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Integrating Quotations with Style

26 Feb

Whiskey_Chocolate_CakeImagine one day I walk into class and say, “Happy Birthday! I brought you a chocolate cake.” Then, I take out a bag of flour, a bottle of milk, a cup of sugar, a few eggs, and a few bars of chocolate…handing all of them to you separately. You would be unimpressed. I wouldn’t have made much effort to present you with a nice gift.

I should have taken the time to combine all the ingredients together in an effective, appealing way. Well, your readers can feel the same way when you just DUMP a direct quotation from the text into the middle of your writing without any set-up.

To add sophistication and style to your writing, you should work to integrate (or blend) direct quotations from a text into your own sentence structure. In this post I hope to give you some tools that will help you combine other people’s words with your own in a grammatically correct and appealing manner. The only real way to master this skill is to practice in your own writing, but these resources are a good place to begin developing your understanding of this ability.

Integrating Quotations with Style Handout

Blending Quotations (with a self-quiz)

 

More Video Explanations of how to BLEND quotations successfully (pick a few to view):

Blending Quotations and Avoiding Quote Dumps @PressEnglish

Mr. Cowan Explains Blending Quotations

Blending Quotations by Colin Welch

Choosing and Using Quotations by Schmoop

Using Quotes Effectively by Schmoop

Blending Quotations @MrBruff (advanced explanation)

Embedding Quotes like a boss (advanced explanation)

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Fragments, Run-ons, and Sentences: Resources for Students

9 Feb

FragmentsandRun-onsKnowing how to identify and correct run-on sentences is one of the best skills any young writer can develop and this ability allows apprentice scribes to write more clearly and writing more clearly will raise any ordinary Joe or Jane to rock-star status, leading to wealth, celebrity, and fame. I know. I am hilarious. I just made a grammar joke. If you didn’t get it, read on.

Google defines a run-on sentence as: A grammatically faulty sentence in which two or more main or independent clauses are joined without a word to connect them or a punctuation mark to separate them: “The fog was thick he could not find his way home.”

Do you understand that definition? If so, you probably don’t need me. Go and teach yourself how to avoid this all-too-common sentence construction error. There’s this handy thing known as Google that will come in handy.

But, you’re here, so you’re probably interested in some help. Allow me.

Now that you’ve watched the video, you will understand this simpler definition of a run-on sentence: two or more sentences incorrectly joined together.

In English, you may never join more than two sentences together. The opening sentence of this post, then, is a run-on sentence because it tries (and fails) to join three sentences together:

Knowing how to identify and correct run-on sentences is one of the best skills any young writer can develop.

This ability allows novice scribes to write more clearly.

Writing more clearly will raise any ordinary Joe or Jane to rock-star status, leading to wealth, celebrity, and fame.

That joke was not very good at all. I know that, yet I also know the following resources are good. They will no doubt help you master this concept:

More Explanations of Fragments & Run-ons:

Run-on Sentences Explained @ Study.com

Fixing Run-on Sentences @ HowCast

How to Avoid Run-on Sentences @HowCast

Run-on Sentences Explained @ Schmoop.com

Sentence Fragments @grammardoctor

Sentence Fragments @smrtenglish

Run-on Sentences @ smrtenglish

What are run-ons? (Grammar Girl)

Run-on Sentences Video @BrainPop…at home you need to log on. Check Haiku for details.)

Run-on Sentences Explained (Again…with a quick quiz at the end)

The Most Common Comma Error in the World (Mr. Neal explains)

 

 

Online Quizzes

Check your own understanding of fragments, run-ons, and sentences by taking some of these online quizzes:

Run-ons and Fragments Explained (with quizzes)

Fragments and Run-ons Self Quiz #1

Fragments and Run-ons Self Quiz #2 (answers at the bottom of the page)

Fragments and Run-ons Self Quiz #3

Identifying Run-on Sentences: The OWL

Identifying Run-on Sentences: University of Bristol

Fixing Run-on Sentences

Repairing Run-on Sentences

Parts of Speech Tutorials: Sheppard Software

Finding Time to Maintain a Blog

18 Dec

Black windup clock“Where do you find the time?” That’s the question fellow teachers most often ask me after reading my blog. I am a really busy person. They are really busy people. WE ARE ALL REALLY BUSY PEOPLE.

The reality of a teacher’s life is that there are too many things to do in too little time. While I live in the daily reality of this time crunch, another part of me realizes that we make time for the things we really want to do. I mean, I did not really have time to watch seven episodes of Orphan Black in three days…but somehow that still happened. Procrastibaking is a very real thing. You’re making the time to read this blog post. (Thanks for that.)

