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As the school year ramps up again, I wanted to put out a modified version of a Memo of Understanding http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memo_of_understanding for parents and students. It seems each year in the rush to get through the first weeks of school parents and students forget the basic first good steps and then the spiral downwards occurs and then the need for obtaining a tutor and then the ‘wish for promises’ from a tutor. Pay attention to your child’s folder or agenda book. A student is generally not able to self regulate until well into high school. Some people never quite figure it out. Be the best person you can be by helping your child check for due dates, completeness, work turned in on time. Not only will this help your child learn to create and regulate a schedule, it prevents the following types of conversations I always disliked as a teacher ("Can you just give my child one big assignment to make up for the D/F so they can pass"; "I am going to talk to... read more

In some works of literature, a character who appears briefly, or does not appear at all, is a significant presence. Choose a novel or play of literary merit and write an essay in which you show how such a character functions in the work. You may wish to discuss how the character affects action, theme, or the development of other characters. Avoid plot summary. ~AP Literature Open Essay Prompt, 1994 Peripheral Presence Having your name in the title of a book doesn't mean you get to be in the spotlight. Take the classic 1897 gothic horror novel Dracula, by Bram Stoker. The eponymous vampire appears in person surprisingly little, and only once after his initial conversations with Jonathan Harker. Despite this, he still very much deserves the honor of the novel's title. His actions set the events of the novel in motion, and the main characters talk of nothing else but him. While not directly seen, his actions leave tangible consequences on Lucy, Mina, and Renfield,... read more

At a conference in town earlier this year, I presented several panel discussions centering around the difficulty of defining and quantifying art. Our discussions in these panels got me thinking about literature, and how one of my main points could apply equally easily to much of the literature that students read in high school. The point in question is this: one of the defining characteristics of art, in my view, is that it is something that creates an emotional response in the viewer. Experiencing it changes you in some way. This is easy to see when the emotions are ones we generally see as 'positive;' if a play makes your heart swell with hope for the future, or a ballet duet makes you flush with the excitement of new love, or an epic novel makes your heart race with anxiety over the safety of the main characters, it's easy to argue that those works are art and have changed you. But what if the emotions you experience are more negative – what if a novel bores you, frustrates... read more

Last week in my Literature Spotlight, I discussed the idea of science-fiction as a reflection of the time period in which it was written. For this week's Writing Rundown, let's take a look at my brainstorming process. As I mentioned in this blog post, there are many ways to brainstorm for a project. For this one, I decided to use a technique I hardly ever use myself: free-writing. Free-writing is a great tool for projects for which you have the beginnings of a lot of ideas bouncing around in your head, but none are quite fleshed out enough for you to contemplate their connections. It generally requires another form of prewriting such as a word cloud or outline to get it into a state that helps you write the essay, but it's a great place to start. So, as a brief recap: in freewriting, sometimes called “stream-of-consciousness” writing, you put your pen down on a blank piece of paper and just start writing – and you don't stop writing for at least ten or fifteen... read more

Since I've been tutoring English literature students, I've noticed a pattern: every time we read a book that I remember reading in my high school classes, I enjoy it far more as an adult than I ever did as a teenager. Time and time again I pick up a book I remember hating in class, resigned to slog through it and discuss metaphor and symbolism with my student, only to find that I thoroughly enjoy it. Each time I come out of the unit with a fresh new appreciation for the work in question. As this happens more and more I've come to the conclusion that there are whole worlds of theme and subtext in many novels that are only apparent to a reader who has reached adulthood, because they require the reader to have experiences beyond those of an average high-school student. In today's Literature Spotlight I'd like to illustrate this point using a recently-transformed work for me, A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. One of the main themes in A Doll's House is the idea of Nora's reluctance to... read more

AP Literature Open-Ended Prompt, 1975, #2: Unlike the novelist, the writer of a play does not use his own voice and only rarely uses a narrator’s voice to guide the audience’s responses to character and action. Select a play you have read and write an essay in which you explain the techniques the playwright uses to guide his audience’s responses to the central characters and the action. You might consider the effect on the audience of things like setting, the use of comparable and contrasting characters, and the characters’ responses to each other. Support your argument with specific references to the play. Do not give a plot summary. The Blanks Left Empty Narration is often the crux of the novelist's art. Through skillful use of narration and point of view, a novelist can make his readers acutely aware of not just the events of the novel, but the characters' opinions of those events. This makes it easy for a skilled novelist to deftly control how his... read more

“It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil.” ~(Author's Introduction to A Clockwork Orange, P. xiii) The protagonist of A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, is a depraved young teen named Alex who has a love for 'ultra-violence.' For the first third of the book, Alex gleefully commits felony after felony, robbing, raping, and beating up random innocents just for the fun of it. At first glance, anyone witnessing his nighttime escapades would probably call him inhuman, a monster. And he is certainly degenerate and warped – but is he really inhuman? After all, humanity has sunk to some pretty low depths in history, and the human race is capable of acts of incredible violence and devastation. What do we really mean when we call someone inhuman? Are there some qualities absent in Alex that we feel should be present in all humans? A sense of morality, perhaps? A Clockwork Orange explores the link between morality, free will, and humanity, and shows... read more

