12 steps for essay writing

Was preparing this set of 12 steps with a student and realized they will benefit all:
Step 1) brainstorm or thinking about all the different ideas
Step 2) putting these ideas onto paper (or the internet)- in any order
              some students make lists
              some students draw “mind maps”
              some students like to draw and fill in the “clouds”
                   some students even doodle or draw the things they are thinking about!
Step 3)  using point form- and a mixture of sentences – write down the main points that you remember without needing to look these points up- you may reference material later.
Step 4)  If you need to support your ideas with facts from research- or from the novel, or from statistics…now is the time to add those facts beside the points you wrote for step 3
Step  5)  You are ready to number your points and to join ideas so that the reader will understand what ideas go together
Step 6)   the notes you make in class or on your own- refer back to them- have you left any important point out? could you add to the writing with any other description or fact?
Step 7)   write the rough copy
Step 8)   wait at least one day
step 9)   reread the rough copy? what could be improved? what do you think will make it better?
Step 10)   type up your first draft/ read this aloud – listen, does it seem to tell a story? Are the ideas clear?
Step 11)  check your punctuation and spelling
Step 12) now type up the good copy to hand in  :)
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Things to remember:
If a teacher asks a specific question- you must answer this question.
If a teacher leaves it up to you, as the student, to “create” a response- begin with asking yourself a question!

Permission Granted – please DO

Sometimes a Great Notion… book and movie title and real life experiences…

I love using various art forms to enhance any level/grade lesson when English Literacy is the core focus.  We respond to art on two levels- primal and almost intuitive and academic- with the theories and knowledge which we have been taught engaging us in a dialogue with the object at hand.  Children who haven’t yet been “taught” to discuss the piece therefore comfortably share if they “liked” it! Watch a group of young children enter a new space, be it an art gallery or a playground, and see how they maneuver over the ground, tactile, involved, curious, and participatory.  The “new” emphasis on “maker” areas being developed within classrooms is really a return to a “tried and true” methodology; the idea that children and adults will gain through the combination of theory and practice- each on its own being only 1/2 of the story.

Here then to making math- the 1+1=2 understood as a form of literacy as well.  WE read scribbles, in what ever language, and we – people- humans- imbue these scribbles with “extra” meaning.  When the theory is unpacked, sometimes it is hard to believe that we have, as people, developed so many various ways to communicate our ideas, emotions, and hopes for the future- yes hopes, as I believe every artist/ writer/ designer and maker is offering a vision that contains within it a myriad of dreams and options for change.  Whether one is studying the presumed cognitive reactions of the mind and developing new theories with current scientific “facts” that today allow one to “see inside the brain” or creating music to share a set of emotions, creating/ making /doing /= participatory; ACTION is happening.

So as we enter into a holiday season that easily lends itself to the spirit of craft making, let’s cheer for those individuals neither famous nor well known who actively take time to: create personal decorations, write notes by hand, bake a present, sew an outfit,build a piece of furniture, carve a toy, redecorate their own living space…the list goes on and on…and reminds us to allow children to participate in these creative endeavors too- for they become the adults among us who maintain the ability to offer expression and with simplicity, beautify a day.

Participatory Action

Giving Thanks –

For friends who mean it

For children one is blessed with

For abilities even if not always being allowed to share them

For love- in the way my children grow and develop

For knowledge, that others contribute and share

For history- personal and global- that helps when things need to be placed in perspective

For laughter- the personal chuckle and the broad belly burst

For today

Having spent a number of years in the States,  November continues to mean Thanksgiving- a time when the country appeared to generate goodwill, and when giving thanks on a personal level, regardless of religion or ethnic background, allowed for sharing; giving thanks for simply being able to.

Not Censored

An adult student shared with me the other day the existence of a website that features racist jokes! Now I am a believer in Freedom of Speech, and the need to not censor material- to put one’s effort instead towards educating people about the difference between funny and mean.  Yet I wished I could shut down such a website – initially I had thought how to interpret the joke- then realized it ought not to be explained.  We live in a world that is increasingly censored- and this too is bad for too much “protection” from the way some people may be raised, the ones who were taught intolerance instead of understanding and who become frightened of the “other” members of society and therefore resort to mean- in the form of jokes, in the form of actual violent actions, in the form of joining groups that encourage violence towards others- in short, bullying on a grand scale- may result in a generation that is unprepared to fight the “bully” either in a formal fashion (voting down any bigot who chose to run for power) or in an informal fashion by declaring such “jokes” not funny.

Yes I too had moments when my children were little when I wished I could simply wrap them up in bubble paper and coat them with some type of protective shield.  And teaching is a strong reminder that thinking and doing are symbiotic, and that we must expose our children to the underside of society as well as to “all things positive” if we are to be raising thinking, feeling, adults who will participate fully in society.  So in spite of truly wishing that such websites as the one mentioned didn’t exist,  I recognize that not only does the promise of “Freedom of Speech” allow for anyone to say anything, I am going to also be aware that when selecting and suggesting books for the YA set, that we look at what the act of censorship has over time restricted- for example why or how a book might have “enraged” a community or an individual enough to request that schools pull it off their shelves, or that libraries not feature a copy.  What was in the story, the writing, the setting? what actions did the characters ask us as readers to consider?