 

A few years back I read an article about Buddhist monks and how they cope with stress. They try to keep a mindset of working within the present moment. In other words, whether they have 25 things to accomplish in a day or just two, as they perform a task they realize they can only perform that one task in that one moment. In this way, they stay focused on singular events and actions as they move throughout the day.

ProcrastibakingI try to do the same. Notice, I write that I try. Last week I was winking awake at 2:30 a.m. worrying about the mediocre way in which I have been leading my students through Twelfth Night due to time constraints, but after a few nights of that silliness, I returned to deep slumber because I focused on the time I had and did my best within it.

This same mindset gets these blog post written. I take comfort in routines, and I have created a set of daily rituals that help me carve out writing time. Maybe some of my habits will help you find time to write, too? At the very least, making my habits public might help me stick to them more regularly.

 

My Writing Ritual of Late:

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Audio Feedback on Student Writing

13 Dec

audioPart of my job as Year Head involves dolling out consequences for misbehavior. In this work, I’ve quickly learned that a phone call saves time. When I speak to parents directly, they can hear my tone of voice, ask questions, and express their concerns. We typically end the talk with a mutual understanding: we are in it together, both working toward the betterment of the student. When a phone call is not possible and I have to email, misunderstandings often crop up because tone is often misconstrued. None of this is a revelation; it is just common sense. I am a gobsmacked then (thank you, Brits, for that lovely expression) that until recently, I had not applied this same common sense to my feedback on student writing. I have written before about using macros to increase the precision, consistency, and detail of my written feedback, and I have shared other feedback time saving techniques. Of course, I always give students oral feedback in the formative stages of their writing. Yet, until this recent round of essays, I had never tried recording my formal feedback. Many of my colleagues have been using audio feedback to great success, so I thought I would give it a try, too. Research tells us that in order to be truly effective, students must perceive feedback as credible, accurate, supportive, and timely. A student, like a parent, needs to feel the teacher is on her side, working toward the same common goal. Giving summative feedback orally can help ensure that students feel this way, which can make all those hours and hours and hours and hours and hours we spend creating such feedback more effective.

THE PROCESS:

  • As I read the essay in Google Docs, I used the comment feature to leave brief reminders of what I wanted to say. I gave each reminder a number.

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Student Scribe Posts

30 Nov

carts1Go to any grocery store parking lot in Germany, and you will never…and I mean never…see any stray shopping carts rattling along in the wind or parked in the hedges. Every carriage is always tucked back in the rack, sometimes in color coded rows. In the United States I always put my cart back where it belonged, and I secretly enjoyed rounding up any strays I came across. Imposing order on this chaotic world, even in small doses, soothes my fastidious soul. My fellow countrymen, however, do not share my O.C.D. Most people leave carts wherever they damn well please.

Yet, the difference in national shopping cart parking habits does not reveal some great divide between American and German gentility. Germans do not return their carts out of an altruistic urge to avoid scratching their neighbors’ Audis. Instead, grocery stores in Germany simply engineer order into their systems. To get a cart, you have to unlock it from the rack with a coin. When you’re done, you can’t get your money back until you return the cart and secure it to its mates. It’s a simple system that works beautifully.

Medieval_writing_deskThe Student Scribe system works in much the same way; it’s a simple system, that once implemented, works with minimal effort on the teacher’s part. I first learned about the idea from Darren Kuropatwa, and I found his blog posts on student scribes very useful when setting up my scribe system for the first time.

On most days, one student takes communal notes and then posts these to a class wiki. Each post ends with the current student choosing the next scribe. Here are the directions I give my students regarding scribe posts:

 

 

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Robo Grader Review: ProWritingAid Google Add-on

23 Mar

4:59A computer can give more effective and timely feedback than I can…sometimes. The potential of “robo grading” excites me. In the case of redundancies, clichés, passive voice, sentence variety, and other writing concepts, a focused report generated by an algorithm can do more than I can. I have used Writer’s Workbench in the past, my colleagues have used ETS Criterion, and I want to try White Smoke. Of course, a free option via Google Add-ons has enormous appeal.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to let my students experiment with ProWritingAid, one of the new Add-ons offered in Google Drive. This week students submitted novel analysis essays on The Catcher in the Rye, so I imagined online editing reports could get them started on revision while I mark the essays.

