Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Split Infinitives - To Teach or Not to Teach?



I vote "Teach" despite the fact it is not always wrong to split an infinitive.

Infinitives are an important part of English grammar. In fact, they are included in the common core standards for 8th grade Language, so although most grammarians nowadays will say to go ahead and split the infinitive, students should still understand the concept and decide when to split and when not to split (see what I did there?)

First, a refresher: the infinitive is the word "to" plus the verb.  For example, "to love." Splitting the infinitive means to put a modifier between "to" and the verb "love." For example: "to only love" instead of "only to love" or "to love only."

I recently heard a famous forensic linguist (I missed my calling in life!) say that the root of the rule for not splitting infinitives is illogical: In Latin, infinitives cannot be split because they are one word, so it followed that English infinitives should also not be split. He said, then, go ahead and ignore the rule because it makes no sense and we split infinitives all the time and are clearly understood.

He is correct on the second point (the first point - the origin of the rule - is in dispute), but I would say the rule must not be ignored, but understood and then applied or not according to the situation.

Most infinitives can be split and sound perfectly natural; in fact, sometimes it is necessary to avoid awkwardness or changing the meaning of the sentence.

For example, in the sentence "The farmer expects her crop to almost triple next season," the split is necessary because the modifier "almost" can't go anywhere else in the sentence and make sense or not sound awkward.

In addition, take our previous example of the infinitive "to love" and the modifier "only." Moving the word "only" around changes the meaning of the sentence:

Claire wants to only love you.

Claire wants only to love you.

Claire wants to love you only.

The three sentences have different meanings depending on the shade Claire's intentions, and the first requires a split infinitive.

So that leaves the question of whether we should teach students to avoid splitting infinitives when the meaning of the sentence is not affected.

For example:

Split:  "The coach expected us to quickly learn the drill."

Not split:  "The coach expected us to learn the drill quickly."

I make my students aware of the rule and call it a "best practice," as it sounds better "to the educated ear," as some grammarians put it, but I do not generally correct or mark a split infinitive if it's working well in the sentence. If there is a problem with a split infinitive, it is far easier to explain if they know the grammar and reasoning behind it.

Although you can avoid correcting split infinitives in students' work when it does not affect clarity, it is worth teaching what it is and how to make a conscious choice about its use to avoid a misplaced modifier or an awkward sentence.

In addition, on a purely practical level, if you are teaching for common core assessments on verbals, it is helpful for students who are asked to identify an infinitive to understand that it can be separated with modifiers.




Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Sojourner Truth Speech Writing Activity



Sojourner Truth's "Ain't I a Woman?" speech is short and powerful. I assign this reading during our argumentative essay writing unit and then we analyze it for logic and persuasive techniques.

I recently started assigning a writing activity to go along with it, and it was successful. I got some of the best writing out of my students all quarter because they wrote passionately.  Here's the prompt:

Write a short, logical, persuasive speech defending yourself against something you have been denied or a stereotype or misconception about you.

Some examples of something students have been denied are attending an event or place because of age, a request to a parent (allowance, pet, expensive clothes...), membership in a club, a job they applied for, or a class change. Examples of stereotypes of misconceptions are that video game players are lazy, people who get good grades are nerds, athletes are not smart, or girls are too dramatic.

My students had no problem coming up with something. In fact, many immediately started writing the second I finished writing the prompt. The examples I gave were light-hearted and some were silly, but some students wrote about very serious racial stereotypes and misconceptions, and they said it felt good to be able to communicate what they felt.

 Here's a link to "Ain't I a Woman?" if you want to give this a try:

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/sojtruth-woman.asp













Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Using APA format in the Secondary Classroom


The vast majority of English teachers in middle and high school teach MLA formatting for essays with good reason, as it is what students will most likely be required to use in their first year of college. It is the format used for English and the Humanities, after all. 

But after having taught entry-level writing at several different colleges, I found students won't always use MLA. At one college, all freshman were required to use APA, as the school's majors were primarily in the social sciences. APA formatting is the preferred format for the social sciences, and for many students with majors and careers in these fields, MLA will be nothing but a distant memory from high school.

Teaching APA on the secondary level is useful for several reasons. The most important, perhaps, is that when taught in addition to MLA, it will prepare students for college writing. It is good for students to understand that there are different styles for different types of writing. It will increase their flexibility in the different rhetorical strategies. 

Unlike MLA formatting, APA style includes headings and sections, which can lead to more thoughtful and intuitive organization. Assigning one of the two most common APA-style papers, literature review or experimental report, will give students excellent experience in these rhetorical modes. 

