Tuesday, October 29, 2013

We owe Shakespeare ...

Here's another graphic that helps us understand how creative Shakespeare was and what lines and sayings of his have come down to us today, even if the meaning has changed slightly.

Click on the graphic to enlarge it and make it easier to read.
These are fun!


This graphic has wonderful tips about searching online, especially with www.google.com ~

(Click on the graphic to biggify!)

And these linked webpages have instructions that will help everyone become better at online searches:



Happy searching!

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Some websites

Following are some websites in which students can find explanations and examples of a wide array of grammar and writing topics:

Guide to Grammar and Writing: Use the Word & Sentence Level menu to find information about parts of speech, punctuation, etc. Use the Paragraph Level menu to find help with very common writing problems that middle school, high school, and college students usually have. Use the Essay & Research Paper Level menu to find topics relating to the writing of entire papers, no matter what the length; this section also includes links to MLA and APA guidelines for paper formatting, citing sources, etc. Sometimes, an easier way to navigate this website is to use the INDEX

TeachRo's Grammar, Diagramming, and Writing website: This is an English teacher's collection of her own explanations and examples of a large number of topics, including writing needs, grammar, and how to diagram sentences with different characteristics. She is always adding to this, so if you try it out but don't find what you need, be sure to check back in a couple of weeks or so.

English Grammar and How to Write Better: This is an amazing website that is very straightforward. "Stop. Writing. Junk." There are very obvious links right under the title of the website - these lead to a wide variety of grammar and writing topics, including adjectives, adverbs, nouns, prepositions, verbs, how to write better, and on and on. Lots of good help here.

HyperGrammar: From a university in Ottawa, Canada, this is a very easy website to navigate. Just use the list on the left for whatever topic you need help with - from grammatical items to writing concerns.

Grammar Bytes: This is a terrific website with two sections - one for explanations and one for practice (exercises). Try it. It's wonderful!

LEO: The Write Place Catalogue: Here's another from a university (St. Cloud State in Minnesota) that is magnificent. It includes links to explanations and examples of just about everything - from grammatical topics to thesis statements to introductions and conclusions ... and everything in between.

Try them. You'll like them. And be sure to post in the comments if you have questions.

Friday, March 02, 2012


One of the most prevalent problems I see among English speakers today is that far too many of them have trouble recognizing and writing complete sentences. Much of it comes from all they're surrounded by, of course, from poor role models in real life, poor speaking skills on the parts of news and weather people (who seem to be allergic to verbs!), and everything in between.

Come here, James. (<~~a complete sentence; a command)

When James came home. (<~~an incomplete sentence)

James came home last night. (<~~a complete sentence)

Students should be able to recognize these and others by the time they exit fourth grade, but far too many cannot. If they cannot recognize them in print or in their own handwriting, how will they ever learn to write in complete sentences? This is definitely something on which parents can work with their children. And here are some websites that can help:
·                     GrammarBytes
·                     Guide to Grammar and Writing

A sentence has five necessary elements: a subject, a main verb, a capital letter at the beginning, proper punctuation at the end - and it must make sense on its own. That is, it cannot depend on another phrase or clause to help it make sense.

Sentences can be classified in two different ways: by their structure and by their function. First, I'll focus on sentences as defined by their functions.

Most commonly used are declarative sentences, those sentences that make a statement of some kind:

·                     James hit the baseball hard.

Other sentences are interrogative sentences, those that ask questions:

·                     Did James hit the baseball as hard as he could?
·                     When will James be up to bat?

Still others are imperative sentences - commands:

·                     Hit it, James.
·                     Run faster.
·                     Sit down.

And finally there are exclamatory sentences:

·                     What a game!
·                     How fantastic was that home run!
·                     Wow!

Most of the time, we use declarative sentences, but clearly, we use the other three periodically, too. Once students learn to identify and understand declarative sentences, it's usually not difficult for them to recognize the other three types.

If parents want to help their children gain proficiency in this area, one thing they can do is go to English Zone and click on Grammar Blast - Grade 4. In this area there are various quizzes, at least three of which deal with children's ability to recognize complete sentences.

Another way to classify sentences is by their structure, rather than their function. In order to be able to identify sentences by structure, it's a good idea that students know the differences between clauses and phrases.

·                     Clause must have a subject and a verb; can be dependent (subordinate) or independent (main).
·                     Phrase – does not have a subject and verb (there may be a noun or pronoun, or there may be a verb form, but they do not function as normal subject-and-verb combinations do); is always dependent (cannot be a sentence by itself).

Structurally, sentences fall into four categories: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. It's simply a matter of which clauses are put together in what combinations.

·                     Simple sentence: one independent clause; can have as many or as few phrases as the writer likes, but there is only one clause.
·                     Compound sentence: two independent clauses, joined by a comma and one of the coordinating conjunctions (and, but, or, nor, for, so, yet) or joined by a semicolon.
·                     Complex sentence: one independent clause and at least one dependent clause; dependent clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions, relative pronouns, interrogative pronouns, and any other subordinating words.
·                     Compound-complex sentence: two independent clauses, joined correctly, and at least one dependent clause.
Here are some examples of these types of sentences:
1. Simple: Three cats live in my house.
2. Compound: Three cats live in my house, and I must now cover all upholstered furniture with sheets!
3. Complex: Three cats, which I love dearly, live in my house.
4. Compound-complex: After I adopted this lovely cat family, my house was again filled with joy, and my heart was, too.

