After reading thousands of essays, quick writes, and classroom assignments throughout my teaching career, I’ve noticed a trend in student writing: students have a difficult time with proper punctuation their papers. This is especially true for punctuation that goes beyond end marks and commas. Here are the most commonly misused forms of punctuation I have found while reading student papers along with suggestions for how to best use them. Colons : Colons can do so much more than separate hours from minutes. They bring emphasis to a word or phrase while cutting down on clutter. As an example I could write: There was only one thing that could make Mary happy today: a tub of Ben and Jerry’s slathered with chocolate syrup. The colon makes the reader take notice of what comes next and even helps keep down my word count by taking place of the word “namely” or similar transitional phrases.  But it can still do more: it can separate a title from a subtitle, it can provide emp...
When I was younger, I never thought I would be a teacher. Sure, I used to play school with my younger cousins and siblings when I was younger. I would even draw out worksheets and write questions for them to answer about books I read or PBS shows I taped on a VHS cassette especially for my “school”, but I never gave a thought to teaching as a profession. Not once in high school, or college, or even in my first couple years after college did I ever think I would be a teacher. I wanted to work in media and communications, and I began my professional career in public relations working the high-tech circuit. I had many big-name tech companies as clients. I wrote press releases and organized media tours. I even traveled throughout the US and abroad assisting my clients in their media need. I loved working in this demanding field, but it didn’t fulfill me in the way that I always dreamt a career should. After working for a few years in the private sector, I decided to make a cha...
Although what is considered to be “good” writing is lofty and subjective, we wouldn’t be English teachers if we didn’t try to improve our students’ writing skills. Here are some general tips and suggestions that can help polish any paper. 1. Use just and that sparingly Most writers have words which they repeat without noticing throughout a paper, much like how some teenagers will say ‘like’ every other word or how an inexperienced public speaker will pepper their speeches with ‘um’s. For students, I find the most common, ineffective words they repeat are just and that . You might suggest your students do a ctrl + f  search for these words on their computers before they turn in a piece of writing and weed out as many of them as they can. 2. Place emphatic words near the beginning and at the end of the sentence The eyes of readers tend to be drawn towards the white space at the beginning as well as at the end of a sentence. As such, it is natural that the most exci...
One of my favorite novels to teach is Lord of the Flies because of how it exposes the raw brutality of humanity. In the very beginning, the boys do their best to create and maintain civility, but as the novel progresses the boys slowly degenerate into savages. To help my students understand this concept as it plays out in the novel, I have them complete a scenario-based introduction activity that naturally pits the students against each other. In some of my previous classes, students have either alluded to or directly stated exactly what happens in the book just by completing this introduction. To begin, I inform the students that they are stranded on a tropical island that seems to be deserted and have them record their initial thoughts. I slowly reveal additional information to my students about their predicament and ask them to record their thoughts along the way. For example, I reveal that there are no adults and that they are accompanied by their classmates. Wi...