Entries from March 2010 ↓
March 4th, 2010 — Grammar & Spelling, Resources & Links
We writing and grammar geeks can hardly contain ourselves as two fabulously nerdy events collide. Today, National Grammar Day meets Words Matter Week.
To celebrate this momentous occasion, I’d like to bring you a fun little way to teach your students to find and fix comma splices.
I know. Your enthusiasm—like mine—knows no bounds.
The Problem with Comma Splices
When a comma joins two independent clauses or sentences, it’s called a comma splice.
Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit, he also wrote The Lord of the Rings.
Example 2: The bridge collapsed into the river, fortunately no one was injured.
Example 3: Maya arrived late, her car wouldn’t start.
These three examples demonstrate the typical comma splice. Since it’s one of the most common grammar errors, I encourage you to devote time to helping your students identify and learn to fix comma splices in their own writing.
Suzanne Cherry, director of the Swamp Fox Writing Project (South Carolina), finds that relating the concepts of punctuation and grammar to real-world experiences—in this example, through an intriguing demonstration involving electrical tape—helps students recognize and correct their errors successfully.
Cherry uses a unique object lesson to explain the comma splice error to her students. Showing the class two pieces of wire, each with the last inch exposed, she says: “We need to join these pieces of wire together right now if we are to be able to watch our favorite TV show. What can we do? We could use some tape, but that would probably be a mistake as the puppy could easily eat through the connection. By splicing the wires in this way, we are creating a fire hazard.”
Turning Wires into Sentences
The students usually come up with a better alternative: to use one of those electrical connectors that looks like the cap of a pen.
“Now,” Cherry suggests, “let’s turn those wires into sentences.”
She reminds her students that if they just splice them together with a comma—the equivalent of a piece of tape—it creates a weak connection, or a comma splice error.
The answer is to use the grammatical equivalent of the electrical connector: either a conjunction (and, but, or) or a semicolon. Either option “shows the relationship between the two sentences in a way that the comma—a device for taping clauses together in a slapdash manner—does not.”
[In addition to Cherry's suggestons, I would add that a period also makes an effective repair for a comma splice, as it separates the two independent clauses into distinct sentences.]
Here, our three example comma splices have been repaired:
Example 1: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote The Hobbit. He also wrote The Lord of the Rings.
Example 2: The bridge collapsed into the river, but fortunately no one was injured.
Example 3: Maya arrived late; her car wouldn’t start.
“I’ve been teaching writing for many years,” Cherry says. “And I now realize the more able we are to relate the concepts of writing to ‘real world’ experience, the more successful we will be.”
Read more: Keeping the Comma Splice Queen Happy
March 3rd, 2010 — Just for Fun
Words matter. That’s this week’s theme, in honor of Words Matter Week.
Usually I devote the first and third Wednesday to bad signage: examples of signs, flyers, and advertisements containing humorous grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors.
But because this is Words Matter Week, I’m going to treat you to ten of my favorites from the past year or so. In no particular order, here are the top candidates for the Bad Signage Award. I hope you’ll cast your vote in the comments section!
1. A flower grows in Brooklyn
2. Spelling suop
3. Apostrophes made to order
4. A true professional
5. The poster child of bad signage
6. This sign should be unortherized
7. Cheedear, anyone?
8. How to slip and fall
9. Risky business
10. Is your child perpared?
When we see mistakes like these, we’re doubly conscious of the way words matter. What a difference correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation make. They really can affect the way people interpret the written word.
Which one gets your vote? Leave a comment below!
March 2nd, 2010 — College Prep, Grammar & Spelling, High school, Teaching Writing
Words Matter Week: Day 2
Words matter. And not just the words themselves, but also the grammar, spelling, and punctuation that make those words easier and more pleasant to read and understand.
In truth, no one particularly notices when a piece of writing is structurally sound and fairly free of errors. When the reader isn’t distracted by gross misspellings or misplaced apostrophes, he’s able to take in the words and thoughts in a simple, straightforward manner.
That’s one reason it’s so important that we write with care—and teach our kiddos to do the same.
Does Casual Writing Have Its Place?
This isn’t to say that everything we write needs to be pressed through the “grammar sieve” to strain out every wayward punctuation mark or imprecise word. I’m all for casual writing in the appropriate context, such as a quick note left on the kitchen table or a slapdash email to a friend. And I truly understand typing errors we all make when our flying fingers transpose a couple of letters or we miss the “shift” key.
