AWESOME WAYS TO RAISE YOUR GRADE IN ENGLISH @ HIGH SCHOOL – 1

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Well, the exam season is just upon us and Dear Candidate I felt you should know that . . .

There are some unusual punctuation marks which students avoid YET could be the trick to an excellent grade.

This is a FOUR part series of excellent tips on the brilliant subject: AWESOME WAYS TO RAISE YOUR GRADE IN ENGLISH@ HIGH SCHOOL.

So Dear Folks, bless yourselves for some good ideas on the subject that really matters to students and parents, as well as English Teachers at High School.

“The problem with poor punctuation is that it makes life difficult for the reader who needs to read and understand what you have written” – The Penguin Guide To Punctuation

By the time students enter High School, they will have conquered and mastered the uses of a period/full stop, the comma, various uses of the capital letters, the question mark and the apostrophe.

Many, and I mean the majority of students, would know what a colon or semi-colon looks like; ellipsis; brackets and dashes; but wouldn’t know when or how to use them. This is what I want to share with you here: where, how and when to use these punctuation marks.

The colon and semi-colon; ellipsis, brackets and dashes are important in raising a student’s grade.

Throughout my teaching career as well as being a GCSE/IGCSE and GCE Examiner, I have noticed that these unusual punctuation marks are rarely used. Yet by using

  • colons (:) and semi-colons (;)
  • the hyphen, dashes (-)
  • parenthesis/brackets ( ), [ ]
  • ellipsis (. . .)
  • using numbers in writing

enhances a student’s writing repertoire.

WHY IS PUNCTUATION IMPORTANT?

Punctuation is one of the most important aspects of written English desired by English Teachers. It is indeed, the feature of writing that gives meaning to the written word.

GOOD PUNCTUATION shows a lot about any particular student as it portrays the student’s good knowledge about grammatical structures. It can radically change the meaning of a text and helping readers understand what writers are trying to say. Ultimately, punctuation assist any writer in achieving clarity towards what they are trying to communicate or convey to their audience.

Thus, through GOOD PUNCTUATION, the meaning of any piece of written work, whether a sentence or a passage, becomes more clearly and easily understood. Similarly, any omission, using a different sign or failing to punctuate correctly can alter the meaning of a sentence.

Around half of all CVs received by recruitment consultants, says the Recruitment and Employment Commission (REC), contain spelling or grammatical errors, and these are most likely to be made by those aged between 21 and 25. In this age group, graduates are twice as likely to make mistakes as those who did not go on to university.

pexels-photo-279470.jpegDon’t be confused by these terms which you shall be meeting quite often:

Clause –  a group of related words that contain a subject and a verb. It is a sentence!

Independent clause  – a group of words that can stand alone as a sentence. It has both a subject and a verb and forms a complete thought.

Dependent clausea group of words with a subject and a verb. It does not express a complete thought so it is not a sentence and can’t stand alone. These clauses include adverb clauses, adjective clauses and noun clauses.

Transitional phrases – phrases or words that create better flow in your writing to form strong, logical connections, eg: In addition, for example, Although, etc.

Coordinating conjunctionthey make things go together by joining together words, phrases and independent clauses. They are seven of them – and, but, for, nor, or, so, and yet. You can remember them by the acronym FANBOYS, where F= For, A=And, N=Nor, B=But, O=Or, Y=Yet and S=So.

THE COLON (:)

The colon is a widely misused but very useful piece of punctuation. By using it correctly, it can add precision to your written work as well as impressing your tutors and future employers. There are not many people around who are able to use colons correctly.

The colon has a number of functions:

To introduce an idea between two independent clauses when the second explains or illustrates the first – It is used to introduce an idea that is an explanation or continuation of the one that comes before the colon. The colon can be considered as a gateway inviting the reader to go on. Have a look at these examples:

  • You are left with only one option: Press on until you have mastered it.
  • There is one thing you need to know about coleslaw: it looks and tastes like slurry.

In the above examples you have some idea of what will come after the colon. It is important to note that the clause that comes before the colon can stand alone and makes complete sense on its own.

If the initial clause cannot stand alone and makes complete sense, you should not use a colon.

To introduce a list – The second main use of the colon is to introduce a list. You need to take care that many people assume that a colon always precedes a list. This is not the case. Again it is important to remember that the clause that precedes the colon must make complete sense on its own.

