Classroom Writing Activities

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Rainbow Revision

Sentence revision: Creating sentence variety in essays.

Materials needed:

  • Seven different colors of writing implement (a box of crayons/colored pencils/markers—your choice. Just be sure you have 7 different colors of ink.) Note: Alternatively, you also could use color highlight on the computer.

Purpose

You've written your essay; now, let's see if our major writing goals for this essay have been met.

  • Varied sentence structure and word choice
  • Use commas properly in a series
  • Ensure correct capitalization and spelling

Procedures:

  1. With your yellow color, highlight sentences, which begin with adjectives or adverbs ("Starved, we stopped at McDonald's.")
  2. With your blue color, underline sentences which begin with prepositional phrases (with..., in..., into..., over...).
  3. With your red color, underline sentences which begin with "A" or "The", "This", "There", etc.
  4. With your green color, underline sentences that begin with a pronoun (he, she, we ,it, they, their, our, etc.)
  5. With purple, underline sentences that begin with verbs ("Whirling around, I saw..." or "Running, she tripped...").
  6. With brown, underline sentences which begin with a time element or word (after, later that day, also, finally, then, etc.).
  7. With orange, underline sentences which begin with a noun (Harold, students, cats, etc.)

Finished? All sentences colored.

What do you see?
If you see a rainbow, you have sentence variety. If you do not see a rainbow, revision needs to take place.

Adapted from Alzire Messenger

Wordiness: Common Causes and Cures

Most upperclassmen cite wordiness as a weakness in their writing. Reading their first papers confirms their assessments. Even though high school and first-year composition students have been told repeatedly that their writing is wordy, no one has shown them the simple mechanics of recognizing and curing wordiness.

Many students blame wordiness on having to meet assigned length requirements. But a student’s verbal meanderings in search of additional content are easily distinguished from wordiness as a stylistic trait. In fact, reducing wordiness can result in longer sentences that contain more, not less, information (Locker, Business and Administrative Communication, Chapter Four, all recent editions).

Diagnosing the Causes

Most writers and teachers recognize and correct wordiness on a case-by-case basis. But to recognize wordiness in their own work, students need help. My solution is to teach them to look for the common linguistic units, or environments, that create or foster wordiness. One of the most reliable harbingers of wordiness are elevated levels of prepositions.

Phrasal verbs. A preposition tagged on the end of a verb is actually a “particle.” Examples:

  • “come up with
  • “put up with
  • “find out
  • “look in on"
  • “make up” (“invent” or “reconcile”?)

Two student exercises foster awareness of such verbal constructions. First, have students list possible synonyms for “come up with” (the list will be long). Also, have them construct a list of phrasal verbs. They may initially struggle, so tell them to just experiment with adding prepositions to single-word verbs. If you hear laughter, someone has probably suggested “feel up” (for which you recommend substituting “fondle”).

Prepositional phrases are popular among developing writers, even grad students who are attempting to raise their text’s register. Experienced business and technical writers recognize prepositional phrases as evil. Consider several situations involving prepositions:

Prepositional phrases that could be replaced by possessives.

Example: “The decision of the judges” becomes “the judges’ decision.” People needn’t be involved; “the results of the experiment” becomes “the experiment’s results.”

Prepositions used needlessly with dates and times.

Example: “The meeting on September 30” becomes “the September 30 meeting.”

Prepositional phrases that can simply become adjectives.

Example: “The meeting on September 30 about the budget” becomes “the September 30 budget meeting.”

Prepositional phrases that replace adverbs.

Example: “In an efficient (or timely) manner” becomes “efficiently” (or “promptly”).

Prepositions resulting from nominalization can be fixed with gerunds.

Example: “The completion of this form is required” = “Completing this form is required.” Teach students to be alert for “-tion” words. They cause wordiness (and are pompous).

The search for prepositional phrases, especially those used with nominalization, should steer students to other wordy expressions that result from choosing nouns over verbs. Example: “Our group took a survey of 50 students.” Attempting to remove the prepositional phrase should guide students toward changing “survey” from a noun to a verb: “Our group surveyed 50 students.” (Note: There may be an intermediate step that uses a passive verb—“Fifty students were surveyed . . ..” Revise that to active voice.)

Nouns used in place of verbs

As just noted, using a noun to convey the message compels developing writers to add another, usually meaningless, verb to the sentence, as in “take a survey.” Other examples:

  • “reach an agreement” = “agree”
  • “make a correction” = “correct”
  • “reach a decision” = decide
  • “take a picture of” = “photograph”

Again, students asked to list similar expressions should produce a very long list.

Redundant words and phrases

Redundancy can be sneaky, especially when a student has superior grammar skills. Examples:

  • “past experiences” or “prior experiences” are generally just “experiences.”
  • “the following examples that will be discussed show . . . ”

Remember that redundancy is easily missed because, as a reader, you don’t have to process the words (because you’ve just processed them in a different form).

“It” clauses

Another place to look for wordiness is anywhere you find the word “it,” which is 100% content-free. “It” simply occupies the spot demanded by our grammar. We can’t say “Is raining.” We must provide a subject—“It is raining.” Replace “it” with a gerund:

“It is important to restart the computers after each class.”
Change to
“Restarting the computers after each class is important.”
Counting spaces shows that only three were gained. But that isn’t the point. Counting words shows that two were eliminated, which is somewhat more to the point. Importantly, though, the essence of the message—restarting the computer—became the subject.

