Recognizing the need for specific and inspiring writing instruction for students confronting the Common App essay, Hillside offers this 90-minute launch to writing the uncommon essay. Our energetic talk helps college-bound applicants and their support teams to see the project less as a challenge and more as an opportunity — even an enjoyable one!


"The students left feeling less intimidated by writing and more empowered and more creative. Building the essay out of a small yet clear and detailed idea resonated. Everything about this talk was spot-on."

— John Boozang
Director of College Counseling
Wilbraham & Monson Academy

"The workshop Allan led gave our juniors brilliant and dramatically illustrated lessons in the organic practices of writing and revising — and in learning to see in a first draft the seeds of the eventual essay, usually in the form of a telling detail that has within it the promise of the whole. Our students began writing essays that could be seen and sensed, and that told compelling stories. No one I’ve met more effectively communicates the writing process than Allan does."

—Tim Watt, PhD
English Department
Chase Collegiate School

"I was blown away by this presentation — some of the most engaging and inspiring teaching I've experienced, ever. It not only made me wish that my kids had had Allan as a teacher; it made me want to write my own college-application essays all over again, which is saying something!"

Brookline, MA

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Brimming with stories from Hillside's long study of students’ writing efforts — not only on the page but also in the often uneasy approach to it — Allan Reeder, Hillside’s founder, opens fresh and profitable ways of seeing and thinking. Case studies displayed on a large screen allow attendees to enter the sentences and the evolving sensibilities of past college applicants who have progressed beyond the worry about having to say something significant and into the confidence of having something specific and meaningful to say. Take-away lessons about how to advance from fact to story and, ultimately, to the reflective thinking that admissions officers wish to see are made entertainingly clear through up-close exposure to the writing process.


The Common-App Chalk Talk is shaped by five core ideas:


A Case-Study Approach

Students gain confidence, ideas, and direction from seeing how past applicants have developed starter ideas into memorable essay material. The exposed process that a peer went through teaches more than the polished and published essay can teach alone. 


It's a Request, Not a Test 

The Common App essay prompts are not test questions but open requests from an audience eager to listen. The successful essayist is motivated not by the concern that she has to say something in particular but by the pleasure of having something in particular to say. 


See and Be Seen

Admissions officers are no different from other readers: they want to be transported; they want to see images in the mind. The essay writer, therefore, must first endeavor to see his own experience. Finding the visual details of one's story not only makes the story sharable and memorable but also enlivens the writing process.


Authenticity is in Discovery

It's not only okay to begin from a place of uncertainty — it's important! An essay becomes fresh and engagingly credible when the process of writing reveals something true about the writer to the writer. Flannery O'Connor's words are apt: “You ought to be able to discover something from your stories. If you don't, probably nobody else will.”


Forget the Essay. Write a Sentence.

Every essay is, of course, made of individual sentences. So, start with one — just one specific, true, complete narrative sentence that would make a reader sit forward in her chair, eager to learn more. Let the conversation that will compel an essay begin from the details in and behind one sentence. (Read about Hillside's Ten Sentences approach here.)


Hillside customizes the Chalk Talk for a range of different audiences — entire grades, individual classrooms, school faculties, counseling staffs, parent groups, or a combination.

Recent & Upcoming Chalk Talks:

Chase Collegiate School
Dover-Sherborn Community Education
Education First
The Foundation for MetroWest
Noble & Greenough School
Summit Educational Group
Walnut Hill School for the Arts
Wilbraham & Monson Academy

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