  • The bookstore specializes in three subjects: art, architecture and graphic design.
  • The potion contained some exotic ingredients: snails’ eyes, bats’ tongues and garlic.

In the above sentences, the clause preceding the colon has a subject and a predicate and makes complete sense on its own.

Do not, however, use a colon when the listed items are incorporated into the flow of the sentence, eg:

  • The bookstore specializes in art, architecture, and graphic design.
  • The magic potion contained sesame seeds, bran flakes and coleslaw.

In the sentences above a colon should not be used, as the clause that would precede it would not make sense alone.

To isolate a point for emphasis –  The colon can be used to emphasize a phrase or single word at the end of a sentence, eg:

  • There’s only one word I can use to describe that: fabulous.

To introduce quoted material – It can also be used after a clause introducing quoted material. Have a look at this example.

  • The teacher often used her favourite quotation from Monty Python: ‘I wasn’t expecting the Spanish Inquisition.’

If the colon precedes a quotation, you should begin the language of that quote with a capital letter.

Non-Grammatical Uses of The Colon

Time – The colon is used to separate hours from minutes, with no space before or after the colon, eg; 11:35 a.m.

Ratio – The colon is used to express a ratio of two numbers, with no space before or after the colon, eg: 1:3

Biblical references – The colon is used in biblical references to separate chapter from verse, with no space before or after the colon, eg: Genesis 1:31.

Correspondence – The colon is frequently used in business and personal correspondence, eg: cc: Tom Smith; Attention: Accounts Payable; PS: Don’t forget your swimsuit.

Other references – The colon is used to separate the volume from page numbers of a cited work, with no space before or after the colon. Punctuation Quarterly 4:86–89 (reads as “pages 86 through 89 of volume four”)

Style

Having mastered the correct use of the colon, it is useful to make it work for you in your writing. Using a colon can add emphasis to an idea. For example, consider the following two sentences:

  • The one thing mankind cannot live without is hope.
  • There is one thing that mankind cannot live without: hope.

Both sentences are grammatically correct, but the second makes the point a little more forcefully. Now we are in the realms of style, it is important to emphasise that you, as the writer, have to decide how to make your newfound expertise with punctuation work for you. Do not be tempted to overuse colons. They are powerful but should be used with precision and care.

The most important thing to remember about colons is that you only use them after statements that are complete sentences.

THE SEMI-COLON (;)

The semi-colon is a hugely powerful punctuation mark. Getting it right will not only impress your teachers and future employers, it will allow you to express your ideas and opinions with more subtlety and precision than ever before.

The good news is that it is simple and easy to use and should take you no more than a few minutes to master.

A semi-colon is most commonly used to link (in a single sentence) two  independent clauses that are closely related in thought.

When a semi-colon is used to join two or more ideas (parts) in a sentence, those ideas are then given equal position or rank.

  • Some people write with a word processor; others write with a pen or pencil.
  • Terry always slept with the light on; he was afraid of the dark.

The two clauses here are closely connected but the link has not been made explicit. They could have been separated by a full stop, eg:

  • Some people write with a word processor. Others write with a pen or pencil.
  • Terry always slept with the light on. He was afraid of the dark.

They could have been connected by a conjunction too.

  • Terry always slept with the light on because he was afraid of the dark.
  • Terry always slept with the light on, as he was afraid of the dark.

In this instance we have changed the second clause into a dependent clause; it is directly dependent on the first clause.

Use a semicolon between two independent clauses which have closely related ideas by employing conjunctive adverbs or transitional phrases.

  • But however they choose to write, people are allowed to make their own decisions; as a result, many people swear by their writing methods.

Use a semicolon between items in a list or series if any of the items contain commas to avoid confusion between listed items. In most lists a comma is enough to separate the items. In a complicated list, it is perfectly acceptable to use the semicolon to make the list more understandable.

  • There are basically two ways to write: with a pen or pencil, which is inexpensive and easily accessible; or by computer and printer, which is more expensive but quick and neat.

Use a semicolon between independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction if the clauses are already punctuated with commas or if the clauses are lengthy.

  • Some people write with a word processor, typewriter, or a computer; but others, for different reasons, choose to write with a pen or pencil.