APA also has many writing style rules, which can seem overwhelming on the secondary level when we are trying to teach the basics of good writing, but I've found most of these style rules are already the things we are encouraging our students to do, such as writing in active voice instead of passive voice. When I teach APA to beginning composition students, we focus on the formatting and save the style rules for more advanced classes. 

There are plenty of APA guidelines online. My favorite is the Online Writing Lab at Purdue, but if you would like some resources on the basics meant for secondary students, I've got some for your here:

    





Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Success Writing Prompts - Four Rhetorical Strategies


There are a lot of good writing prompts out there that ask for an opinion, but there are few that ask for rhetorical strategies beyond that. I created this product to help students practice writing with different methods - expository, narrative, persuasive, and research-based. Each prompt has a quote from a famous person on an aspect of success, and then a writing prompt that promotes critical thinking. Students write in the mode specified at the top of the page. There are ten for each strategy.

I also created this product in three versions for maximum flexibility: print, digital (for Google Drive and MS One Drive), and a Power Point presentation. Whether you want to hand out copies for students to write on, have students write on the computer, or project a slide and have students use their own paper, you're covered. Click on the picture above or here to get to the product preview.


Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Extreme Sports Argumentative Writing Prompt



One of my favorite activities in class to practice a particular writing skill is to show a short video about a high-interest topic and then give the class a writing prompt after a class discussion. By far, the most engaging topic for this method is extreme sports. The videos are gripping, and everyone pays attention. 

Here are two videos on YouTube about the topic that I like to show together. The first one is some amazing footage of people doing some extreme sports. The second explores the psychology behind it. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAz9hZmcr58


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9qEbjw_I0-o 

In the class discussion, we talk about why people engage in these sports, but also the risk, the cost of rescue operations, and the legality of some of the stunts. This discussion always leads to arguments (in a good way!) and therefore, the prompts are easy:  Should people be able to engage in high-risk sports in national parks? Should they be required to pay for search and rescue if they get in trouble? Should the deadliest sports be illegal or regulated? Why would someone want to engage in such a dangerous activity? Is the freedom to do what you want worth the risk to rescue personnel? 

I think you'll find a lively discussion on this topic and some excellent written responses.

If you would like to add some reading to supplement the topic, click on the photos below for informational articles on extreme sports. The reading level is grades 5 - 8, but because of the subject matter, they are appropriate for high school students as well. 






Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The 5 Essays You Must Master To Be College Ready


My new book is finally available! After many years of teaching college students who are not quite ready for the demands of college-level writing, I identified the information and practice that they needed in five different rhetorical strategies to be ready. This book incorporates my most successful classroom curriculum, modified for secondary students who are homeschooled or working with a tutor or parent to enhance their skills. 

This is a full program, with exercises, step-by-step processes for each essay type, samples, and clear essay assignments for each essay type. Writing teachers will also find valuable information and projects for their classes. I'll be using it as a textbook for my future classes. 

This baby has been years in the making, and I'm proud it's finally here! Click here to purchase. 




Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Glass Castle Movie and Book Comparison


The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a favorite of my students, so I was excited about the movie that was released in August. I'm hoping it will bring more attention to this book that has so fully engaged my students. You can read about my experience with it in the classroom in my blog post here.

Usually, I'm disappointed with the movie version of any book, and I was worried when I went to see it, because The Glass Castle is dear to my heart. In fact, I was prepared to be disappointed, and even angry if they messed with it too much.

They did mess with it, but I was pleasantly surprised. Better yet, I immediately saw how this movie would work perfectly with the book for a compare/contrast assignment.

Some of the changes they made from the book to the movie are evident right away. The main change is that the book opens with Jeannette as an adult, and then tells a linear story from when she was three years old to her adulthood. The movie alternates between her adult self coming to grips with her childhood, shown through a series of flashbacks. It works. There is certainly a different dynamic, but I found it interesting and the integrity of the story held. My first thought after the movie was how this structural differences would be excellent fodder for a comparison discussion with the book. Why did the director make this choice? How did it change the perception of the viewer/reader? Which version was more effective?

The other changes seemed like necessities of the format, such as skipping over locations and storylines to fit the time constraints. The movie also makes a main character out of Jeannette's fiancé, who is a minor player in the book. These are also good discussion points about how these choices affected the story.

The Glass Castle is not an easy story. It dredges up powerful emotions in many, and has mature themes and storylines, but it is not easily forgotten. Jeannette's ability to forgive and to craft a bright future for herself are uplifting and inspiring in the end, and the movie brings this into clear focus once again.