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Writing for an Audience

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Open to: Grades 6 and 7
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required
Prerequisites: see below
Challenge Level: High School Senior
Course Formats: Individually Paced
Recommended School Credit: One-half academic year
Course Length: Typically 6 months
Course Code: EM2 

Course Description

Writing for an Audience provides an intensive writing experience for students in grades 6 and 7, which continues their introduction to the process of writing. However, in Writing for an Audience, the emphasis is on revising for an audience. These 10 assignments focus on drafting to shape a writer's ideas and on revising to communicate those ideas to an audience. Students write five projects, which may include:

  1. a persuasive letter,
  2. a critical essay about literature,
  3. an analysis of a literary character,
  4. the sense of place in a poem, and
  5. an experiment with writing style.

For each project, students complete an assignment for two stages of the writing process:

  1. drafting and
  2. revising drafts for an audience.

In critiques that are typically one page long, instructors comment on what students did well and on what they could do to improve their writing.  Exchanging letters about the process of writing is an important part of the course.  With each assignment, students send a letter discussing the experience of composing the assignment.  The instructors then respond to those meta-cognitive reflections.

This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.

Student contributions (e.g., projects, forum posts, etc.) may remain in the course after the student completes the course. These artifacts may be preserved to showcase student work or to continue important conversations. 

Grammar Note

Skilled, careful writers follow the conventions of Standard Written English, but writing is much more than mere adherence to convention. Instructors discuss grammar only when it affects meaning. Writing courses are not remedial. Students must already be proficient in Standard Written English.

Materials Needed

Students are not required to purchase any additional materials or texts for this course.


Successful completion of one course below:

CTY Online Programs

CTY Summer Programs

  • Writing and Imagination
  • Heroes and Villains
  • Writing Workshop: Images and Text
  • Elements of Drama

Course Details

Note: This describes the individually paced version of Writing for an Audience. View the session-based course description.

You set the schedule!

The individually paced format uses a web-based course management system that delivers assignments, receives finished essays, and returns instructor critiques. Students and instructors use the course management system's messaging module and email to communicate.  The individually paced format does not include peer review workshops. As with the web-based format, it is not necessary for students and instructors to be online at the same time.

Students may enroll at any time during the year and progress at their own pace within their enrollment period, guided by instructors who strive to meet individual needs. Assignments may not be submitted closer than seven days apart. Enrollment and tuition are time-based, and students may enroll in a course for three, six, or nine months.


Sample First Assignment


FINDING YOUR VOICE: Drafting a Personal Essay

NOTES: PLEASE READ THIS ASSIGNMENT FROM START TO FINISH BEFORE YOU BEGIN WRITING. In general, you should read each assignment all the way through before you begin working. Feel free to share it with a parent or guardian. Families should review, below:


The word "essay" comes from the French word essai, which literally means "to try" or "to attempt." In essays, we try out ideas to discover what we think about them. In a personal essay, you share something about yourself with your readers; this sharing is both entertaining and informative. A personal essay is written less formally than many other types of essays; you might like to think of it as a kind of conversation between reader and writer. A personal essay is about your relationship with a particular subject. The range of subjects that can be addressed in a personal essay is almost unlimited—so long as you remember to keep the focus on yourself and your thoughts, feelings, and actions related to the subject.

It is very important to understand the distinction between a personal essay and the kind of essay or report you write for school. The typical school essay is generally a five-paragraph analysis. The first paragraph sets out your thesis, the next three paragraphs explain your sub-theses, and the final paragraph states your conclusion. It is useful to learn how to write that kind of essay (more about that later in the course) but that's not what I'm asking you to do here. Professionals rarely write five-paragraph essays.

Step 1 - Use Questions to Find a Subject

The first step in writing a personal essay is, of course, deciding on a subject. Here are a few questions to get you started, together with the answers provided by an imaginary writer. Any one of these topics could form the basis for an entertaining and informative personal essay.

What makes you mad? [Rude people]
What makes you happy? [Roller Coasters!]
What makes you afraid? [Spiders]
What past events were turning points in your life? [Moving overseas]
What is your favorite thing to do? [Cartooning]
Who is your favorite person? [My grandmother]

As you can see, the range of subjects that can be addressed in a personal essay is very broad indeed. Generally, it helps to feel strongly about something (either positively or negatively) to write about it. And remember, you are focusing on your own particular take on the subject. For this course, you wouldn't write a "report" on spiders. Instead, you'd probably begin a personal essay with your most scary spider story, and then write about how your fear of spiders developed, what you find so disturbing about spiders, and how you deal with your fear. You would weave together your thoughts and feelings about spiders with anecdotes (stories) about your experiences with spiders. Inside this essay, you might include facts about spiders, but only as they serve the personal essay, not just to import a bunch of facts. In this way you would both inform and entertain your readers.

