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As a high school English teacher I am constantly asked the same question for writing assignments, “how many paragraphs does it need to be?” I hate this question. I hate that somewhere students were taught that the number paragraphs dictates the quality of the writing. That someone has quantified how many paragraphs make a good essay. I can name names, but for anyone who knows writing instruction and the theories behind it, you know who I am referring to and probably know the disciples of her method. Perhaps you are one of them, preaching the structure of one paragraph for your introduction, complete with hook and thesis. Three paragraphs for your body, full of topic sentences and transitions. Finally the concluding paragraph, I can’t wait to hear you restate your thesis! My question is a simple one. When do we see this method at work after high school?  When in a college class would a paragraph essay be sufficient for talking about the effects of over-expansion... read more

It does happen sometimes- you've met a new student once, or twice, and they don't return. There are many possible reasons for this; it could be the tutor's approach, the student's expectations, or other external factors. This happened to me recently, despite all my tutoring experience, and I'll explain why. This college student came to me two days before an essay was due, with a poor first draft full of grammatical issues along with a poor grasp of the topic and supporting readings for it. She was desperate, and I believe expected me to just fix her paper for her. When I asked her how she deals with her second-language grammar problems, she explained that she uses an online program that supposedly corrects her grammar on her submitted draft. That is, she isn't really learning the grammar herself, but depending on a software program. In addition, she didn't grasp the admittedly-hard readings assigned in her text, and was very vague on her thesis. I reviewed the essay and suggested that... read more

I received a draft of an essay from a student last week.  She asked me to proof it and give her feedback.  The essay was for a scholarship.  In short, it was a mess.  There was no introduction, no thesis, no clear points -- in other words, it was nearly a random collection of grammatically incorrect sentences. There was really no place to start editing/proofing.   I guess I could have said lots of comforting things about how the student had tried and how the thoughts were there but the format needed work.  However, both comments would have been lies.  Now that I am retired and out of the classroom, I have become more honest.  In the college classroom, it was drilled into me as a young teaching assistant that I needed to have something positive to say on every assignment.  As a retired professor, I do not feel that need - at least not as strongly.   Tearing students down is not the right thing to do.  However, telling... read more

1. Repeating themselves.    In high school (and sometime beyond) there are unhelpful rules from teachers relating to number of paragraphs, minimum lines per paragraph, and number of quotes per paragraph. Page length, word count, and more fit under this heading as well. Too many times I've seen students try to say the same thing in a different way in order to puff up their writing to hit a word count. It's easier to just think some more about the subject matter!   2. Trying to sound academic (or something).    Many a time I'll talk to a student and ask their opinion about some topic or relevant subject. They'll explain themselves clearly and concisely, and sometimes even with some with and humor. Then, when it's time to write, they start saying things like: "This subject is truly fascinating, as I believe that it is truly relevant for children in our society to become educated about many of these diverse and sundry topics".... read more

Many people, myself included, feel that for all its advantages, the internet has precipitated a steady decline in the quality of writing. Anyone can write anything anywhere, and while that gives a voice to many who otherwise might not have a public forum to share what they have to say, it also makes it difficult and sometimes impossible to uphold any sort of standards.   That said, the internet also offers plenty of resources for improving your writing. Here are a few of my favorites:   Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com Here you'll also find a thesaurus and several other reference tools. It may not be the Oxford English Dictionary, but it gives you plenty of good definitions and sometimes includes usage notes with practical implications for your writing, like differences in how similar words are typically used.   Difference Between http://www.differencebetween.com Speaking of differences, this is a really cool site... read more

For those who want to know the reason for writing "reflection" papers, consider how the process is simply another way to learn   Learning is not just about acquiring and using new skills, the process also involves “thinking about your thinking.” The actual term for this action is “metacognitive behavior,” which is a means to help you organize and reflect on information and behavior. The process may sound complicated, but this is simply a form of higher order thinking that requires you to consider how or why information is valuable as well as what makes it important or necessary. Sometimes, we do this automatically. Consider a time when you’ve been in the store and have been presented with two options for purchase. First, you go through a decision-making process, then select the product, and then take it home for use. Most likely, you will then know if you made the appropriate selection. At this point, you may likely reflect on why you made the choice –... read more

       Book, books... Table, tables... Phone, phones... Day, days... So... life, lifes, right? Nope! The plural of life is lives. And, isn't the plural of sheep sheeps? Nope! The plural of sheep is sheep. It's the same word.      Have you ever wondered how to handle all of the rules and exceptions to rules in the English language? Here is an introduction (a beginning) to understanding the rules about plural nouns. Hopefully, it will make figuring out how to change that word less of a guessing game and more of a skill. '   Plurals What is a plural noun? A plural noun is a person, place, or thing of which there is more than one. Example: If there is more than one phone, they are called phones. When should I make a noun plural? Make a noun plural when there is more than one of what that noun represents How do I make a noun plural? Usually,... read more

