Smart Review | Write Out Loud

Blog Series, Learning, Smart Review

Choose a word to describe Write Out Loud by Carol Barash, PhD.

  1. extensive
  2. resourceful
  3. enlightening
  4. all of the above

The answer, of course, is d. all of the above. Write Out Loud is a must-have for high school students preparing to write college essays. In Write Out Loud, Barash walks you through a storytelling course. The book is divided into four parts: Find, Shape, Perform, and More Tools for Your Journey.


Students are taught to prepare for their college application journey. Students also begin to think about how their past will shape their future in the Find section. Barash introduces the Three-Sentence Story in this section.

My favorite bit of advice in this section is “Stories happen in the real world” as Barash encourages students to tell about things that happen, not just things they think about. Students are challenged to discover the scripts they use to tell their stories. Scripts are cliches, the tried and true stories. Barash challenges students to leave scripts behind and really delve deep into their stories.

Students are called to choose a moment, a defining moment. Barash describes ‘four buckets’ that defining moments can fall into: Change, Achievement, Risk and Dilemma. Through the exercise in the Find section, students build an extensive array of stories to carry them into the next section.


The Shape section helps students mold and refine their stories. First up in this section is the idea of Telling Your Story. Barash encourages students to record themselves telling their story out loud and seeing their story as an admission counselor will.

Next, student’s transcript their oral story into a written essay. Barash reminds students “Whenever you are stuck, feeling writer’s block, or having trouble deciding how to edit your essays, you can always return to telling your stories out loud.” Excellent advice!

Barash then helps students add details to their work to transform their writing. The Three D’s:

  • Details,
  • Dialogue and
  • Description are reviewed extensively.

Finally, students are asked to map out their essay. Here Barash offers a new twist of the traditional beginning, middle and end of a story. Students are prompted to start their story with a magnet to draw in their reader, a pivot to show their read where they changed and glow to leave their reader wanting more.


The Perform section is the icing on the cake. Barash helps students refine their essays for maximum impact. Magnet and Glow are revisited in greater depth. Barash walks students through writing several magnets for the same essay in different ways so they can choose the hardest hitter.

Barash also asks students to reflect on their perspective in the Perform section. In this section, students also confront the idea that they or their essay are not enough. Barash implores students to stay true to themselves. Their writing should sound like them. She offers an eight point checklist for students to check their essays and then ‘let them go’.

More Tools for Your Journey

The final section of Write Out Loud is full of resources for students. Barash offers grammar checks, interview tips and answers to frequently asked questions. However, the entire book is full of resources. Each section has many exercises to guide students. Each chapter ends with ideas for further reading.

As a teacher and parent, my favorite part of this book is that Barash expects students to do the work. She never backs down from the idea that essay writing is work. I love the note to parents at the beginning of the book.

Barash is able to speak plainly to students throughout the book. She confronts their fears. She encourages them to do the work and reap the rewards. This book is a must have for high school students and those who serve them.

I’m sending my copy to our high school’s college and career counselor. And I’m recommending it for our high school English Language Arts teachers. Barash offers powerful advice for all kinds of writing, especially the college essay.

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Aimee Bartis

Aimee Bartis

Aimee Bartis is a veteran teacher and an Educational Technology Specialist in Texas. Follow Aimee on Twitter @aimeegbartis or

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