Here is the scenario:  After running to soccer practice and dance line tryouts you think you can just pack it in and go to bed at a reasonable hour.  Then the other shoe drops:  Your daughter just informed you that a 5 page term paper on the origins of World War I is due.  Tomorrow.  In first period. 

And oops, they just remembered about it and hadn't even started it yet. 

Tears, threats of running away and much shouting abounds.  And that's just you.  Your son or daughter is paralyzed with fear of failure and the realization that they had 3 weeks notice and blew it and the stress of showing up with absolutely nothing typed after procrastinating for weeks is now dawning upon them.  There is nothing scarier than writing your first term paper.  And for some that fear never goes away.

At this point one just wants to give up, go to bed and call in sick the next day.  The temptation to copy and paste written pieces by others found on the internet entices both student and parent.  The amazement that your daughter can thumb hundreds of characters texting per hour whilst unable to produce a single sentence for her paper defies the laws of physics.  But it's 1:00 am and there is no paper written, no endnotes, no nothing and you realize that it is going to be one very long night.

So how does one avoid that nightmare scenario in the first place and make it a habit for your son or daughter to just rip off the band aid and start writing away?

Pour yourself a cup of coffee and take a deep breath.  Here are some ideas that could make it easier on your student and yourself. 

1. Use sticky notes instead of index cards.  

A big blank page is one of the most frightening images any writer can imagine. Index cards are kind of retro and one can lose them easily.  And they just are clumsy to work with. 

2. Have them dictate it to you.

One of the difficulties of writing is getting the ideas out of one's head.  With students they might be overwhelmed with facts and research about a subject so it’s kind of trapped in there. 

To get some of those gold nuggets of information out, ask probing questions about the subject.  Have them answer to you verbally and jot those answers down.  One has the basics with the Who, What, Why, Where and How...but also the "tell me what you are going to write about" intro and the "this is what this paper is all about" paragraph. 

If your student has a few weeks’ notice to prepare for the paper, set aside no more than 20 minutes per day per paragraph.  Set your kitchen timer for 20 and ask.  Jot down ONE sentence on ONE sticky note.  Pull the note and set it aside and continue with more sentences. 

By limiting the time to a mere 20 minutes it’s not quite as intimidating as staring at a blank sheet of paper.  For some, writing down one sentence per sticky note is a feeling of accomplishment.  Apply the sticky note to a large piece of poster board.  The first sentence of the first paragraph is done and maybe followed by a few more paragraphs that can go into detail.  Of course they don't have to dictate it to anyone and just write one sentence on one note themselves - which may spark more sentences and get the momentum moving but the main thing is to just move forward.

2. Use Email or Texting

Ask them questions about the subject in an email or text them and have them text you back.  My son has  Asperger Syndrome and while he struggles to converse with anyone, texting doesn’t seem to be an issue.

3. Have them dictate it into a mp3 recorder. 

There is a free app in google play called ASR which has unlimited time for recording mp3's.  If you have a smartphone this is essential for students to record notes from lectures and one can email the file to someone else to transcribe. 

4. Create a Pre-Writing Map

There is Freemind which is open sourced mind mapping software (found on that one can download. Or you can draw on a whiteboard, poster board, chalkboard if your student needs some pre-writing prodding.  Draw a circle in the middle of a piece of paper with the main idea within it and then draw lines of "who, what" or whatever relevant points that need to be conveyed from the circle like sun rays or branches from a tree.  You can't do their homework for them but perhaps it could be more fun.

5. Create a worksheet with questions they have to fill out in longhand

While teachers sometimes provide this or require this as homework, parents find themselves stuck with the last minute paper writing drama.  If a parent finds out in advance about a paper on a subject, then they review some online articles and create a quick and dirty Q&A worksheet for their kid to fill out.  

You don't have to be all serious about it either.  You can say in the worksheet..."What is this paper all about?  "Why should I care about this subject?" and “Does this event effect people today like yourself?" "Who are the players responsible for causing World War I?"  Asking both irreverent but relevant probing questions such as these prods the student into arguing about the importance of the subject and why it matters.  Challenging the student to be more passionate about her subject will encourage her to write and research more. A Q&A worksheet helps students realize they are writing for an audience and that helps them create a point of view that comes across to the teacher.  

Part of the Q and A sheet can include a section on the books you found to be interesting on the subject as well as any articles that support the answers.  This will be the backbone of the "endnotes" section of the paper which for many students creates the greatest anxiety of seeing a research paper to its final conclusion.  If this is one of your student's toughest challenges, conquer this one as early as possible and get it out of the way. 

They can fill it out or you can ask them verbally and write down their answers.  The main thing is to compile relevant information in the form of sentences. 

6. Create a slideshow or Powerpoint

If you know your student’s strength is visual as opposed to verbal  have them create a slide presentation.  Just the bullet points please.  They can use the computer or just write on a piece of paper.  Limit it to 6 slides (and intro, a concluding and 3 supporting slides).  Keeping things down to the essentials and just do bullet points makes it less intimidating.  Have them give you their presentation orally with the slides and start taking down dictation or record it.  You will have words, sentences, paragraphs and structure.  If you need to cite sources and provide quotes, then that can be inserted later.  The structure is there and that is the most challenging part for many kids.

7. 5 Sentences Every Day

Lastly, encourage your younger students to write every day.  Have them write about anything.  The subjects could range from their favorite boy band  to why going into their mom's make up bag is the coolest bad thing they can do.  Have them write the topic and 3 cool things about something relative to their subject and then have them stop.  Set the timer to 20 minutes and turn off the television.  If they need topic ideas then help them pick from their current interests.  Encourage them to keep a journal.  Starting your younger student to write daily now will produce more confident students as they reach high school and college age.

Your kids secretly want your help  (and in fact are kind of desperate for it).  Keep it light, fun, short and a bit sassy and you might be surprised that they can do it.  And you both can sleep easy the eve of The Dreaded Term Paper Deadline.