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!


Continue reading “Do You Have a Pile of Papers to Read? Take a Walk!”

“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!

Continue reading ““Mention,” a Favorite Verb of Student Writers”

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.

Continue reading “Reading Papers Takes Too Long? Don’t Read Them (Straight Through)”

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!

Continue reading “Use Auto Text Expansion to Save Time When Giving Feedback or Writing Emails”

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.

Continue reading “Subject Tiles: Experiemental Activity to Introduce Sentence Focus”

A Case for the Singular They as a Genderless Pronoun in Formal Speech and Writing

Quickly fill in the blank: “Look! Someone left ________ bag.”

Most will answer “their” without hesitation, but grammarians object that the plural pronoun does not agree with the singular subject: someone. Although this usage of “their” with indefinite pronouns like “somebody,” “anybody,” and “nobody” is nearly universal in informal speech and writing, those who strive to be grammatically correct reject its usage in formal speech and writing.

Continue reading “A Case for the Singular They as a Genderless Pronoun in Formal Speech and Writing”

Writing Assignment: Exploring Complexity in Issues of Economic Inequality

Writing Assignments 3 and 4:

Exploring Complexity in Issues of Economic Inequality


After a unit on “hidden intellectualism” and on staying in college, the class turned to the question posed by the editors of “They Say / I Say”: “What’s up with the American dream?” Is it alive? Is it dead? Is it sick? Is it robust? What should be done about the question of economic inequality and who should do it?

Your Task

This assignment has three stages. First, you will write a short essay arguing one side of the issue related to economic inequality in America, suggesting a specific policy change or change of behavior to a specific group of people. In the next stage, you will write another short paper arguing the opposing side, giving the opposite advice. Then, in the final stage, you will combine the two sides of the argument into a complex, balanced argument.

Continue reading “Writing Assignment: Exploring Complexity in Issues of Economic Inequality”