Teaching the Strong Thesis Statement, Part One

This week, I asked my Facebook readers to suggest a topic for the blog and several people, especially my teacher pals, hit me with a lot of simmering angst about thesis statements and how students can’t write them.  There are dozens of online guides about how to write a good thesis statement, so I’m going … Continue reading Teaching the Strong Thesis Statement, Part One

Getting Squatters Out of Your Sentences

After “commas any time you pause” and “your thesis has no stakes,” this is the piece of writing wisdom I distribute most often to my students: adverbs are not your friends.  During this past week, as I’ve been helping seniors revise college essays in the Writing Lab at my Esteemed Place of Employment, I’ve been … Continue reading Getting Squatters Out of Your Sentences

Against the Essay Hook

It feels like the most commonly taught wisdom in English classes, especially in the lower grades of high school. “Start your essay with a hook.” Okay.  Interesting.  What’s a hook, exactly? “It’s an engaging opening sentence that grabs the reader’s attention.” Okay, sounds good, if a little vague.  How does it do that? “It gets … Continue reading Against the Essay Hook

Rules for Comma Usage, or Why Reading Out Loud Is the Best

When I began this blog, I decided it was not going to be about grammar.  While I’m actually a big dork who loves grammar and teaching grammar - it’s like a big puzzle that you get to solve over and over! - it’s not that exciting to write about the difference between a gerund and … Continue reading Rules for Comma Usage, or Why Reading Out Loud Is the Best

Paper Prompt: Noticing

It’s a new dawn and a new day for the 2019 - 2020 school year!  I have new groups of students and new classes to teach, and for those lucky enough to be enrolled in my literature seminars, that means new papers to write, coming up fast. I always begin literature seminars by assigning short … Continue reading Paper Prompt: Noticing

How to Know You’re Looking at Bad Writing: One Weird Trick

Back in the 90s, Denis Dutton, editor of the scholarly journal Philosophy and Literature, held a yearly “contest” for bad writing, intended to bring attention to “the most stylistically lamentable passages found in scholarly books and articles published in the last few years.”  Anyone who has spent time in even the middle echelons of higher … Continue reading How to Know You’re Looking at Bad Writing: One Weird Trick

Verbs Are The Only Things That Matter

...okay, not quite the only things.  Nouns matter too.  We’ll give them their due later.  But verbs are the most important things. My favorite book to teach, second to none, is Paradise Lost - not just because John Milton (praised be his name) used the English language to create one of the most heartbreakingly beautiful … Continue reading Verbs Are The Only Things That Matter

Writing Exercise: Ruin Someone Else’s Work

Pictured: what you want your students to do. Metaphorically. (image credit: seton.co.uk) If you have not yet made acquaintance with Star War the Third Gather: Backstroke of the West, am I ever about to enrich your life. Here’s what happened: in 2005, Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith landed in movie theaters, and … Continue reading Writing Exercise: Ruin Someone Else’s Work

There Are Simply Too Many Words

Just cut a few, and it’ll be perfect! If you’ve seen the brilliant Milos Forman film Amadeus, Very Loosely Based on the life of Mozart, you probably remember this exchange between Mozart and Emperor Franz Josef, right after the premiere of Mozart’s operetta Escape from the Seraglio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6_eqxh-Qok In this conversation, of course, Mozart is … Continue reading There Are Simply Too Many Words

The Thing *Is* the Idea, Or: Dogs in the Writing Classroom

Picture, if you will, a dog. No particular kind of dog.  Just the first dog that pops into your head.  I’ll wait. Got a dog in mind?  Good. Which of these specimens would you say is most like the dog you have pictured? When I give my students this exercise, I ask a few volunteers … Continue reading The Thing *Is* the Idea, Or: Dogs in the Writing Classroom