it was too late. "...Now that I had finished, the beauty of the dream vanished...and the breathless horror and disgust filled my heart. Unable to endure the aspect of the being I had created, I rushed out of the room..." (56). Being that Victor made this ‘man’ of larger stature, greater strength, and things that surpassed human qualities, it was difficult to dispose of him, or even to try. This dilemma was a source of internal conflict within Victor and his monster.

Both Frankenstein and his creation endured a lot of internal conflict because of his choices. While he worked on his project, Victor was overcome with sickness and emotion because of his strenuous work. "Every night I was oppressed by a slow fever and I became nervous to a most painful degree; the fall of a leaf startled me, and I shunned my fellow creatures as if I had been guilty of a crime" (55). Frankenstein had further misfortune by the death of his younger brother, and spoke of his loss due to his product of science. "This spoke my prophetic soul, as, torn by remorse, horror, and despair, I beheld those I loved spend vain sorrow upon the graves of William and Justine, the first helpless victims to my unhallowed arts" (85). Victor was not the only one who suffered. The monster himself spent his life alone and anguished from the very moment of his creation. "I was a poor, helpless, miserable retch; I knew, and could distinguish, nothing; but feeling pain invade me on all sides. I sat down and wept" (98). With no one who cared for him, the monster soon asked Victor to make him a woman, who he would love and live with, and she would love him back. Victor made him promise that if he were to go through with this he was to live far away from every human presence, and never hurt a living creature. But Victor started having second thoughts. "The wickedness of my promise burst upon me; I shuddered to think that future ages might curse me as their pest, whose selfishness had not hesitated to buy its own peace at a price, perhaps, of the existence of the whole human race" (159). These internal conflicts which both creatures endured were sometimes just the beginning, and later led to external conflicts.

There were also many external conflicts that occurred, some between the monster and his creator, the monster and nature, and yet still more when Frankenstein’s creature encountered civilized man. An example of this could be when Victor ran into the product of his many efforts. When creator met his creation face to face, they both carried hearts heavy with anger and deception. Things advanced, and physical harm was provoked by Frankenstein. "My rage without bounds; I sprung on him, impelled by all the feelings which can arm one being against the existence of another" (95). The monster also experienced physical pain when he found a fire left in the forest ..."I was overcome with delight at the warmth I experienced from it. In my joy I thrust my hand into the live embers but quickly drew it out again with a cry of pain" (99-100). The monster’s pain did not end here. While trying to befriend a family who he learned from and admired without their knowledge, he was once again tormented because he was different. "Felix darted forward, and with supernatural power tore me from his father, to whose knees I clung; in a transport of fury, he dashed me to the ground and struck me with a stick" (129). As strong as he was, the monster did not fight back. He was so overwhelmed with the sorrow of once again being disclosed from society. But this was not his only encounter with other people. The monster described to his maker his meeting with Victor’s younger brother William. "The child struggled and loaded me with epithets which carried despair to my heart; I grasped his throat to silence him, and in a moment the boy lay dead at my feet" (136). The monster and his creator Victor both endured prodigious amounts of pain, but in one way or another, it all had to come to an end, resolved or not.

Most of the conflicts in this book remained unresolved. This included the way people disclosed Victor’s creation from society mainly because of what he looked like. While in Russia where Victor had traced his final steps, they met in their final confrontation, where the root of Victor’s problems resolved itself the only way it knew how.

Example #2

A poem written by Thomas Hardy, "Neutral Tones," is intriguing in many ways. To me, an interesting aspect of the poem is how the author creates the setting. Within "Neutral Tones," the poet portrays a physical environment which also sets the emotional environment. Together the two environments set the mood for the poem. The author most powerfully establishes these settings by using phrases like "pond" and "winter" as well as by using repetition of bleak colors.

The scenery in the poem sets the stage for the story. Each description of the physical environment symbolizes a feeling or mood. For example, the first line of the first stanza says, "We stood by a pond that winter day." The impression that line leaves me with is a cold, inescapable feeling of gloom. Why did the author choose a "pond" over a stream or ocean? I believe the poet chose a "pond" because a pond is stagnant, nothing flows in or out of a pond. The water has no escape. Perhaps the two people standing beside the pond felt trapped with no escape, like the water in the pond. The other physical trait in that line is "winter day." A winter day is cold, thus the feeling between the people involved must not have been warm nor cheery, otherwise the author would have chosen a season such as spring or summer. I think it is amazing to see how simply choosing a physical trait with the perfect connotation can and will affect the emotional feeling.

Throughout the poem, "Neutral Tones," the colors used to describe the environment are neither black nor white, neither are they bright. The colors are "neutral" (referring to the title). The poet chose to use bleak colors, most often gray. "They had fallen from an ash, and were gray." This last line from the first stanza literally means that the leaves have fallen from an ash tree and were now dead and gray on the ground. The literal sense of these physical traits are important. The importance lies in the way it also sets the emotional setting for the poem. Perhaps the tree symbolizes a once growing, loving relationship between the speaker and who seems to be his past lover. But, after the fire of a relationship has burnt out, all that is left is ashes. No more vibrant growth, only lifeless, meaningless gray ashes remain.

Together, the physical traits accented by the gray colors clue us in on the mood of the poem. The poem would be uncomprehendible if the couple was standing beside stagnant water on a bright cheery day. The author writes the poem using imagery which enables us to place ourselves inside the story and feel the same emotions by simply reading a visual image on a page. This poem is a perfect example of how the denotation of a word and the connotation of a word work together to make poetry the intriguing, compact art form that it is.

