Category Archives: writing

"fanboys" or how commas come alive

Well, no one ever claimed that comma rules could be fun when I was first learning them. But, as my students and I figured out today, if you start with the right picture book–anything is possible.
Introducing comma rules to a 7th grade class is always tricky. On one hand, you want them to stretch their writing and try new things. On the other hand, they will invariably stick whatever new thing it is randomly throughout their work for awhile until they get the hang of it. With this in mind, I created a two part lesson. Part one was a funny way to remember commas. Part two was this book, which is a funny lesson in what happens when commas go very, very wrong.
The first part of my lesson was the standard “fanboys” of coordinate conjunctions. I teach the memory device “fanboys” (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to introduce the idea of “magic” words that can connect two sentences (with a comma!), and yet not get you the dreaded “RO” of the run-on in editing. The kids love it because we have such a good time making up sentences and discussing their meanings: the boys are ugly, but the girls are sweet— OR, the boys are ugly, so the girls are sweet–(that usually gets a few giggles from the swifter kids)–and then they go merrily off, sticking commas in every which way until they get the hang of it.
To squash the learning curve a bit, I used Lynne Truss’ Eats, Shoots, and Leaves: Why Commas are Important picture book. It’s great! The kids’ all-time favorite is the spread comparing “Eat here, and get gas” (at a gas station) and “Eat here and get gas” (at a restaurant). What’s not to like about flatulence jokes if you’re in 7th grade? But the best part of this book is it visually demonstrates what happens when commas go wrong.
They walk into a bar, fire a gun, and leave of course!

yet another page to read, yet another site to check

One of the things I love most about the internet is the surprises you can find in someone else’s list of links. Today I hopped around a few book-blogs and ended up at the Oxford University Press blog. At first, I merely stared, astonished that the company that received such a high percentage of my meager wages in college had a blog, but soon I was so wrapped up in what the site has to offer that the nostalgia faded into the background.

It’s hard to beat their guest bloggers. The writers range from NPR gurus, to celebrated writers, to two men who appear to enjoy arguing about the second amendment a lot–and all write quite articulately and with the quality you would expect from OUP. This blog does not have the “personal” element and is not tied together by the tone of one dominant writer (although several of the bloggers have regular columns). It definitely has a more casual “feel” to it than an official website would (and directs you to the offical OUP *mothership* on their sidebar). The articles are erudite, interesting, and make me smile at the memory of those “notes” I never quite got to at the end of my edition of Middlemarch.

great minds think alike, and other cliches

As I was writing up my notes on Quiller-Couch’s Art of Writing I noticed a number of quotes that were echoed in Smith’s research.
man at best is a narrow-mouthed bottle
you can hardly reconcile learning with compulsion, and still more hardly force them to be compatibles

I find it fascinating that Q-C and Smith, who address such different audiences, both strike upon these two ideas. Students cannot be coerced and can only hold so much information at once.

However, I do not think Q-C, and certainly not Smith, would ever argue that this means learning should slow down. Instead, instruction must be smooth, and it must be clear to the student (and hopefully to the teacher!) that each element follows in sequence, one after the other, smooth as water flowing into a bottle. With a clear consistent plan and the agreement of the students (the lack of compulsion for Q-C and the avoidance of boredom from Smith) learning becomes a community, and succesful, process.