If you are going to use a semicolon to connect two clauses, it is very important that the two clauses are both independent. That means that each clause has to be able to stand alone and make complete sense without the other. If either one cannot stand alone, a semi-colon cannot be used.

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Avoid using a comma when a semicolon is needed

  • Incorrect: The cow is brown, it is also old.
  • Correct: The cow is brown; it is also old.

What’s going on here?  Both parts of the sentence are independent clauses, and commas should not be used to connect independent clauses if there is no coordinating conjunction. This mistake is known as a comma splice. 

  • Incorrect: I like cows, however, I hate the way they smell.
  • Correct: I like cows; however, I hate the way they smell.

What’s going on here?  The conjunctive adverb however signals a connection between two independent clauses, and commas should not be used to connect independent clauses if there is no coordinating conjunction.

  • Incorrect: I like cows: they give us milk, which tastes good, they give us beef, which also tastes good, and they give us leather, which is used for shoes and coats.

What’s going on here?  It’s unclear what the three listed items are, since the items are separated by commas. Now look at these corrected sentences:

  • Correct: I like cows: they give us milk, which tastes good; they give us beef, which also tastes good; and they give us leather, which is used for shoes and coats.
  • Correct: Cows, though their bovine majesty has been on the wane in recent millenia, are still one of the great species of this planet; domesticated, yet proud, they ruminate silently as we humans pass tumultuously by.

Avoid using a semicolon when a comma is needed:

  •  Incorrect: Because cows smell; they offend me.
  • Correct: Because cows smell, they offend me.

What’s going on here? The first part is not an  independent clause, so no semicolon is required.

Semicolons help you connect closely related ideas when a style mark stronger than a comma is needed. By using semicolons effectively, you can make your writing sound more sophisticated.

Again, Dear Reader, the use of the colon and semi-colon is not an easy concept to master if you don’t practice using them. Use them in your everyday writing so that they become second nature. When you get to the exam season, it will just be a walk in the park!

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

 

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ESSENTIAL WORDS TO USE WHEN ANALYSING POETRY – 2

This is my second post on this interesting topic about UNDERSTANDING AND ANALYSING POETRY @ High School. Please read the first post here:

Essential Words To Use When Understanding And Analysing Poetry – 1

writing-notes-idea-conference.jpgMost words convey several meanings or shades of meaning at the same time. It is the poet’s job to find words which, when used in relation to other words in the poem, will carry the precise intention of thought.

POETIC TERMS AND DEVICES

BELOW IS A LIST OF POETIC TERMS that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different works of poetry. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead, offers a primer to the language frequently used by students when tackling and analyzing a poem. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a poetry that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation and analysis

Often, some of the more significant words may carry several layers or “depths” of meaning at once. The ways in which the meanings of words are used can be identified.

ALLEGORY: It is a representation of an abstract or spiritual meaning. Sometimes it can be a single word or phrase, such as the name of a character or place. Often, it is a symbolic narrative that has not only a literal meaning, but a larger one understood only after reading the entire story or poem.

ALLUSION: This is a brief reference to some person, historical event, work of art, or Biblical or mythological situation or character.

Ambiguity: It is a word or phrase that can mean more than one thing, even in its context. Poets often search out such words to add richness to their work. Often, one meaning seems quite readily apparent, but other, deeper and darker meanings, await those who contemplate the poem.

ANALOGY: It is a  comparison, usually something unfamiliar with something familiar.

APOSTROPHE: This is speaking directly to a real or imagined listener or inanimate object; addressing that person or thing by name. Example: O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done…

CLICHE: It is any figure of speech that was once clever and original but through overuse has become outdated. If you’ve heard more than two or three other people say it more than two or three times, chances are the phrase is too timeworn to be useful in your writing, eg: busy as a bee.

CONNOTATION: This is the emotional, psychological or social overtones of a word; its implications and associations apart from its literal meaning. Often, this is what distinguishes the precisely correct word from one that is merely acceptable.

CONTRAST: It is closely arranged things with strikingly different characteristics, eg: He was dark, sinister, and cruel; she was radiant, pleasant, and kind.

DENOTATION: This is the dictionary definition of a word; its literal meaning apart from any associations or connotations.