Bakc to top




Writing can be difficult, but the writer must avoid giving up.

"There is no failure except in no longer trying."

There are many writing components: mechanics, grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure, organization, and systematic and sequential thought. To improve essay writing, one must be willing to devote sufficient time because success is not convenient. Some students will become discouraged; therefore, the parent and the teacher need to respond similarly to students’ complaints. The following are responses that address common concerns. If the student doesn’t understand the response, direct the student to clarify the terminology with the teacher.

1. What do I write about?

      1. Read the writing assignment and brainstorm the topic. Jot down no less than ten (10) ideas.
      2. Underline important words in the writing assignment and brainstorm them.
  1. I don’t know what to write in the introduction.
      1. Start with an anecdote, rhetorical question, or definition.
      2. Develop a thesis statement whenever appropriate.
      3. Find a quote about the topic and discuss the quote, telling how it relates to the topic.
  2. The essay is too hard to write.
      1. Start with the prewrite: brainstorm, cluster, or outline ideas about the topic.
      2. Research information about the topic. Ask others what they think.
      3. Think about literature, poems, movie, etc. that relate to the topic or theme of assignment.
      4. Read available models of the mode or topic.
      5. Make an appointment with the teacher for help.
  3. I can’t get the essay done because I don’t have enough time.
      1. Time management is important. Always start the day the assignment is given!
      2. Plan the number of paragraphs that must be written each day in order to meet the first draft due date; stick to the plan.
      3. Use the library during lunch to write several paragraphs.
  4. I don’t understand; I keep getting low rubric scores.
      1. Ask for an appointment with the teacher.
      2. Don’t rely on memory; jot down teacher’s comments during office appointment.
      3. Focus less on the rubric score, and concentrate more on the rubric expectations.
      4. Compare rubric expectations with the essay. Make sure that each item is addressed in the essay.
      5. Examine several higher scoring papers written by peers.
  5. I made all of the changes that were suggested, but my score didn’t improve or didn’t improve enough on the final draft revision.
      1. To ensure the revisions were done correctly, make an appointment with the teacher.
      2. Perhaps corrections were made, but other improvements were not addressed.
      3. Make office appointment with teacher to discuss final draft revision.
Back to top


Parents ask, "How can I help my child with his/her essays?" Without going beyond ethical boundaries, parents should feel free to initiate a direction/focus to assist students who seek help. There are basic terms that are used in the classroom that students are required to know; some have been identified with quotation marks. Using the terms at home while assisting the student with essays will reinforce understanding. Use one or more of the following in each category. Insist that students apply some form of each of the stages of The Writing Process.

Step 1:

  1. Ask student to show you the writing assignment. Circle important words.
  2. Encourage student to read the essay aloud. Very often the student will detect simple mistakes.
  3. Have student read the "thesis statement" aloud to you. Ask him/her to tell you the "three parts."
  4. Have student read several paragraphs to determine if the thesis statement is supported by the paragraphs.

Step 2:

  1. For paragraphs with less than five (5) sentences, tell student to add two sentences to "develop" paragraphs.
  2. Ask student to show specific elements in the essay that reflect the "rubric expectations." This will remind the student to use the rubric as a writing guide.
  3. If organization of sentences is poor, have student number sentences in the order that will improve the order of ideas.
  4. If sentences and/or paragraphs seem to jump from one idea to the next, tell the student to use "transitions."
  5. If paragraphs are mostly "summaries" of text material, tell student that his/her "voice" is needed.
  6. If the paragraphs are only opinions, tell student that "proof" is needed.
  7. If essay doesn’t make sense, ask student to tell you what he/she means. Help student to make the ideas clearer.

Step 3:

  1. Read essays and indicate "run-on sentences" and/or "fragments."
  2. Circle words that aren’t spelled correctly.

Step 4:

  1. Ask questions that will help explore thoughts that haven’t already been addressed.
  2. Admit that writing isn’t always easy because it requires serious thought.

Teacher Support:

Require student to make an appointment for additional help.

Writing Tools:

  1. Rubrice. Thesaurus
  2. Writing promptf. Books of quotations, important sayings, etc.
  3. Any written instructionsg. Spell Check (human or machine)
  4. Dictionary

The best help a parent can give is to insist that the student doesn’t give up

when the assignment becomes challenging.

Back to top


(The teacher reserves the right to modify the following responses.)

The Essays

  1. How often are essays assigned?
  2. Approximately four (4) essays are assigned per semester, two (2) per quarter.

  3. How long do students have to work on a given essay?
  4. Time allotted for writing varies with the nature of the assignment and the teacher’s expectations. Each teacher will stipulate the time allowed in the instructions for a given assignment.

  5. In what form must the final draft of the essay be written?
  6. For maximum credit, final essays must be typed and double-spaced. Handwritten essays must be in blue or black ink and double-spaced.

  7. Are students given class time to work on essays?
  8. Writer’s Workshop is the term used to indicate that student are working on essays in class. Writer’s Workshop can include peer editing and teacher conferences. Students may request additional assistance during designated times outside of class, such as Advisement.

  9. How long must essays be?
  10. Teachers will specify length requirements in the instructions for each assignment.

  11. Where can students get help?

Students can usually receive help in class at appropriate times or at designated times outside of class. Most English teachers have office hours set aside to help students.


Back to top


Please sign this form and forward it to your child’s English teacher.


I have had the opportunity to read and review The Writing Handbook for Paso Robles High School Students and Parents.


Parent Signature______________________________________________


Back to top