Looking for something Thanksgiving weekend, I ran across a stack of bloopers from college students’ papers. Given all the things that are going wrong in the world, I’m going to post some of these each week before Christmas and pray that comic relief will be less needed in 2022.
My father has a hard time at becoming computer illiterate, and it sort of came easy to me.”anonymous #1
Another student had plans for the future:
What I hope will be a long and pleasant journey is perusing my associate’s degree.anonymous #2
A third student admitted to having difficulty starting a writing assignment:
It is hard for me to begin writing my assigned papers even after I have an idea. I guess you might call me a procreator.anonymous #3
But students who work hard in their first year English classes, make progress, as this student explained:
I’m a treble speller. But after this class I am getting allot better. I have really enjoyed this class it’s been fun and existing.anonymous #4
That’s all for today.
Linda Gorton Aragoni
An informal writing prompt
One important and often-broken rule of grammar is that a pronoun should refer to the last preceding noun. By following that rule, writers help readers grasp the meaning of a sentence without rereading it. Following the rule also keeps readers from snickering over an absurd idea created when a writer ignores the rule.
Today’s writing prompt, which uses an historical fact prominently printed on the front of a rural chamber of commerce’s newsletter, would help your students learn why that rule is a rule.
Begin the mini-lesson with a statement of the rule. To make sure students pay attention, write the rule on the board or display just the rule using whatever technology you have for projecting information. To make sure students understand the rule, restate it at least once using some alternative to last preceding noun. You could say, “In other words, a pronoun should refer to the person, place or thing named at the left of the pronoun.” Or you could say. “A pronoun is a substitute for an already-identified person, place, or thing.”
Then say something like this:
“I’m going to show you what appears to be a three-sentence historical fact that was published in a small town chamber of commerce’s newsletter. Then I’m going asks you for some observations about the item.”
Ideally, you should show students the item in context, so that even if the picture is fuzzy, students get the idea that a photograph accompanying the written item shows a building with a windmill on its roof. Here’s the historical fact:
Mt. Pleasant Drive, showing part of the water system, circa 1890. This was the Roberts Waterworks. The huge windmills pumped water from two deep wells into a reservoir, which was then pumped into the village.
Watch students’ faces. You’ll be able to tell which ones see the grammatical (and engineering) problem of pumping a reservoir into the village.
Now say something like this: “Write one sentence in which you identify all the pronouns in that historical fact. You have 30 seconds to write.” Time students as they write. Then go on to a second, third, fourth, and final task.
“Next, I’d like you to write one sentence in which you tell me what the nearest preceding noun is for each of the pronouns you identified in your previous sentence. You have 30 seconds to write.”
“Now pretend you’re the writer of the item about the waterworks. Rewrite the sentence or sentences in which you found a pronoun that didn’t refer to the noun at its left, fixing the sentence or sentences so they won’t make anyone snicker. You have 60 seconds to write.”
“Finally, aside from any problems you found with pronouns that the writer dropped too far from their preceding nouns, is there anything else about this historical fact that you think sounds funny? Tell me in one or two sentences what other problem you find in that historical fact. You have 90 seconds to write.”
If you wish and have enough time, you may want to have students share their ideas about the other parts of the item that sounded funny to them. You’ll have some students who recognize that the first of the three sentences isn’t a sentence at all. I suspect it probably was the caption for the photo in the book Stones from the Walls of Jericho. Captions are not always full sentences.
Collect the informal writing to scan to see who struggled with the assignment. Informal writing prompts should prompt you to take precautionary measures to keep students who didn’t get material the first 14 times it was presented from missing it again in your classes.
© Linda G. Aragoni
Here’s an informal writing prompt that will let you see whether students know what you mean when you talk about the function of some grammatical or punctuation term.
When we talk about grammar and punctuation, we often use the term function. In no more than three sentences, explain the meaning of function. To make your explanation clear, give an analogy to the function or functions of some physical object. You have 90 seconds to write.
This simple prompt will let you know whether students understand the terms you expect them to know. If they don’t understand the terms you’re using, you need to teach those terms as vocabulary.
©2021 Linda G. Aragoni
Last week I asked ELA teachers if they could do this:
Did you have trouble coming up with the answer? If you did, the reason is not that you didn’t know the answer. The problem was that “question” was stated in an unfamiliar way. Here’s the answer:
© 2021 Linda Gorton Aragoni
Answering that question demands learning at the highest levels—and you probably learned the answer before you got to middle school.
If I don’t forget, I’ll post the answer on July 16.
© 2021 Linda Gorton Aragoni
One of the few bright spots in the current political turbulence is the way misplaced modifier production has ramped up. I collect those that amuse me and often have students attempt to figure out what the writer intended to say, where the writer messed up, and, if possible, revise the sentence to fix the problem.
Here are three that other teachers might want to have their students attempt to untangle:
“Karl Rove gently explains that Joe Biden beat Trump in Rupert Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal.”
“After making landfall in Cuba early Sunday, Florida now faces storm surges of up to four feet.”
“While he said testing can help, former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb cautioned against holiday gatherings and encouraged the use of high quality masks during an interview on Face the Nation on Sunday.”
©2020 Linda G. Aragoni
With the 2020 presidential election just four days away, English and social studies teachers probably have only one more chance to take advantage of the learning opportunities it affords before their students start thinking of it as history.