Students must exercise caution when beginning to use a THESAURUS, since often the words that are clustered together may share a denotative meaning, but not a connotative one, and the substitution of a word can sometimes destroy the mood, and even the meaning, of a poem.

EUPHEMISM: It is an understatement, used to lessen the effect of a statement; substituting something innocuous for something that might be offensive or hurtful, eg: She is at rest. (meaning, she’s dead)

HYPERBOLE: It is an outrageous exaggeration used for effect, eg: He weighs a ton.

IRONY: This is a contradictory statement or situation to reveal a reality different from what appears to be true. The three types of irony commonly used are: verbal irony; situational irony and dramatic irony.

METONYMY: This is a figure of speech in which a person, place, or thing is referred to by something closely associated with it, eg: The White House stated today that . . .

OXYMORON: It is a combination of two words that appear to contradict each other, eg: a pointless point of view; bittersweet.

PARADOX: This is a statement in which a seeming contradiction may reveal an unexpected truth. Example: The hurrier I go the behinder I get.

PUN: A word play in which words with totally different meanings have similar or identical sounds, eg: Like a firefly in the rain, I’m de-lighted.

LITOTES: It is a double negative is used for poetic effect, eg: not unlike, not displeased.

SYNECDOCHE: It indicates a person, object, etc. by letting only a certain part represent the whole, eg: All hands on deck.

REFRAIN: A line or lines repeated at intervals during a poem, usually at the end of each stanza. A refrain serves to establish meter and tone, but it often gives a hint about the poem’s message. A song’s refrain may be called the chorus.

EUPHONY: A series of musically pleasant sounds, conveying a sense of harmony and beauty to the language.

ANTITHESIS:  It is an opposition, or contrast, of ideas. Example: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

STANZA: A division of poetry named for the number of lines it contains, eg: couplet: two line stanza; triplet: three line stanza, etc, Some people call it a VERSE.

OVERSTATEMENT (or hyperbole): An extreme exaggeration used for effect; ie: I’ve told you a hundred times…; I’m starving; The suspense is killing me.

UNDERSTATEMENT:  It means saying less than what is meant, for effect. It is the opposite of an EMBELLISHMENT.

SPEAKER: This is the PERSONA the poet takes on; like the narrator in the story, the writer takes on a character to present the words on the page.

CONCEIT:  It is a fanciful and elaborate figure of speech that makes a surprising connection between two seemingly dissimilar things, eg: John Donne’s comparison of separated lovers to the legs of a compass.

ANAPHORA: It is the exact repetition of words or phrases at the beginning of successive lines or sentences.

HYPOPHORA: It is a figure of speech in which the speaker both asks a question and immediately answers it.

CHIASMUS: The reversal of, or reversal of the order of, certain words, concepts, sounds or syntactic structures, eg: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” (JFK, 1961 Inaugural address)

APHORISM: It is a concise, pointed, epigrammatic statement that reveals a truth or principle, eg: A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” (Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare).

VERSE: It is a metric line of poetry; any division or grouping of words in a poetic composition, where others referred to as a STANZA.

SATIRE: It is a form of sarcasm, irony or wit used to expose abuses or follies, ridicule.

VOLTA: It is an Italian word for “turn.” In a sonnet, the volta is the turn of thought or argument: in Petrarchan or Italian sonnets it occurs between the octave and the sestet, and in Shakespearean or English before the final couplet.

ESSENTIALLY, when analyzing a poem and then carrying out an answer to a question, you will have been tackling three key issues:

  • What purpose does this poetic/literary device serve?
  • How does the poet communicate his or her purpose through this device?
  • Why do readers have this response to the poetic device?

This is a skill you need to harness at High School. It is not easy but with practice you will get the hang of it. To do so, I have one important posts I have done to help you achieve a top grade in English Literature essays. YOU can access it here:

With a lot of practice, you will see yourself improving.

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

HIGHLY REGARDED REVISION TECHNIQUES YOU WILL NEVER FORGET

Study

Dear GCSE/AP/IGCSE /SAT/IB Candidate – Just Ace That Exam . . . but how?

Just remember: Exams are important – but they are not the only key to a successful future.

The exam season is within us.