Since Banned Books Week happens in mid-September each year, I'd like to talk today about the problem with banning books. Last year, my Bring Your Own Book club's topic for September was to read a banned or challenged book. We had a great discussion during our meeting about common threads in all of the books we read, common reasons why books get challenged, and how that relates to the education system in general. One of the things that kept coming up was that often, the reason the book was challenged is the entire point of the book itself – of course it deals with that; that's the main theme of the book! Whether it's The Perks of Being a Wallflower and Looking For Alaska depicting kids smoking, drinking, and doing drugs, or it's The Giver depicting a fundamentally broken society masquerading as a utopia (psst – that's the definition of the genre – it's a dystopia!), or even a gorgeous picture book called “And Tango Makes Three” telling a true story about a pair of male penguins who... read more

My emerging tutoring passion is assisting ESL college students with their coursework. Most of them must also hold full-time jobs to support themselves and often their families as well. Many require online courses to get college educations. They could not earn a college degree any other way. Do textbook publishing companies realize how much cultural bias is written into their online ancillary (supplemental) materials? Do teachers of online college courses realize how hopeless these students feel about merely passing a class when their grades depend on online multiple-choice exams consisting of 60 items to be completed in 60 minutes (60 in 60), for example? This may be a subtle form of cultural bias, but bias it is. Frankly, as a native speaker of American English with a master’s degree in journalism from University of Wisconsin—Madison, I’m not sure I could pass a 60 in 60 exam. I would like to challenge the instructors who teach these online courses and college administrators... read more

Recently, as I've been working with students on reading, I noticed something interesting. Students tend to want to read the material quickly, whether or not the word is being read correctly.This presents in two different ways that I have noticed so far: If it is a new word, the letters and syllables might get read out of order. If it is a root word, verb or noun, they are already familiar with, the prefixes or suffixes may be read incorrectly. This made me wonder where the drive for speed was coming from. Was it a desire to sound natural? Was it the students' way of getting through the daunting task as quickly as possible? Whatever the reason, it was not helping the students become better readers or spellers. Spellers?! How does that apply to reading, you may ask? My answer is this: For visual learners, reading is a big part of spelling. When they see words, repeatedly, they can recall the images later on when they are trying to spell them. Therefore, when students are rushing... read more

Prompt: Explain the popularity of Science Fiction. Use at least one work from this genre to explain its appeal. Science fiction is one of my favorite genres. I love it (and I suspect many of its readers love it) because despite its trappings of the future, good science fiction is very much a reflection of the time period in which it is written. One of Sci-Fi's major draws for me is that it can highlight and discuss social issues that might be touchy to talk about in the present day. Through the skillful use of spaceships, aliens, utopian planet colonies, and other 'flight-of-fancy' scenarios, a science fiction author can hold a mirror up to the way our current society deals with an issue by showing how their fictional society does. By reading sci-fi from previous eras, then, we can catch a glimpse of what people of that era were thinking about – and what was considered an acceptable 'flight of fancy.' The Skylark of Space, written by E. E. 'Doc' Smith in the... read more

Bram Stoker's Dracula is a novel told in epistolary form – meaning the story is told entirely through documents, in this case journal entries and newspaper clippings. Epistolary is a very effective technique for writing certain types of stories, and one that I feel is generally under-appreciated. In Dracula the epistolary form is used brilliantly to enhance the sense of mystery and suspense in the novel, and to add to the overall chilling effect of the story. One of the ways in which epistolary form enhances the suspense is through the use of first person narration – from multiple sources. In a traditional first-person narration the reader follows a single protagonist, knowing only what they know and seeing only what they see. This can be a welcome insight into a character's psyche, but can also be restrictive to the author since they cannot add outside information to the story. In epistolary form many characters can contribute first-person narratives to the novel at once,... read more

Hi there! This is my first blog post! I thought I would test this out before I post regularly... It comes with the tutor profile, so why not?! I just want to give my number one piece of advice which has been true for every standardized test I have come across, no matter what grade level. I wish I had known this or understood this concept when I was growing up - I was always a good student, but maybe I would've been better! Here is the scenario. You're faced with this gigantic passage and you see that it's something incredibly boring. Immediately, your brain shuts off as you attempt to crawl your way to the end of it. You also feel the pressure of the clock, so instead of reading the passage, you kind of end up skimming over it. Then there are all these questions and you have no idea where to begin because you didn't absorb a single thing you read, so in a panic, you start guessing, even if those guesses mean penalties (on certain tests). Sound like you? Here is the strategy:... read more