But when a piece of writing—even a casual email or comment on a discussion board—contains pervasive errors, keyboard accidents can no longer be blamed. As an example, here’s a simple snippet from a blog comment I came across some time ago:
now i know its been WAY to long!! the only one I can reckonsie is Alvin and thats because hes a boy! I so need to come a visit ya’ll this summer and see the family, its been to meny years
Judging a Book by Its Cover
Our writing can reveal certain things about us. For example, what conclusions do you draw about this particular writer based on her one little writing sample? Is she kind? Friendly? Most likely. Educated? Careful? Attentive to detail? Probably not.
Granted, careless grammar doesn’t bother everyone. People who don’t use proper grammar and spelling themselves won’t know (or for that matter, care) whether you or your children use proper grammar and spelling.
But many people are pretty picky about such things—college admissions folks and employers among them. Your student’s writing may be judged and perhaps even rejected simply for failing to stick to conventions. Why?
- Valid arguments lose their credibility and impact when the text is riddled with typos and grammatical errors.
- Spelling errors and poor grammar can suggest that a job or college applicant is sloppy at best and ignorant or uneducated at worst.
- If an employee is not attentive to detail in emails, reports, or memos, the promotion may go to someone who is.
Conventions? What Conventions?
OK, I admit it. It’s hard for me to write anything—even an e-mail—without editing and revising it a dozen times. I’m sure part of that comes from being a writer and an author of a writing curriculum. I feel like my writing is always under the microscope, even when it’s not.
This doesn’t mean everyone has to be that way. A quickie email to a good friend can have a bunch of sentence fragments and a misspelled word—and in that context, who really cares? But when writing is up for public scrutiny—even on a discussion board—and you hope to be taken seriously, you’ll want to give as much attention to convention as to content.
Find the Errors
Just for kicks, scroll back up to the writing sample and see how many errors you can find before you read my list below. There are a lot! Even better, ask your children to edit it. It would make a great lesson.
Here are the mistakes I found.
- now – should be Now (as in: Now, children, a sentence always begins with a capital.)
- i – should be I
- its – missing apostrophe (it’s)
- to – should be too
- !! – never use more than one exclamation point
- the – see #1
- reckonsie – should be recognize (as in: I almost didn’t recognize that word.)
- thats – missing apostrophe (see #2)
- hes – missing apostrophe (notice a pattern here?)
- a visit – and visit? for a visit?
- y’all – I’ll give her this one since it’s a casual note.
- comma splice – …see the family; it’s been too many years. Or …see the family. It’s been too many years. Or …see the family because it’s been too many years.
- its, to – see #2 and #3
- meny = should be spelled many (as in: Goodness! I’ve found so many mistakes.)
So . . . how’d you do? Did I miss anything?
The Final Draft
Here’s the gussied-up version—with proper grammar, spelling, and punctuation:
Now I know it’s been WAY too long! The only one I can recognize is Alvin, and that’s because he’s a boy! I so need to come visit y’all this summer and see the family; it’s been too many years.
The friendly sentiments shine through, don’t they? It’s like cleaning soot from a window. Instead of zeroing in on the grimy, dirty pane, we can focus on the cheerful scene beyond the glass.
Just as cleaning up grammar, spelling, and punctuation errors greatly enhanced the message above, editing and polishing our own writing can clear the way for our message too. So make it a point to teach your children proper writing conventions, because words—and the way we write them—matter.
. . . . .
Don’t forget to enter our Words Matter Week haiku contest. Deadline is Sunday, March 7, 2010. Contest has ended.
Photos by Andreas Levers and Alex Proimos, courtesy of Creative Commons.
March 1st, 2010 — Poetry, Writing Lessons
Words Matter Week: Day 1
Every single day, almost without fail, the poetry lessons draw more folks to this blog than any other article (with the two most frequently accessed posts being Writing a Diamante Poem and Cinquain Poetry).
This inspired me to launch right into Words Matter Week by introducing a brand-new lesson: how to write haiku (and offer a fun contest too)!
What Is Haiku?
Japanese in origin, haiku is not based on rhyme, but on a pattern of syllables. At three lines long, haiku is a poem of economy. Traditionally, only 17 syllables are allowed, so a finished haiku may end up being just 12 or 13 words long.
By its nature, haiku is concrete and concise, capturing a single moment in a mere handful of words. It’s a tall order to write a poem full of rich imagery, paint a picture in the reader’s mind, and leave an impression on a heart or soul—and do so with so few words.
Every word counts, and that’s why—perhaps more than any other poetry genre—haiku is especially fitting for Words Matter Week.