Here is an entire webpage devoted to explaining clauses, and there is a quiz at the end if you want to test yourself! ~~>http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/clauses.htm

Questions? Please post them in the comments or send me an email.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Practice, practice, practice

Did you think that all the practicing in the world is mainly done by athletes and musicians? Have you ever wondered why they do this ... the good ones, that is?

In 1994, Daniel Goleman published an excellent article called "Peak Performance: Why Records Fall," and it's amazing. I discovered the article when I was teaching freshman comp classes at a community college in California; the article was included in the text I used, The Riverside Reader. Over the eight years I taught that course, I learned that this one article was remembered by my students better than almost any other in that text. I don't think it's difficult to figure out why! The article not only makes sense, but the concepts are easily applied to many other areas of anybody's life.

Here are a couple of paragraphs from the article:
"Perhaps the most surprising data show that extensive practice can break through barriers in mental capacities, particularly short-term memory. In short-term memory, information is stored for the few seconds that it is used and then fades, as in hearing a phone number which one forgets as soon as it is dialed.

"The standard view, repeated in almost every psychology textbook, is that the ordinary limit on short-term memory is for seven or so bits of information -- the length of a phone number. More than that typically cannot be retained in short-term memory with reliability unless the separate units are "chunked," as when the numbers in a telephone prefix are remembered as a single unit."
If you think in terms of reading and writing (in addition to music, sports, chess, etc.), it's quite understandable why people rarely misspell their own names once they're past first or second grade, why the students who actually memorize the multiplication tables (rather than depending on tricks, tables, or fingers!) usually are the better math students, why students who read and read and read are usually better writers than their peers since they have been "soaking up" all those words and sentence patterns for a long time.
If you have a child who is out for a sport or marching band, the practice will be enforced! It's that kind of constant practice that is needed for students not only to learn their academic and other subject areas, but also to excel in an area of study.
I hope you'll read the article and think about how Goleman's ideas can help your own children or students. If the child is old enough, have him or her read the article, too, and then help with setting up areas in the house for reading, study, music practice, artistic pursuits, or other areas of concentration.
Pink Monkey has a marvelous collection of study skill ideas - called Study Smart. If you look into this, be sure to read the introductory articles first and then follow the lessons in order. You and your student will build better habits if you do this! There are lots of other study guide and test-taking guide websites online. If you want to know more of them, just let me know in comments.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

For Shakespeare assignments

Here's the best website I've found to help students read Shakespeare's plays:
http://nfs.sparknotes.com/ Click on the title of the play you're reading, then on the act and scene you want. You'll find original Shakespearean language on the left and a modern-day "translation" on the right.

Here are several other really good websites about Shakespeare, his works, and his times:






Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The SAT essay

Students who will be taking the SAT this year (and on into the future) will need to write an essay in addition to the objective questions (you know, multiple guess choice?). Before writing such an essay, it's quite helpful to know how such a thing is graded. A friend of mine found a good explanation online:

How the SAT Essay is Scored

So ... what should you learn from this?

1. Read the directions carefully and make sure you understand exactly what you're being asked to write about.

2. Plan well and quickly. Make a quick outline that will produce a 4- or 5-paragraph paper. Don't skip this step! Lack of planning will result in a rambling essay ... and a low score.

3. Write a careful rough draft, staying with the outline. Don't go off topic now!

4. When the rough draft is done, read over it and make any corrections needed -- not major revisions, but mechanical errors, such as spelling, punctuation, capitalization, etc. If you need to change a word or three, draw one horizontal line through it/them and write the correction just above it.

5. Stay on topic. Off-topic papers are given zeroes! That's right, zeroes -- no matter how well written the paper is. Off-topic = 0.

Here is another site that will help with preparation -- for all the sections, including writing:
SAT Preparation at CollegeBoard.com

Take advantage!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Confusing contractions!

... and in addition to the problem of writing/recognizing/fixing fragments, plenty of students are forgetting what their teachers taught them in second grade - the spelling and usage rules regarding contractions and related homonyms. Here are a few of the most misused, with correct words indicated:

it's = it is or it has
its = possessive form of it (The bird built its nest in our tree.)
(There is no such word as its' - for any reason!)

they're = they are
their = possessive form of they (The children piled their jackets in the corner.)
theirs = another possessive form of they (The red car is theirs.)
Notice that possessive pronouns have no apostrophes at all.
(The word there indicates a place or sometimes serves as an introductory word in a sentence.)

you're = you are
your = possessive form of you (Where are your gloves?)
yours = another possessive form of you (Is that notebook yours?)
Again, notice that there are no apostrophes at all in possessive pronouns.

So - what would you say about these?
What other possibly confusing contractions can you think of? There are certainly plenty of them out there!