Today I’m going to give ELA and SS teachers a formal writing prompt to assign before the election to teens grades 11 and 12 and to adult students.
(If you missed last week’s blog post, it suggested having teens or adults in students in English classes and appropriate social studies classes attempt to outline each candidate’s position on one of the questions asked in the second 2020 presidential debate.)
Here’s how to prepare students
First, assign students to read or listen to comments by two prominent academics who are concerned about how of people’s ability to discuss politics civilly has almost disappeared in America. The two are Danielle Allen, an author and the director of the Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, and Pete Peterson, dean of the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy, who writes and speaks about public engagement. They were interviewed on PBS NewsHour by Jeffrey Brown on Oct. 1, 2020. The NewsHour provides both a transcript and an audio tape of the interview. Here are shortlinks you can give students:
Set up the writing prompt
Read or listen to these a short interview with two scholars about what they think are the reasons Americans can no longer discuss political issues without being rude or nasty to those with whom they disagree. As you read/listen keep alert to what the two commentators identify as the reasons for the breakdown of civil discourse. Here are links to the written transcript and the audio recording of the Oct. 1, 2020 interview.
Here is the writing prompt:
In an informative/expository text discuss what you think is the single most important cause of the breakdown in political civility. Please confine your analysis to no more than 750 words. Deadline for submission is [time, date].
Here are additional directions:
Write your analysis in the third person. Support each topic sentence with summaries or quotations from different sources. You may use your personal experience or observation only as one supporting point of one of your three body paragraphs.
Here’s a pattern students can use to plan their responses:
Thesis: X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility.
- X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility because [reason 1].
- X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility because [reason 2].
- X is the single most important factor in the breakdown of political civility because [reason 3].
A hint that might help uncover related ideas
Find out when whatever you think is the most important factor in the breakdown of civility began to be talked about in books and in the news media. If you can find the names of a couple people who wrote about that subject, you may be able to get related ideas from Wikipedia. Knowing the approximate time the factor you’ve identified became a topic for public discussion might also suggest people you know that you could interview about whether/how that factor affected them.
©2020 Linda G. Aragoni
Teachers are like ordinary people in at least one way: They have a tendency to behave as if everybody has the same background knowledge they have. Unfortunately, not all students’ background experiences aren’t the same as those of their teachers.
As an undergrad, in connection with a psychology class I was taking, I had the opportunity to work a half day a week at a facility run by the Cerebral Palsy Association. I was assigned to assist in a class of multiply-handicapped children who were roughly first through fourth grade age.
One day, one of the students asked me, “What’s a lula?”
I had to sit down and think about that for a minute.
A volunteer had been in earlier in the morning for the weekly music session. One of the pieces students were learning was “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”
My questioner had been singing, “Glory, Glory had a lula.”
I explained that in the song glory was like saying “wow!” and hallelujah was like saying “I’m really happy.”
Every teacher needs to keep alert for language that would throw a lula in the path of students, particularly if they have any students for whom English is a second language.
©2020 Linda G. Aragoni
Image credit – The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Good Old Songs We Used to Sing, ’61 to ’65, by Osbourne H. Oldroyd, Public Domain
This cross-curricular writing prompt is designed to make students consciously aware that even definitions can be slanted. The prompt could be used in social studies courses, media courses, or ELA courses. At the high school level, teachers of two different courses might use the prompt, which reduces students’ workload while increasing students’ perception of the importance of the assignment.
A formal writing prompt for teens and adults
Globalization is a term we hear nearly every day. What is globalization? Consult at least a half dozen reputable sources for their definitions. Do the definitions provided by each source agree? If they don’t agree, are their definitions totally at odds or do they disagree over a few specific points? Does the wording of the various definitions suggest an inclination to regard globalization either positively or negatively?
Based on your analysis, craft what you believe to be a definition of globalization that is neutral; that is, a definition that is neither enthusiastic about globalization nor totally opposed to it.
Using the neutral definition you crafted, write an informative/explanatory text in which you explain how according to that definition globalization either is or is not good for America. Format your text for reading as a digital document, using hyperlinks to sources you cite. Please keep your text to under [650 words].
Suggestions for success
This assignment is as much about how carefully you read as it is about how well you write. Don’t assume that people whose position you agree with define globalization in the same way you do. Also, don’t assume that people with whom you disagree define globalization the same way you do. One reason political arguments can get heated is that, without realizing it, two people often use the same terms with different meanings.
You may work with a partner or group if you want to increase the number of sources you examine and have the benefit of more than one point of view. It is probably unwise to have more than a dozen sources or more than four people in your group. With too much material, you’ll never get through the assignment.
If you work with a partner or group, each person should write his or her own text. Having each person write certain paragraphs is rarely successful, and assigning one person to do the writing is unfair to everyone.
A note to PUSHwriting readers
If you use this prompt, you’ll need to be prepared to suggest reputable sources that students can consult. Dictionaries alone are unlikely to be adequate and most students’ nonfiction reading won’t include publications about world trade and international economics. They’ll need to be pointed toward sources that won’t overwhelm them, but will provide different perspectives. In preparing to prepare students for the prompt, you’ll probably need do more work than they will.
This prompt previously appeared on another of my websites which is no longer live. A post which linked to the prompt has been removed.
Photo by JP Valery at Unsplash.
©2020 Linda G. Aragoni