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!
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”…
“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.
an all time favorite if you have a little one
“Buyer beware” is an old saying- and one I usually put into practice- after all, education plus experience is meant to be worth something- isn’t it? and of course- everyone makes mistakes …
As I type this my left eyelid is swelling, my left cheek is bruised and my left side of my face- well- I hope it won’t be scarred. In any event three red welts have already encircled that left eye and I either look like a prize ring boxer or a lady who went for plastic surgery and it didn’t take. In reality I am neither- neither the boxer nor the person undergoing plastic surgery- an ordinary teacher rushing to a bus with books in an unusual position-books in one of those “neat- little- carry- on- carts” that some people seem to either push or pull effortlessly and what others- who hardly ever carry a thing- exhort as the latest and greatest non technological advance- “imagine” – it slides on wheels! and suddenly all one has to do is pile it with all the paraphernalia that we who teach or carry objects to and fro usually lug in bags over the shoulder or the wrist, – “freedom?!”
Up early double cup of coffee- lunch made, books in order- bus at the corner – just go! And everyday except this morning- no problem- today = the unwieldy “neat-little-carry-on-cart” just toss everything in and – boom- flat on my face on the sidewalk- the – neat -little- carry-on-cart standing at attention after it had picked up speed and smashed into my ankles- I was pulling rather than pushing it- and hadn’t realized that the objects inside would have had to have been placed- “just so” to give it ballast- either way- kind gentleman and his dog looking extremely worried as I begin to stand up- my face had hit the ground- hard; glasses cutting into my cheek may have prevented further damage as no ground went into the eye proper- but I do look a sight! A bit scary really – for even with 1/2 hour of an ice pack (actually a frozen bag of corn- peas would have worked too!) the bruising and cuts are evident. So …advice to the ones who may consider purchasing one of these “neat-little-carry-on-carts” buyer beware- give me an old fashioned bag or two any day, and I will restrict the carts which I push to carts in a grocery store. And don’t look askance please if you should see a lady carrying her books old-fashioned school girl style – in her arms- instead of in one of those “neat-little-carry-on-carts”; mine will be going in the garbage can while my head is still on my shoulders; and next time someone suggests I could make my life easier if I were to*…I might just buy a pair of running shoes…instead.
Thanks for reading.
*sit down, relax and put my feet up- that didn’t work either- but that’s another story…
Writing for a specific purpose- I know many students who would say- “yeah- to get a good mark” — but- regardless of whether we say write a “how to” essay, write a “persuasive” essay, “discuss”, “analyze”, or if teachers offer- or a test offers – a prompt- it is still writing to explain a point of view!
Which is why it is so important that we as educators continuously encourage students to share their opinions; when students believe that their thoughts count, they are more likely to express them in written or oral form.
Owls hoot “whoo”; a teacher must ask “why”? What part in the story has made you feel this way? Why? Where in the text can you find the support for this opinion? Why? Why have you chosen this topic? Does additional research exist on this topic? Why did others consider the topic important?
We also need to remind students that one essay is not saving the world, creating world peace or changing society- it is however, discovering one’s voice, entering into a discussion, learning HOW to debate an issue, and when to cite sources, when to stress personal ideals. And equally important how to read for information.
Reading and writing go hand in hand. When working with students who claim they “can’t write” the student(s) and I go back to the reading- not only will improved reading skills enhance written work, but also working together on a reading will allow an instructor to find where the student first ran into difficulty. Vocabulary specific to a subject? or vocabulary in general? Comprehension of an author’s main points- clear or vague? Theme, purpose of the assignment, can a student explain this in his/her own words? According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary definitions, one of the meanings for “comprehension” is “c : the capacity for understanding fully <mysteries that are beyond our comprehension>– ” Wow- “beyond our comprehension” – a leap of faith then takes place when we communicate ideas. The leap being that we will, in fact, understand one another. This is why moving into connotations, figurative language and use of metaphor, is essential to building vocabulary, in turn essential to improving reading skills, essential to increasing writing development. An art and a science- writing is crafted. When we show “how” let’s be sure to remember to encourage students to question “why”.