A simple example are the writings of Samuel Clemens- aka Mark Twain.  When one recognizes that Twain was asking readers to see the wrong in racism, and doing so by giving a reader a child’s insight into the adult society of his time*; or that a reading of Wuthering Heights** suggests that education and upbringing might not only challenge the status quo, but also challenges us as readers to consider in what ways social status continues to affect individual actions, then we are giving students a chance to consider for themselves what makes a book a “classic”; what messages resound across both time and space and continue to be questions that people have yet to answer fully.  We may strive for a  Utopian society, and may enjoy along with students the action adventure that went into a series such as  The Hunger Games, while secretly breathing a sigh of relief that today’s world is not the one depicted in the dystopian*** novel.  But how to continue to improve; to encourage the best in others? Reading continues to be a strong means of encouraging dialogue- and through dialogue- real freedom of speech- as in genuine communication, perhaps we are taking one step forward- I continue to hope so.   

*Huckleberry Finn

**Wuthering Heights – by Emily Bronte- the blurb for the novel states “Wuthering Heights was initially thought to be such a publishing risk that its author, Emily Brontë, was asked to pay some of the publication costs”

For a list of Dystopian literature see here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_dystopian_literature

Education via Barney!

Do you remember Barney and his Backyard Gang?

” I love you – you love me”…  the song was infectious and the children’s show a simple reminder that children could play and learn together within a variety of age groups- whom ever happened to people their neighborhood.   I had been doing graduate work in both anthropology and linguistics- plus education, as they are indeed entwined- and the furor caused by the introduction of Barney’s little sister and whether she, TV character and role model that she was, should speak English “properly” or the way a two year old might actually articulate continues to resonate – particularly when writing conferences happen and student’s wish to “break the rules”.  Sociolinguistics is a field of practice that looks closely at speech patterns, the ones we actually use when we communicate together.  And writers tend to listen and observe these speech patterns too.  For this reason characters to be believable must sound like they would if overheard on the street.  Since few children at age two have their grammar in sync with the adult world and even adults do get confused over the “proper” use of the word “me”, hearing a TV character proclaim “me want to go too!” may have rung “true” to the majority of the watchers as to how a child would talk, however, being a role model (even if a furry dinosaur), the prescribed “I want to go too”, became mandatory for the show to be labelled enriching, and to be “OK” for kids as an educational viewing.

Problem- overuse of the word “I” has meant that one hardly ever hears anyone use the word “me” anymore- and while I can’t track this to the above mentioned Barney TV show- I do know that students of all ages have trouble placing the object in its expected situation because they rarely hear it in use outside of grammar books-  The ubiquitous “I” is the noun now that often causes the most confusion- “Please give it to ______?  (me- belongs in the blank) – so simple refresher here:

you and I – can we substitute the word “we”

you and me – can we substitute the word “us”

And if writing dialogue and you “just know” that is how a person really would speak- by all means share the sounds as you have heard them; however, if answering a formal set of questions where grammar is expected to be “just so”- then review the basic expected constructs and create a few simple guidelines for yourself.  For example, if there are particular structures that you find a reader/teacher nearly always circles and suggests could be improved, focus on these to begin, reminding oneself- “check the verb tenses”, or  “have I looked it over for transitional connecting sentences between paragraphs?”  By recognizing one’s own form of practice it can be easier to begin the needed proofing of a draft- Oh hadn’t I mentioned this? yes- after the brainstorming and the rough draft comes a mini-break- then the proofing and editing / and most important of all- the handing it in!

Weekend prompt

Story sequences: mystery suspense:
Overheard “I find it INTOLERABLE that she didn’t do the work”

Who might have been talking?

Can you flesh out a story from the opening line?

Some writers will claim that they began their novel based on a simple blurb about an incident that they had read in a newspaper, or based on a snippet of conversation overheard in passing.

Slowly characters began to take shape, interacting and developing the plot.

Needed:    A setting – remember – time, place, season, (time can be hour of the day or actual calendar year)

Characters: will you add dialogue?

Problem? What might happen? When? To whom? Is there a why?

Solution: resolution- not all stories are completely resolved- one aspect of a problem is usually cleared up; other aspects may be continued in sequels, or left for the readers to consider.

Prompts for story writing needn’t be the typical SAT form-  argument/example; prompts to encourage a variety of writing styles can be culled from multiple resources.

How to begin: see earlier blog- “brainstorming 101”…

Weekend wishes

Brainstorming 101 :)

“whoosh” I hear a sound- a lovely children’s book first reader*, not the sound of your brain exploding at the thought of writing an essay- though we do say “brainstorm” for a reason.

The more ideas you put down on the paper (or type into the computer) the better chance you have to clearly focus an essay.  And focus is key to composing a clear thesis.

Whether you prefer a Tbar or a mind map or a series of doodles, please remember we can’t comment on a blank page, and as students, one learns from the teacher’s comments.  So please do get something onto the paper- and then begin: 1) do I need to research this? 2) is it in keeping with the class assignment? 3) can I find enough information from in-class readings to support my points? 4) why am I interested in this topic? and 5) write as much as possible for a few minutes without researching to determine if you do have points to make- these free style paragraphs later offer insight into where you thought you were headed with the essay and help you when you need to respond to exam questions or formal tests- writing is an action and in the doing, fear about “making a mistake” can be alleviated – simply seeing the words on the page may help one to begin the process of eliminating extraneous material and zeroing in on that important focus which will establish the essay topic.

So… please let the sounds appear in print; clear the brain by depositing the words onto a page, and recognize that revisions, organizational structure (read- outline) and basic housekeeping (grammar, punctuation, citing sources etc.) are Step 3- they come later- more about Step 2 in tomorrow’s entry.  

*http://www.annickpress.com/Woosh-I-Hear-a-Sound-Annikin-Edition

an all time favorite if you have a little one