Unfortunately, my students and I are underwhelmed. Now, we need to give ProWritingAid a better chance. These opinions are based on just one test of about 30 minutes. We will try it again very soon, but based on this week’s toe-in-the-water trial the feedback was too clunky and abstract to be of much use:

Our feedback on ProWritingAid’s feedback:

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Bitesize Rewrites: Paragraph Revision Assignment

19 Jan

ParagraphetzelThis year my English colleagues and I have set a common professional goal of improving the effectiveness of our feedback on written work. I am very excited by this collaboration, as I am always interested in exploring how we can make feedback more streamlined, collaborative, and manageable. Writing instructors spend so much time creating feedback, and I am always looking for ways to get better at the process (and reclaim some of my private life).

We are still exploring the research and I plan to blog much more extensively on this topic in future posts, but here are the broad ideas I took away from our most recent discussion of what research shows us about written feedback:

  • Students must be able to apply the feedback for it to have any meaning. In other words, writing feedback on an essay that the student will not revise is wasted time for everyone involved.

  • When students see their teachers as more CREDIBLE and LIKEABLE, they are more likely to value, trust, and, therefore, apply the feedback.

  • Positive comments are more effective than negative ones.

  • Written feedback can result in improvement, but feedback has no effect unless the student understands it and agrees with it.

These conversations are helping me reflect on the feedback I give. I am already crackling with ideas on how to improve my work, but I am also happy that the research clearly supports some of my current practices. In this post, I am sharing an idea that helps me address the final bullet point above.

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No Dead Fish: Teaching Students to Write Effective Introductions

12 Jan

dead fishDead Fish Handshakes are a huge pet peeve of mine. You offer your hand in greeting and the other person returns a grip that is downright soggy, their hand flopping in yours like a lifeless cod. It’s not a huge offense in the grand scheme of things, but it also seems like such an easy thing to avoid. Just get a grip, people. Of course, pedestrian, soulless introductory paragraphs are much more difficult to avoid. Teachers of writing will instantly recognize these “dead fish” beginnings. We are all too familiar with them. I have, however, had considerable success using the following strategy to help students write more lively, effective introductory paragraphs.

I use a fairly common symbol to articulate the role of an introductory paragraph. This handout is probably something you have seen before, an inverted triangle (or funnel) that reminds students to begin broadly with a HOOK, narrow the focus of the essay with a few sentences that act as a BRIDGE, and then end the paragraph with a clear THESIS. Of course, this is not the only way to write an effective introduction, but it is an excellent model for most situations, especially for young writers.

(Yes, old writers can benefit from it too. You are a clever little monkey and have figured out that the introductory paragraph to this post follows the same format. Well done.)

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Teaching Metaphors and Similes: Make a Game of It

14 Dec

Apples to OrangesFor students, learning about metaphors and similes can sometimes feel like doing taxes on April 14. Or taking your daily dose of cod liver oil poured over bran flakes. Or picking blueberries under a sweltering summer sun while wearing a corduroy three piece suit. Admit it. We English teachers can sometimes beat the joy right out of the most wonderful, playful topics.

I am 99.9% certain that at some point, in every English classroom around the globe, the definitions of metaphors and similes get taught in some fashion. Certainly, no reader can effectively glean understanding from texts without having at least an intuitive sense for the different functions of literal and figurative language. Learning to appreciate and evaluate language of comparison is a key part of any reader’s journey. Why, then, do so many students struggle to move beyond the most cursory understanding of these particular aspects of language? I think we must shoulder a hefty load of culpability here. Too often we teach these concepts in a basic manner, only assessing students’ ability to define and identify figurative devices.

One way I move beyond simple definitions of these terms is by playing a game that helps students understand the power of comparison and why using it well adds such style, life, and efficiency to our writing.

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Putting It Out There: Take the Time to Publish

5 Dec

commaJust a short anecdote from an English 9 class that gives me a boost and reminds me why it is worth our time to make the extra effort to publish online. I have written before about how I use macros and AutoText to save time when giving feedback on writing. In a recent essay, one of my students was making a chronic comma error, one that I dub The Most Common Comma Error in the World. My AutoText comment to her was, “Remember our quick lesson on the most common comma error in the world? You make it time and time again, but it’s easy to fix.  Hint: the comma in that last sentence is a clue as to what mistake you’re making.” One problem. I never taught her class anything about this topic. Obviously, I thought I had.

Yet, it was not really a problem. She just Googled the phrase “The Most Common Comma Error in the World” and watched the video I had posted on this same topic years earlier. She viewed the video and made her changes.

It was a microscopic moment of flipped teaching, but it was one that reminds why I take the extra effort to share my work online: Continue reading

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