As preparations are underway, I felt going through these HIGHLY REGARDED REVISION TECHNIQUES YOU WILL NEVER FORGET, will steady the ship in the stormy waters in your quest to attaining your very best.

PLEASE . . .

  • Don’t leave revision to the last minute.
  • Don’t avoid revising subjects you don’t like or find difficult.
  • Don’t cram ALL night before an exam.
  • Don’t study when you’re really tired. It’s better to get a solid night’s sleep after a short study period, than to push on until 2am. You won’t remember much and will be less effective the next day.
  • Don’t forget that there is life beyond revision and exams.

Minimise Distractions

  • Identify what distracts you. Is it social media, television, email, phone or family?
  • Once you’ve identified distractions, take steps to consciously block them out.
  • Turn off your phone and leave it in another room, close email and social media.
  • Hang a ‘do not disturb’ sign on the door; put on ear phones and listen to some ambient sound to shut out external noise or conversation.
  • It’s important to do this actively; distractions won’t go away, so it’s important to learn how to shut them out.
  • Reward yourself when the work is finished – but only if you’ve remained focused and used the time well. 

pexels-photo-449609.jpegLay Out The Study Plan

ONCE these are observed, it is time to:

  • Have your own revision timetable – start planning well before exams begin.
  • Start doing more revision about four weeks before your exams.
  • Make your books, notes and essays user-friendly.
  • Use headings, highlighting and revision cards, and get tips on other revision techniques from teachers and friends with experience of exams.
  • You could also consider buying revision guides. 

How & Where Can You Study?

  • ‘Chunk’ information. Don’t try to study the entire course in one sitting. Divide the subject up into topics and aim to study a ‘chunk’ at each study session.

Set Study Goals

  • Set yourself a goal for each study session to help you keep track of what you are revising.
  • Write them down as soon as you begin your study session, or set them at the end of the study session for next time:
    • I will read through and summarise chapters . . .
    • I will work through two past paper questions on . . .
    • I will learn the main concepts that were discussed in . . .

Sort Out What You Don’t Understand

  • Clarify the meaning of any words or concepts you don’t understand before trying to study them.
  • If you aren’t clear about what that information means, memorising it won’t help. Get to know it!
  • Prioritise the hardest subjects first in each study session.
  • Allocate more time to studying the subjects you find most difficult.

Believe In YourselfRewrite Your Notes

  • Rewriting your notes helps you to remember them. Don’t just copy out your original notes—you’ll end up simply memorizing the exact wording instead of the actual concepts.
  • The key is to read and think about the contents of your notes, what you noted down and why (In what way is it important?), how to express it most efficiently and memorably, and then re-write them in your own words.
  • When you finish studying a section of notes, ask yourself questions relating to the material to see if you remembered what you just read.
  • It can also help to answer your questions out loud as if you were talking to someone.
  • Take notes of the important points when revising.
  • Try to answer the questions of past exam papers.
  • Explain answers to tricky questions to someone else.

Review Past Exam Papers

  • Review any previous exam papers for your course
  • Work through past papers. Note the trend on how questions are asked.
  • Look at the wording of the questions and familiarise yourself with the clue words. I call these TARGET WORDS!
  • Practice doing the papers under exam conditions and carefully review your answers.

Help At Hand: Please ASK

  • Ask for help from your teacher/learning mentor, parent or a friend if there are things you don’t understand
  • Don’t cram the night before—it’s ineffective because you’re taking in so much information at once that it’s impossible to memorise it all. You’ll hardly retain anything and will be tired and stressed when the time comes to actually sit the exam.

Form A Study Group

  • Form a study group with other students.
  • Swap practice exams and give feedback.
  • Drill each other on study topics.

Pamper Yourself

  • Remember it’s important to eat and sleep well.
  • Put yourself first – this is an important time for you. Try to talk to your family about how:
    • they can make studying a little easier for you.
    • For example, by agreeing times when you can have your own space, when they will try to be a little quieter around the house and when you’d rather not be disturbed (except perhaps for the occasional treat, such as a drink or snack).
  • Don’t revise all the time: Make sure you give yourself time each day to relax, taking breaks to do something you enjoy – watch TV, listen to music, read a book or go out for a walk.