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby presents the dark side of the American Dream and does so with unusual panache. The shimmering surface of Fitzgerald's prose style mirrors the daylight optimism of the dream, reflecting the ideal of a society wherein talent and hard work routinely get rewarded and upward mobility is based at least as much on merit as on luck or charm or who you know. But not everything is as it seems. Ruthlessness or deceit: who could need such things? The narrator, Nick Carraway, likewise begins this adventure with a fair measure of this robust American optimism. He envies the high society spoons in his new top drawer of polished acquaintances, interpreting their frivolity and hedonism as an abundance of life. Yet as the narrative progresses, this bright-eyed optimism dims. Nick sees, on the one hand, heirs to inherited wealth who are arrogant, bigoted, selfish, and only superficially cultured – Tom Buchanan and his ilk. On the other... read more

War of the Worlds, by H.G. Wells, is classic science fiction. Written in 1924, it depicts the catastrophic and totally unexpected near-extinction of humanity by aliens from Mars. One of the main themes running through War of the Worlds is the idea that mankind's assumptions about their world, the universe and the nature of life are constantly being challenged. The main reason the martians' landing is so catastrophic to humankind is because the humans, by and large, have been lulled into a false sense of security. They believe they are capable of overcoming anything, that they are the most powerful beings in the universe, and as such are completely unprepared for the martians' attack. Humans at the beginning of H.G. Wells's novel are portrayed as very self-satisfied. Even when confronted with the landing of the first martian cylinder, humanity is quick to dismiss the event as a mere curiosity. The story on the eve of the first day was “dead men from Mars,” (P. 14) and... read more

One day in college, my favorite professor approached me at my desk. She spoke in a hoarse whisper. "I need your help today. Will you please teach the class for me?" Who, me? I looked around at my fellow students, who were getting seated and unpacking their notebooks. This was hands-down my favorite class of the semester, an expository writing class. But...me? Teach? "Laryngitis," she croaked, pointing at her throat. She flashed a grin of confidence and leaned in closer. "Can I count on you? I know you can do it!" Looking back, that afternoon changed the course of my life. I don't remember how that class went, but I do remember that it lit a serious spark in my spirit. I started work as a tutor almost immediately, at first working in the National Center on Deafness (NCOD), which was located on my campus, which was California State University, Northridge. I also met with that professor to discuss the possibility of getting a teaching... read more

Did "paraprosdokian" make you think, "Whaaaaa?" The word is not listed on Dictionary.com or even in Merriam-Webster’s 11th Collegiate Dictionary. But have no fear; your WyzAnt tutor is here! This is Wikipedia’s definition: A paraprosdokian (from Greek meaning "beyond" and "expectation") is a figure of speech in which the latter part of a sentence or phrase is surprising or unexpected in a way that causes the reader or listener to reframe or reinterpret the first part. It is frequently used for humorous or dramatic effect, sometimes producing an anticlimax. For this reason, it is extremely popular among comedians and satirists. My purpose in this blog is to highlight a dramatic example of paraprosdokian and to clarify the difference between a paradox and oxymoron. Here’s how I paraphrase the definitions from AP test prep books and dictionaries: A paradox is a truth stated in contradictory terms; a statement that should not... read more

For the past five years, I have worked in multiple online areas: social media, graphic design, web development, etc. I discovered that online collaboration tools are a very unique and diverse way to keep up with and practice different activities. I would like to motivate students to participate in online tutoring sessions. I am not saying this should be a substitute to face to face sessions, but it a nice little way for students to get their online "fix" during the week and be reminded about what they are learning. If you are interested in adding an online session to your student's weekly tutoring, let me know. There are many ways to have video chats and also interactive tools for completing different tasks.

I'm a huge fan of the novel structure known as epistolary, where the story is told through primary sources such as diaries, newspaper articles, or letters back and forth between characters. Bram Stoker's Dracula is one of my favorite examples of epistolary, as the mystery is heightened by Stoker's clever choices of whose diary to show at which point in the story. Epistolary form allows the author to strengthen the reader's immersion in the story by allowing the story itself to influence the final form the novel takes. Leave off a character's diary in a tense situation where he's about to go do something dangerous and stupid, with the cry “Goodbye all!” and then cut to someone else's diary for the next hundred pages, and you leave the reader begging to know what happened back there – did he make it out? Why are we not reading more of his diary? Is he okay? Tell me please! I recently finished another epistolary novel that has quickly made it onto my list of great examples... read more

"One afternoon while working around his yard, a man spotted a cocoon. Looking closely, he noticed that something was struggling to get through a very small hole in the cocoon. He sat and watched for several minutes before he was certain that what he was seeing was a butterfly attempting to get through the hole in the cocoon. As he watched, the insect inside the cocoon pushed and twisted, but could not squeeze its way through the hole since the hole was smaller than the body of the butterfly. Intending to help the butterfly emerge, the man took his pocketknife and very carefully cut the hole larger so the butterfly could pass through the opening. The butterfly emerged easily with no effort at all. However, the butterfly had a body that was far too big to permit its undeveloped wings to lift it. The man waited with hope that the butterfly would continue to transform but this never happened. The butterfly needed to struggle to squeeze its body through the small opening. In the struggle,... read more

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