Writing Haiku Poetry: An Experience with Nature
Choosing a Subject for Your Poem
Haiku poems celebrate appreciation for beauty and nature. Plants, animals, water, weather, and seasons are often subjects of haiku. Powerful yet sensitive, these poems communicate a mood or tone without actually using words to describe feelings.
Red and gold poppies
explode with fresh spring colors,
invading my yard.
Notice how this haiku expresses a crisp, springy, bright feeling. You can picture a tired winter garden coming to life. The words never actually say, “After a cold, colorless winter, I am so happy and cheered to see flowers again!” Yet this is the message the poem brings.
In the darkest wood
with heads hanging mournfully,
weeping willows cry.
This poem gives a feeling of sadness, even though the words don’t tell you how the poet feels, or how you should feel. Notice how personification helps to communicate this tone. When writing haiku poetry, think about the emotions you want your reader to experience. Paint a picture with your words to express a mood.
Formatting Your Haiku Poem
Some poetry forms require the writer to follow a certain format, or structure. You may remember that cinquains and diamantes, for example, call for you to use an exact number of words within an exact number of lines. Haiku, on the other hand, requires you to carefully count syllables instead of words. This form of poetry always uses 3 lines and 17 syllables.
Line 1: 5 syllables
Line 2: 7 syllables
Line 3: 5 syllables
When counting out syllables, listen to the beat within a word, silently tapping it out on the table. Usually, a syllable is marked by a vowel sound. “Butterfly” has three syllables (but/ter/fly). The word “cocoon” contains two syllables (co/coon). The word “exuberantly” has five (ex/u/ber/ant/ly). “Flight” has only one (flight).
Because your entire poem is only 17 syllables, every single word must be carefully chosen to say exactly what you want to communicate. Rely heavily on a good thesaurus for terrific, specific words! Your thesaurus will also be useful when you need to find a synonym of more or fewer syllables that will fit better on a line of your poem.
What to Do if a Line Contains Too Few or Too Many Syllables
> Leave out or add articles (a, an, the) to shorten or lengthen the number of syllables. Example: a six-syllable line must be shortened to five syllables.
A/ small/ frog/ trills/ loudly = 6 syllables
Small/ frog/ trills/ loud/ly = 5 syllables (drop the “a”)
> Use your thesaurus to find a similar word that will fit.
Suppose your haiku looks like this:
Thunder clouds follow me (6)
booming from behind (5)
the sky is so mad. (5)
Do you see how each line has too many or too few syllables? Let’s look at them one at a time.
Example: the first line of a haiku poem must be 5 syllables long.
Thun/der/ clouds/ fol/low/ me = 6 syllables (it’s too long – you need 5 syllables)
Now, look up follow in the thesaurus. Can you find a one-syllable word that will fit? (chase)
Thun/der/ clouds/ chase/ me = 5 syllables (this will work)
> Look for a word to drop.
Thun/der/ clouds/ fol/low = 5 syllables (just drop the “me”)
> Find a different way to say a similar thing. Often your thesaurus will help, but sometimes you just need to think! How can you express the same message while adjusting the number of syllables?
Example 1: The second line must be 7 syllables.
boom/ing/ from/ be/hind = 5 syllables (it’s too short – needs 7 syllables)
bel/low/ing/ from/ a/ dis/tance = 7 syllables (use longer words)
Example 2: The third line must be 5 syllables.
the/ sky/ is/ so/ mad = 5 syllables
The number of syllables is correct—so what’s wrong with this line? Remember that you want to avoid “to be” words such as is, and empty words such as so:
the/ an/gry/ sky/ shouts = 5 syllables, OR
the/ black/ sky/ threat/ens = 5 syllables
While still expressing a “mad” feeling, these lines use more specific words that paint a fuller picture. Show, don’t tell.
OK, here’s the finished haiku poem:
Thunder clouds chase me (5)
bellowing from a distance (7)
the angry sky shouts. (5)
Should haiku have a title? Typically not. If you think it needs a title to better explain the poem, do your best to work the title into the poem by removing and replacing words. Use your new syllable skills to help when writing haiku poetry.
Happy Words Matter Week . . . and happy writing!
Copyright © 2010 Kim Kautzer. All rights reserved.
A Haiku Contest for Words Matter Week!
Now it’s time for your children to write some haiku! Everyone who posts a haiku poem in the comments before March 7, 2010 will be entered in a contest. One winner will be chosen randomly to win your choice of a $10 Barnes and Noble gift card or a $20 WriteShop gift certificate.
Only one entry per person is allowed, so pick your best poem.
Your haiku must be formatted properly in order to qualify for a prize.
This contest has ended.