Ever TriedRevising To Remember: Use The SQ3R Method Of Study

It is about Surveying, Questioning, Reading, Recalling and Reviewing

SURVEY: Before you begin to study, survey the material to get a quick overview. Skim through your notes to get a picture of the main ideas. If studying from a book, look at tables of contents, possible chapter summaries, graphs and tables.

QUESTION: Your reading is more active and memorable if you look for specific answers to questions. If there are headings in the material turn the heading into a question. For example, if the heading is Organisational Theory, your questions might be: ‘What is organisational theory and where did it start?’

READ: Read through the material once, without making notes. On your second reading, make notes of the main ideas. Try to use your own words.

RECALL: Close the book/ cover your notes. Try to recall what you have read. Make notes of what you remember then check their accuracy against your study material.

REVIEW: Review all your notes at the end of the study period. This is an important part of the study process because it can really help you remember what you have studied.

  • Try summarising your notes down to key words that will act as memory triggers for related ideas.
  • Try to tackle past exam questions if they are there
  • Set review times separately from your study times.
  • Read through your review notes, cover them and then recite them.
  • Check the originals for accuracy.

Prepare For The Big Day

  • Have a good breakfast, if you can.
  • Make sure you know where the exam is being held and what time it starts. Give yourself plenty of time to get there.
  • Take all the equipment you need for each exam, including extra pens and pencils.
  • Take in a bottle of water and tissues.
  • Go to the loo beforehand!
  • If you feel really anxious, breathe slowly and deeply while waiting for the exam to start.

Pace Yourself In The Exam Hall

  • Remember to write your name on the exam paper. You would not believe how many people have forgotten to do it!
  • Read the instructions before starting the exam.
  • Ask the exam supervisor if anything is unclear.
  • Read through all the questions before starting writing, and make sure you are clear how many questions you are required to answer.
  • If there is a choice, start by answering the question you feel you can answer best.
  • If you are stuck on a question, go on to the next. You can always come back to it later. If you are really stuck, try to have an intelligent guess anyway.
  • Leave time to read through and check your answers before the exam finishes.
  • Plan how much time you’ll need for each question.

pexels-photo-764681.jpegPerform As Well As You Can

  • Knowing that you’ve done your best may help you overcome feelings of letting anyone down.
  • Don’t go through the answers afterwards with your friends if it is only going to make you more worried.
  • Try to put the last exam out of your mind and look ahead to the next one. You can’t go back and change things.

You’re you, so you can only do the best you can on the day.

Good luck in all your endeavours

As of old: BE EMPOWERED and EXCEL

ESSENTIAL WORDS TO USE WHEN ANALYSING POETRY – 1

  • Genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. T. S. Eliot
  • Poetry is like a bird, it ignores all frontiers. Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Ever TriedWRITING AN ESSAY ON POETRY at High School can be one of the most demanding tasks that many students face in a literature class. Poetry, by its very nature, makes demands on a writer who attempts to analyze it, that other forms of literature do not.

So, how can you write a clear, confident, well-supported essay on poetry?

What’s the Point of Writing An Essay?

In order to write effectively about poetry, one needs a clear idea of what the point of writing about poetry is. When you are assigned an analytical essay about a poem in an English class, the goal of the assignment is usually to argue a specific thesis about the poem, using your analysis of specific elements in the poem and how those elements relate to each other to support your thesis.

There are two key questions to this:

  • So, why would your teacher give you such an assignment?
  • What are the benefits of learning to write analytical essays about poetry?

Several important reasons suggest themselves:

  • To help you learn to make a text-based argument. That is, to help you to defend ideas based on a text that is available to you and other readers.
  • This sharpens your reasoning skills by forcing you to formulate an interpretation of something someone else has written and to support that interpretation by providing logically valid reasons why someone else who has read the poem should agree with your argument.
  • To help you to understand what you are reading more fully. Nothing causes a person to make an extra effort to understand difficult material like the task of writing about it.
  • Also, writing has a way of helping you to see things that you may have otherwise missed simply by causing you to think about how to frame your own analysis.
  • To help you enjoy poetry more! This may sound unlikely, but one of the real pleasures of poetry is the opportunity to wrestle with the text and co-create meaning with the author.
  • When you put together a well-constructed analysis of the poem, you are not only showing that you understand what is there, you are also contributing to an ongoing conversation about the poem. If your reading is convincing enough, everyone who has read your essay will get a little more out of the poem because of your analysis.