And, finally, how do you make y'all possessive?! (LOL!)

Finding and fixing fragments

Once a student is pretty good at identifying the subjects and verbs in clauses and sentences, he or she should be quite well on the way to writing only in complete sentences. Should be! But we can't count on it! Students these days are surrounded by sentence fragments - in casual speech, on television (just listen to those news- and weather-forecasters - yikes!), everywhere!

If you notice that your child's writing grades have been slipping, this might be one thing to look for - and help him or her learn to find and fix any fragments before turning in written work.

Fragments are in bold:

Maria wasn't watching her plate of barbecue very carefully. Santana, the family beagle, snatched a chicken leg hanging over the edge. As baked beans and potato salad slid onto Maria's new sandals.

James opened the door of his cluttered refrigerator. Which caused a pint of blueberries to fall to the floor. The fruit bounced and rolled everywhere in an explosion of indigo.

Chewing the dry, tough, whole-grain bread bought from the health food store. Lorena tried to enjoy her lunch. Fantasizing about a juicy cheeseburger on a soft white bun didn't improve the taste of the soy product sandwiched between leaves of organic lettuce.

(from Grammar Bytes - Exercises)

If your child has been well trained to find the verbs and subjects in clauses and sentences (especially in his or her own writing assignments), then identifying each of those fragments should be easy. Each of those fragments above is missing at least one of the main elements of a complete sentence and/or has an introductory word indicating that the fragment can be fixed easily by simply attaching it to the sentence before or after it.

Questions? Post in the comments here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Subjects and verbs

Often, students are given lessons in sentence structure, and if those lessons are to succeed, students need to understand the basics -- the subject and the verb. They need to be able to identify each and be able to recognize that the idea is a complete one; that is, students need to recognize whether the clause (all clauses have subject and verb) is independent (can be a sentence) or dependent (subordinate, not a complete sentence).

What I learned a long time ago is that it's easier for a student to identify the VERB first and then the subject. It's easier to identify the action (what's going on) in the sentence first, and then ask, "Who or what is doing this?"

Here are some sentences from a student's grammar exercise I saw recently:

Edgar Allan Poe lived a double life in many ways.
VERB = lived ~~>This is the active verb in the sentence; no other word indicates what someone can do.
SUBJECT = Edgar Allan Poe ~~>This is obviously who "lived..." in the sentence. Also, since this is his full name, all three words are being treated as one noun; therefore, his full name is the subject.

Poe was adopted by John Allan, a Richmond merchant, after the death of his itinerant actor parents.
VERB = was adopted ~~>This is a passive verb that is the sole action in the sentence.
SUBJECT = Poe ~~>This is the answer to the question, "Who 'was adopted'?"

Easy, huh?

The difficulty comes when students are dealing with linking verbs or even active or passive verbs which don't seem to have any action to them!

Try this:
Allan was enraged by his talented adopted son's lack of discipline.
VERB = was enraged ~~>It's the verb, including its auxiliary (helping) verb was, but it doesn't seem like an action. It isn't like run or jump or even write. The verbs think and read also seem to be non-action verbs, but they are!
SUBJECT = Allan ~~>Well, at least that's pretty obvious. He's the one who was enraged !

And then there are linking verbs. Most of the time, the linking verbs we use are these: am, are, is, was, were, have been, etc. - all some form of to be. These verbs link the subject to the word(s) after the verb; that is, the word(s) after the linking verb either describe or are the same as the subject.

My brother is a good fisherman.
The child was tall for his age.
Those people are late for the play.

But there are other verbs that can be considered linking verbs, depending on how they are used:

The play seems absurd.
The cast appears confused.

Identifying subjects and verbs can become automatic if students practice it, and if they use the ability in writing their sentences. Making sure every sentence or clause has a subject and verb is the first step toward writing good sentences.

Questions? Be sure to post them in the comments.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Writing that college application essay

Just about every college or university application these days requires the student to write an essay. The whole point of these essays is for the student to make himself or herself come alive - be an individual - in the mind of whoever reads it. One thing to avoid is repeating information the admissions committee already has - grades on the transcript, test scores, application information, etc.

The first thing to be careful about is to follow the specific directions on each application. Some schools ask applicants to write a biographical sketch (pretty broad topic!), while others ask specific questions and expect responses that address those questions. Follow those directions explicitly! Anything off-topic indicates to the admissions committee for that school that the student cannot (or will not) follow directions.

There are many places online to get help writing that college app essay. One of the best places, of course, is at The College Board's website: http://www.collegeboard.com/. Just click on For Students (at the left) and then, a little right of center on the next screen, click on College Essays in the Apply to College section. The Dos and Don'ts on their College Essay Writing Tips webpage are excellent.

Other places to get help can be found by going to http://www.google.com/ (or any other search engine) and searching for college application essay or college admission essay. Just be wary of any that promise to write it for you or that want to charge you for entering their site, "mentoring" you, or proofing/editing your essay.

And then there's this from the Washington Post:
What an excellent collection of don'ts from this writer!

If anyone out there is writing a college app essay and wants input or feedback, just let me know. Post your questions in comments.