You have one hour with a college prep specialist who can help make your admissions/scholarship essays award winning.  How can you maximize your time?  Here are five tips to get the most out of your time:   Come Prepared. - Bring the essay prompts from each of your colleges.  Bring a sample personal statement and resume.  Be sure to have any information necessary to complete an admissions essay, to include your GPA, test scores, and any major accomplishments. Know Thyself - Always know your stats.  During this time, knowing your GPA and SAT score is as important as knowing your name and birthdate.  Also, know (and have a list of) your interests, hobbies, favorite subjects, etc.  Have an idea of at least 3 possible majors and careers you would like to explore. Be on Time - There is a lot to cover!  The better prepared and earlier you are, the more likely we are to get a lot done. Also, I tend to take my time... read more

Tonight I met with one of my students, who is in 6th grade, and we are working together to tackle proper essay structure.    This can be a tough issue for students, especially the really creative ones. These are the students that are FULL of ideas, and all of them are equally good, so why can't they just put them all into one essay or story? Trust me, it's not easy to kill your darlings, but it must be done (until you get a blog, of course).    In general, all essays, or even stories should be structured in a similar fashion: an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. Or, a beginning, a middle, and an end.    The introduction will include the visuals, the details to get the reader completely hooked into the story. If this is an analytical essay, the introduction will include the argument, or the point you're trying to prove.    Next comes the body, or the middle of the essay/story. This will typically be the longest... read more

Sometimes overcoming feeling stuck on a writing assignment can be as easy as expressing your thoughts out loud.  If a good friend (or perhaps someone else from your target audience) came to you, and you decided to share on this assignment topic, what would you say?  Express this out loud, and then before you forget, write it down.    

There are several points in grade school that involve a critical shift in the thinking that is required in the school work.  Parent's should be aware of these points as they navigate through the abyss of raising a school-aged child and supporting the child as he/she moves forward through the grades.   3rd Grade - The third grader is transitioning from whole number thinking into understanding the concepts of parts.  They are exposed to fractions, decimals and percentages.  This is a major paradigm shift.  Students are also exposed to long division at this point.  Supporting children in this phase requires an emphasis on helping the child conceptualize whole things being split into parts.  In addition to homework support, tutoring, and supplementary work, parents should introduce cooking chores to children at this time, and make them follow a recipe that has precise measurements.  Reading comprehension and writing is also an issue here... read more

Hey everyone, I'm Joel! I'm just crazy about language and have spent the last ten years learning dialects from the clicking Xhosa to the gaffable Yiddish. I'm excited to help you out with your writing because its is something I have been passionate about for a long time. But, at the end of the day this is something new for me and I'm looking forward to getting to know you as we begin this adventure if creativity, clarity and self-expression. Tally-ho!

Here in New Jersey, all public school students in grades 3-11 will be taking the PARCC test in March, and there is considerable anxiety about what the results of this new and very different test will be. To address this concern, I have added new tools and curriculum to my tutoring tool-box. This new material is designed to complement the PARCC prep workbooks and to encourage students to read and write about texts that are slightly more difficult than they are accustomed to. The questions I provide mirror the PARCC, focusing on literary elements, content, theme, and tone.    Students in grades 1-3 have been reading fables, trickster tales, and tall tales. They are asked to compare and contrast these stories to each other and to compose written responses that are 5-7 sentences long. This is difficult for them, especially because I stress that they can only write each idea once. Quotes do not count for length!   My fourth and fifth grade students have been... read more

Transitions! They can make or break your essay. You may have some great ideas that you write down, but if you don't connect them, it's hard for your reader to follow. People forget how your ideas are interrelated, and they therefore forget your main ideas.   The point here is: DON'T try to write without transitions. Here is a list of transitions to help you keep your ideas well-organized: first next then after after that afterward finally in conclusion in summary to start with in addition additionally second third moreover furthermore    

Hello, Peggy and Jake!   I just wanted to put in writing some of the topics that were discussed earlier today.     First and foremost, Jake should hopefully be able to locate his writing folder.     Secondly, the sources we found online for his persuasive essay are listed on the back of the note paper I gave to Jake.  One was a census pdf from 2012 listing the average American income, and the other was from CollegeBoard.org listing the average cost of various types of collges (2-year, 4-year, public, private, and so on).  This information should be used to compare the cost of tuition to the average wages earned in a family, and then further discuss how the current tuition rate isn't affordable without scholarships and/or student loans. If he hasn't mentioned it in his essay already, he should consider adding a section on how tuition isn't the only expense that a family faces at college (i.e. food, dorms, entertainment, etc... read more

Here are few few pieces of advice to motivate you while writing- fiction or nonfiction!   First and foremost, know your subject.  If you are writing a story, know your characters.  If you are writing an essay, research the topic.  The more information you have, the clearer your topic becomes to explain or argue.     Second, be passionate!  Whether you are writing about what on earth Heathcliffe's deal with Cathy was, the lifecycle of a frog, or why orange Starburst are better than yellow, you need to be invested in what you write. Sometimes you are given boring topics- regardless, try to put a bit of yourself in your writing.  If you are bored writing it, your audience will be bored reading it.  When all else fails, try to fall back on your personal beliefs and values for inspiration; for example, "According to three out of four students at Spring Hill Middle School, Minecraft is the best video game of this generation... read more

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