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.