Do You Have a Pile of Papers to Read? Take a Walk!

IMG_0457As a writing teacher, you have piles of papers to read, and sometimes, believe me I know, it gets overwhelming. It’s a beautiful day outside, but you are stuck in your office. Your back is aching, your hand is cramping, and your mind is reeling.

Do you have a pile of papers to read? Take a walk!


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“Mention,” a Favorite Verb of Student Writers

I’d just like to mention that student writers love to use the verb “mention.” This writer mentions this and that writer mentions that.

But Herman Melville did not mention a white whale in his novel; he wrote a 704 page book about it. William Shakespeare did not mention the prince of Denmark; he wrote his longest play about this conflicted gentleman. Homer did not mention the Trojan war; he wrote a 15,693 line poem exploring only the later part of the conflict. Edward Gibbon did not mention the fall of the Roman Empire; he penned a six volume work on the subject. Obviously, these are extreme examples, but students do tend to use the verb a lot!

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Connective Writing: A Video by Prof Ron

A video I made on connective writing, which means that our writings should be connected to the writings of others. New technologies make connective writing easier and more authentic than ever before.

Reading Papers Takes Too Long? Don’t Read Them (Straight Through)

So, you teach composition, and it takes much, much, much, much, much too long to read papers? You spend your mornings, afternoons, evenings, and weekends slogging through essays until you are cross-eyed and drooling, your shoulders slumped and your back aching.


Don’t give feedback like this.

Well, don’t read them–at least not straight through from beginning to end–at least not at first. I recommend going through your stack of papers one by one, looking for a pyramid of priorities. First you look for a thesis statement in all the papers, then topic sentences, and finally evidence, in the form of facts, statistics, names, dates, places, titles, summaries, quotes, and anecdotes. As you check each of these items, make a quick comment in the margin or at the end of the paper or on your rubric. Usually, you will see enough of the grammar and use of source material to make a couple quick suggestions about these as well. You will find that you have written plenty before you read the entire paper.  On the fourth and final round, quickly scan the paper and finish up the comments with something positive and encouraging.

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Use Auto Text Expansion to Save Time When Giving Feedback or Writing Emails

“If you find yourself doing something over and over,” Omar tells me and the developers that work under him, “that is something you can automate.”

How often as teachers do we write the same comments again and again in feedback and emails? Maybe you have a document with common comments that you copy and paste from, but there is an easier way that will save time and allow you to give more detailed messages: text expansion. Mac computers have a built in text expander, but I use aText, which costs five dollars and is more convenient.

For a text expander, you enter codes and then type in the text that goes with it. I always use a semicolon at the beginning of my codes to distinguish them from ordinary writing. For example, I use  “;topic” for the subject line of an email: “English 214: Feedback on Your Topic Proposal.” As soon as I have written the code, the expanded text appears with a satisfying click. I love that click!

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Subject Tiles: Experiemental Activity to Introduce Sentence Focus

The subject of the sentence is what it is all about. Or at least it should be. Should be? How could it be otherwise? Well, “subject” can mean two things: the topic of the sentence and the grammatical subject placed before the verb. The topic, what the sentence is really about, might be buried deep in a sentence beginning with an expletive, an empty subject, as in, “There are three principal reasons that college freshmen can‘t write effective essays.”  If we put the topic, “college freshmen,” at the beginning of the sentence to function as the grammatical subject–“College freshmen can’t write effective essays for three principal reasons”–we get a shorter, clearer, more dynamic sentence. Also, sentence built on a storng foundation tend to be more logical, more grammatical correct, and less redundant. Ideally then, the topic and the grammatical subject should be one and the same, as suggested by the double meaning of the word “subject.” With this goal in mind, Michelle Okafo and I created an activity which demonstrates to students the importance and power of sentence focus.

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Check Out the Class Blog for The Electric Word: English 214 2nd Year Composition

Please visit our class blog The Electric Word: English 214 2nd Year Composition at San Francisco State University. Also, check out these descriptions of and links to the students’ blogs.

Course Banner(Banner Image by Kenji Ikemoto)


The Electric Word: A Hybrid Second-Year Composition Course

English 214: Second Year Written Composition

Instructor: Ronald B. Richardson

The Electric Word: Class Blog

Descriptions of and Links to Student Blogs

Course Description

Welcome to the Electric Word: Second Year Composition! I look forward to the exchange of ideas with all of you as we explore reading, research, critical thinking, and writing in primarily digital environments.

A Hybrid Course: Half of the classes for this course will be face to face in a traditional classroom; for the other half, we will meet asynchronously online through iLearn, the course management system at SFSU. We will meet physically every Monday and half of the Wednesdays (see the course schedule). The other half of the Wednesdays and all Fridays will be online. When classes are online, students may complete the class work any time that day or earlier. Because of the hybrid nature of this course, students should be self-motivated and good at time management.

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