The FIVE Minute Writing Lesson: Bad Words

As a teacher of Composition 101, I have attempted to take the lean approach to teaching writing.  What this means to me is that in my early years of teaching Composition 101, I made the mistake of reviewing the various parts of speech, drilling the various comma rules, and testing on active versus passive voices in writing.  Yes, as you are yawning right now, you can only imagine what my students were doing . . .  anything but improving their writing.  So, without a doubt, age and practice comes wisdom.  Thus, on the first day of class of the semester after skimming over the syllabus, the signing of a contract (to assure understanding of the syllabus), and the fondling of required texts, I ask students to retrieve a piece of “scratch” paper.  As if a grade school spelling exam, I have the students write the following words which I recite:


get
thing 
very
really
fun
big
good
kid
old
a contraction of his/her choosing

Then, I direct students to crumble up their papers and throw them in the trash can on their way out of class in the hopes they will eliminate these vocabulary choices from their formal writing with the exception of using kid to refer to a “baby goat” and old to refer to “dilapidated” or “geriatric,” but not “former.”

Thus, in my imagined utopia of specific, descriptive writing, a student would use . . .

I handed her the utensil.  
VERUS
I got her the utensil.

He is striking when he wears his black jacket.
VERUS
He is very striking when he wears his black jacket.

I need to call Erma, gather my research articles, and pick up Sam before tonight.
VERSUS
There are many things I need to do before tonight.
We enjoy swimming laps together.
VERSUS
We enjoy having fun together.
I ran into my former roommate at the mall.
VERSUS
I ran into my old roommate at the mall.
My friend’s younger sister is competing this weekend.
VERSUS
My friend’s kid sister is competing this weekend.
We read a suspenseful short story from an eco-horror anthology.
VERSUS
We read a good story.
I cannot make it to the meeting on time.
VERSUS
I can’t make it to the meeting on time.

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Fun with Thank You Cards

Repeatedly finding the repetition of the word “fun” minus any explanations, elaborations, and/or exemplifications in my English 111 student papers, I had no choice but to deduce that activities these young adults find “fun” may well be the same activities a forty-something, such as myself, finds “fun.”   Thus, some time spent making cards for the purpose of thanking others, a cherished pastime of mine,  was in store for our next class together.  At the very least, perhaps after a class spent creating cards, students may think twice about choosing the familiar “fun,” and, instead elevate their writing with more mature vocabulary choices.  

Instead of the anticipated moans and groans of disdain, what I found were more than willing participants for this card-making workshop.  Young men and women alike cared for the appearance of their cards by making use of the stickers, colored Sharpies, and paper puncher while their words were chosen with care and creativity.  Although a majority of cards were sent to the tutors at the Writing Center on campus, students were given autonomy over whom they would like to thank.

 
In truth, the results far exceeded my expectations.  Reviewing the cards for revisions, I could not help but smile at the depth of their thoughtfulness and sincerity.  A child of the original Star Wars era, a former high school English teacher, and a devoted fan of The Hunger Games trilogy, the letter below resulted in a rash of goosebumps on my skin: 
 
Mrs. Meyer,

I’m writing to you today to thank you for teaching me the ways of the Force, also known as English. Your teaching abilities have influenced me greatly, and I could not have asked for a better teacher. Though we had our differences at first, butting heads like a pair of male goats fighting for the position of alpha, you have brought me so far, not only maturing as a writer, but as a young lady as well. If it were not for you, I would not know what a well written paper should consist of, nor would I know how to go about writing it. Again I thank you for being the best influence a scrawny high school student could ask for. 
 

Best wishes, and “May the odds be ever in your favor,”

 
Carliann Huelsmann
 
So, have some “fun” today and every day by sending a thank you to an unsuspecting someone.  You will be thankful you did.