Step 2 - Use Clustering to Find a Subject

If my questions above haven't helped you decide on a subject for your personal essay, try a cluster or web exercise. Draw an oval with your name in the center and then draw lines out from that oval to other ovals in which you've scribbled the people, places, and things that surround you. Each oval should lead to at least a couple of other ovals. In this way, you construct a visual representation of your life and the people, places, and things that are important to you. One of those things may strike you as a suitable subject for your personal essay. Check out the sample web below and then draw your own.
picture of clustering activity

Step 3 - Drafting

Once you've got a subject in mind, write a few paragraphs about it. Don't worry too much about spelling or punctuation at this point; just get some thoughts down on the page. Remember, the point is to write to find out what you think about the subject. You'll probably need a couple of writing sessions, spaced a day or two apart, to produce a couple of pages on the subject.

Step 4 - Cutting Your Warmup Paragraphs

When you've written all that you can think of on the subject, read your draft out loud to someone. Read slowly and enunciate clearly. When you finish reading the whole draft, ask your listener what part he/she remembers best. Then ask your listener what part he/she likes best. Probably, both parts will be in the same place; it is very unlikely that they will be in the first paragraph, and here's why.

Writing an essay requires you to find your way to what you really want to say. This process of discovery usually takes at least a few paragraphs. The first couple of paragraphs (those that will probably come before your listener's "best") are what we call warm-up writing. You wrote them so that you could get to the place where the essay really starts. I want you to "throw away" those paragraphs -- not literally, but cut and paste them into a blank document (save that document in a folder where you can find it later and maybe use those paragraphs in another essay). I know how hard it is to cut out anything you've written, but remember that all writers warm up and that all writers throw away their warm ups. Like an athlete, you warm up to stretch your (writing) muscles and prepare for the actual performance.

(If, however, you have a paragraph or two that you feel is just too good to throw away, keep it. And, either change the font color to something not black or write "TOO GOOD" at the start and end of the paragraph, so I'll know you think it is special. I'll take a careful look at it.)

Step 5 - Expanding What's Left

After you've cut and pasted the "throw away" paragraphs into another document, take a look at what's left. Look at the shape of the piece. Find spots that need more detail, description, or explanation. Write more detail, description, or explanation. I'd like your essay to be at least two pages long (double-spaced lines, 12 inch font, 1 inch margins all around).

Step 6 - Outlining

After you've written all that you can about the subject, make a rough (informal) outline or list of what you've covered in each paragraph. Each item in the list should identify the main idea of the paragraph. If you find that you have more than one main idea per paragraph, that's a sign that you need to break it up into two paragraphs.

  • Check for logical flow: is each idea in the outline/list in the best sequence?
  • Check for coherence: is each idea relevant to the essay's subject?
  • Check for proportion: do too many of your sentences focus on a minor aspect of your subject rather than on what's important?
  • Remember that you are writing an essay, not a book, so you need to decide what's important enough to include, and what's so irrelevant that it needs to be cut out. Use the cut and paste function to rearrange, delete, or add paragraphs as needed.

Step 7 - Reflecting on What You've Done

When you are satisfied with your draft essay, write me a short letter describing your experience with this assignment.

Was it hard for you to come up with a topic for the essay?
Did you find it easy to write about the subject once you had chosen it?
Where did you run into difficulties?
How much text did you have to delete before you came to your "listener's best" paragraphs?
Who was your listener? (this tells me your immediate audience)

Turn It In

Get in this habit:

ALWAYS make two backups of your primary file. One backup will be electronic. One will be paper.

  1. Electronic -- on a different hard drive, a CD, or a USB stick

  2. Paper -- printed and saved in a folder labeled especially for this class


Computers sometimes die. Hard drives sometimes die. Floppy disks and CDs and USB sticks break or get lost. Paper sometimes gets thrown out or burned or spilled upon.

In 99% of situations, one backup or the other will survive. In 100% of situations, when there's no backup, nothing survives.


____Draft of essay
____Throw-away paragraphs

Check your schedule for the due date.


Whether you compose on paper or keyboard, you need to send all of your exercises as one file. At the beginning of the file, please key in your name, the assignment number, and the date. Example:

Ben Reynolds
Assignment #1
February 4, 2014

For each part of the assignment (except the first), please insert a page break.

  • In Word, click Insert, then break, then Page break.
  • In WordPerfect, click Insert, then Page Break.

Now key in a title from the Due list. Example from Assignment 1 Due list (pretend you've inserted a page break here):

Throw-away paragraphs

Save the file as yourfirstnameyourlastnameassignmentnumber.doc Example:


Your file must have a three-letter extension (.doc) in order for your instructor to read it. Most files will be automatically saved as .doc. Right-click renaming the file extension if Windows does not save it in the appropriate format. Use Save As... to change the file type.

If you cannot save your file as a .doc, save it as Rich Text Format (the document extension is .rtf). You will see a drop down box that allows you to choose the appropriate format.

Apple Pages Users Help Exporting Pages to Word

Please go to for instructions on how to make your pages file into a Word document.

Warning: Revision assignments require you to copy the document several times within the same file. Do not let multiple copies confuse you. Be very careful to stay in the correct section and on the correct page, or you'll find yourself revising an earlier copy. See Assignment #5's "Due" list for an example.

Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.