This isn’t a skill that is just important in academics by the way, but a life-long one! High School writing prepares you for university life. More so, lawyers, politicians, and journalists, as well as in your adult life; often find that you will need to make use of similar skills.

READ THE POEM all the way through at least twice. Read it aloud. Listen to it. Poetry is related to music, so the sound is important. You listen to your favourite CDs many times; the principle is the same. It takes time to fully appreciate and understand a work of art. Make a note of your first impressions or immediate responses, both positive and negative. You may change your mind about the poem later, but these first ideas are worth recording.

A POET IS LIMITED in the materials to use in creating his/her works: all s/he has are words to express his/her ideas and feelings. These words need to be precisely right on several levels at once:

  • they must sound right to the listener even as they delight his ear.
  • they must have a meaning which might have been unanticipated, but seems to be the perfectly right one.
  • they must be arranged in a relationship and placed on the page in ways that are at once easy to follow and assist the reader in understanding.
  • they must probe the depths of human thought, emotion, and empathy, while appearing simple, self-contained, and unpretentious.

Fortunately, the English language contains a wide range of words from which to choose for almost every thought, and there are also numerous plans or methods of arrangement of these words, called POETIC DEVICES, which can assist the writer in developing cogent expressions pleasing to his/her readers. Such poetic devices help you in analyzing a poem.

By Grade 11/Year 11/Form 4 you should be familiar with most of the terms used in this post.

 What style should I use?

 It is useful to follow some standard conventions when writing not only a poetry assignment but a literature essay in general.

  • It is best to use present tense rather than past tense for your verbs.
  • You must learn to use numerous quotations from the poem and explain their meaning and their significance to your argument.
  • After all, if you do not quote the poem itself when you are making an argument about it, you damage your credibility.

While this isn’t common in High School, unless you are carrying out a research paper on poetry, there are some teachers who ask for outside criticism of the poem as well, this means you should also cite points made by other critics that are relevant to your argument. Furthermore, it entails you to cite both the material you get from the poems themselves and the information you get from other critical sources.

 TYPES OF POETRY

Blank Verse – Unrhymed iambic pentameter, often resembling the rhythms of ordinary speech. Blank verse is found in much of Shakespeare’s work.

Narrative Poem – A poem that tells a story. Ballads and epics are types of narrative poetry, eg: Alfred Lord Tennyson’s “Charge of the Light Brigade.” 

Lyrical Poem – A poem that is usually short, and expresses a speaker’s personal thoughts and feelings, eg: “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth.

Ballad Poem – A fairly short, simple poem that tells a story. Ballads were often meant to be sung, and are one of the earliest forms of literature.

 Elegy – A dignified poem mourning the death of an individual, eg: “O Captain! My Captain!” is Walt Whitman’s elegy to president Lincoln.

Ode – a serious, sincere poem written in praise of something or someone.

Parody – a poem written that mocks the subject, structure, or format of another poem.

Epic – a long poem on a heroic subject

Dramatic Monologue – a speaker, who is explicitly someone other than the author, makes a speech to a silent auditor in a specific situation and at a critical moment.

Occasional Poetry It is written for a specific occasion, a wedding.

Descriptive and Didactic Poetry – Both lyric and narrative poetry can contain lengthy and detailed descriptions (descriptive poetry) or scenes in direct speech (dramatic poetry) which primarily is to teach something.

Dramatic Monologue – A poem in which an imaginary character speaks to a silent listener. This poem is in the form of a speech or narrative in which the speaker unconsciously reveals certain aspects of his or her character during the description of a situation or certain events.

Sonnet – A poem consisting of fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. There are two popular forms of sonnets:

  • Italian (Petrarchan) Sonnet: It has two parts; an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines) usually rhyming abbaabba, cdecde. Often a question is raised in the octave that is answered in the sestet.
  • Shakespearean (English or Elizabethan) Sonnet: It consists of three quatrains (four lines) and a final rhyming couplet (two lines). The rhyme scheme is abab, cdcd, efef, gg. Usually the question or theme is set forth in the quatrains while the answer or resolution appears in the final couplet.
  • A volta – It is the turn of thought or argument occurring between the octave and the sestet in the Italian sonnet and in the English sonnet, it occurs before the final couplet.