Jargon

Watch out for common clichés:

  • “In order to establish unity” = “To establish unity”
  • “Due to the fact that” = “because”
  • “as well as” = “and” (unless making a comparison)

Note the phrasal verb “watch out for”; I could have said “Correct common clichés.”

Existential verbs

Any time students are relying heavily on the base verb “be,” there is a likelihood of wordiness. The mere existence of something is seldom the point, and a carefully chosen verb will usually tighten the text:

“There are many products for removing spots effectively.”
becomes
“Many products remove spots effectively.”

Unnecessary words

Last on my list (but first on Locker’s) is simply removing unnecessary words. The problem is that you have to recognize them as unnecessary and edit student work aggressively.

Examples:

  • “Americans will soon have to choose between biomass fuels when they are at the pump.”
  • “They have no lack of remorse when they do something that is wrong.”

—Jene Hughes

Teaching Electronic Slide Presentations

11/14/2008 - 10:00am
11/14/2008 - 4:30pm

This ISUComm workshop will explore the role of electronic slide presentations in both foundational and advanced communication courses. We'll start by focusing on the PowerPoint debate engaged by Edward Tufte and others. Then we'll take a broad curricular view, sorting out the competencies and learning objectives that best serve students in lower- and upper-level communication classes. We'll continue discussions over lunch (provided by ISUComm) and then in the afternoon share principles and practices—first with a presentation by Debra Satterfield, Associate Professor in Art and Design, on beginning principles of electronic slide design, and then by four doctoral students, Karen Gulbrandsen, Matt Search, Quinn Warnick, and Abhi Rao, who will share pedagogical strategies for teaching oral, written, and visual presentation skills in advanced communication courses. Those just starting out in PowerPoint or those with a specific PowerPoint project are encouraged to sign up for a hands-on practice session beginning at 2:45 in 420 Ross Hall, where tutors can work with you and answer your PowerPoint questions.

Please register for the conference by contacting Deanna Stumbo, ISUComm Foundation Courses Secretary (515-294-3516, isucommregistration@iastate.edu). Indicate if you plan to attend the luncheon and if you want to participate in the hands-on PowerPoint practice session (you may bring a specific PowerPoint project to work on if you wish). There is no charge for the workshop, lunch, or the practice sessions.

Workshop Schedule

Language Teaching Workshop

04/05/2009 - 3:10pm
04/05/2009 - 5:00pm

Richard Kern's Workshop on Language Teaching

 

On Monday, April 5, Dr. Richard Kern—Associate Professor of French, Director of the Berkeley Language Center—will give a mini-workshop on literacy, technology, and language teaching, funded by a CELT TEACH grant.

Prof. Kern teaches courses in French linguistics, applied linguistics, and foreign language pedagogy. His research interests include second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, reading, writing, and technology. He has served as Associate Editor of the journal Language Learning & Technology since 2001. He is currently writing a book on relationships among language, technology, and literacy.

Workshop Title: Towards a literacy-based approach to language teaching: A pedagogical workshop

Location: Pearson Hall, Room TBA

Abstract: Writing and the visual media are our main resources for learning about and relating to all the past and present worlds outside our own community. When we examine the particular ways that other people use language to express ideas and experiences, we not only learn a lot about the conventions of the language--we also have a chance to begin to understand the beliefs and values that underlie other people's uses of language. This workshop will focus on practical ways of integrating reading and writing in motivating classroom activities, with the aim of improving not only students' literacy skills but also their overall ability to communicate. We will examine ways of linking reading, writing, and thinking activities to encourage students to deepen their reflections on the texts they read and to make them more aware of their own role as integral participants in the meaning-making process.

Professor Richard Kern Speaks on Videoconferencing

04/05/2009 - 12:00pm
04/05/2009 - 1:00pm

Hello Lyon? This is Berkeley… Can you see us?

 

On Monday, April 5, Dr. Richard Kern—Associate Professor of French, Director of the Berkeley Language Center—will give a research presentation on literacy, technology, and language teaching, funded by a CELT TEACH grant.

Prof. Kern teaches courses in French linguistics, applied linguistics, and foreign language pedagogy. His research interests include second language acquisition, psycholinguistics, reading, writing, and technology. He has served as Associate Editor of the journal Language Learning & Technology since 2001. He is currently writing a book on relationships among language, technology, and literacy.

Presentation Title: "Hello Lyon? This is Berkeley… Can you see us?": The promise and perils of desktop videoconferencing in the French classroom

Location: 212 Ross Hall

Abstract: This presentation describes ongoing research related to a computer-mediated collaboration between Masters degree students in teaching French as a foreign language at the University of Lyon II and intermediate-level French students at the University of California, Berkeley over a three year period. Based on direct observation of interactions, analysis of screen and room video recordings, interviews, questionnaires, text and artifact analysis, the presentation will explore students’ and apprentice teachers’ uses of spoken, written, and visual communication, their socio-affective responses to the exchanges, and their various adaptations to the affordances and constraints of the medium.