SOME KEY POETIC DEVICES

Below is a list of poetic terms that can help you interpret, critique, and respond to a variety of different works of poetry. This list is by no means comprehensive, but instead offers a primer to the language frequently used by students when tackling and analyzing a poem. This list and the terms included in it can help you begin to identify central concerns or elements in a poetry that might help facilitate your interpretation, argumentation and analysis.

Poetic Devices are techniques used by poets to give their writing style, emphasis and meaning.

Figurative Language is an expression in which words or sounds are arranged to achieve a particular effect.

Literary Devices are techniques that add texture, energy and excitement to the writing, grip the reader’s imagination and convey information.

Diction refers to an author’s choice of words.

POETIC DEVICE DEFINITION EFFECT
The Sound Devices are: Alliteration, Assonance, Consonance, Onomatopoeia, Sibilance, Euphony, Cacophony, Repetition, Rhyme and Rhythm
 Alliteration

ggg

Repetition of initial consonant sounds in a group or words close together It emphasises words and ideas, making descriptions more vivid. It unites words and concepts together.
Assonance

aeiou

Repetition of a vowel sound It helps create tone and effects rhythm, e.g. a, o, and u can slow down a line making it sound sad and weary and it can speed up a line. It also gives a sense of continuity.
Consonance

bcfghj

Repetition of a consonant sound It helps create tone and effect rhythm, e.g. ‘s’ sound is slow/soothing.
Onomatopoeia The use of words which imitate sound It emphasises words and ideas, making descriptions more vivid.
Sibilance A consonant characterized by a hissing sound (like s, sh or z). The repetition of this sound to create an effect is know as sibilance. The most common sibilant consonant is, ‘S’ sound, and also Z, SH and ZH (as in ‘azure’ or ‘measure’). It’s silent, hushing and sensual.
Euphony It is a pleasant combination of sounds; smooth-flowing meter and sentence rhythm These are lines with a high percentage of vowel sounds in proportion to consonant sounds which tend to be more melodious, or “euphonic”.
Cacophony & dissonance The use of harsh sounding words OR the use of words to evoke a harsh or unpleasant image. It is used by writers to give their writing a special effect; dissonance is the arrangement of cacophonous sounds in words or rhythmical patterns.
Repetition The purposeful re-use of words and phrases. It reinforces words and ideas, making them memorable and leaving a lasting impression. It makes a poem more contained.
Rhyme The use of words with matching sounds. Can be internal or at end of lines. It makes it memorable by driving forward the rhythm. It also unifies the poem and adds structure.
Rhythm The pace or beat of the poem – can vary from line to line It is chosen to achieve a particular effect, e.g. to mirror pattern of natural speech or the pace of walking, etc. may be fast, lively, slow, regular, irregular, awkward, tense, brisk, flowing, smooth
Imagery Words that appeal to the senses It creates vivid mental pictures and evokes ideas, feelings and atmosphere by appealing to the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound).
 Simile

‘like’   ‘as’

A comparison between two unlike things using like or as. It enhances descriptions, expanding reader’s understanding of what the poet is trying to convey, and clarifying meanings.
 Metaphor

‘is’

A direct comparison between two unlike things, stating that one is the other or does the action of the other. It can uncover new and intriguing qualities of the original thing that we may not normally notice or even consider important. It helps us to realize a new and different meaning by making it more interesting to read.
Personification Giving human qualities or characteristics to animals or inanimate objects: eg The days crept by slowly, sorrowfully. It makes the objects and their actions easier to visualize for a reader. It also makes the poem more interesting and achieving a much more vivid image.
Symbolism A word, phrase or image which stands for something. It enables the writer to convey images directly to the mind of the reader – it serves almost like an emotional short-cut.
 Rhetorical question? A question which does not expect an answer. It plants a question in the reader’s mind and then guides them towards the answer they want them to reach. It makes a deeper impression upon the reader than a direct statement would.
Colloquial language Non-standard English, slang. It makes it sound realistic, part of speaker’s identity, can indicate pride in roots, shows a relaxed and casual attitude.
Free Verse

&

Blank verse

Lines with no regular structure, rhyme or rhythm.

Blank verse is a type of poetry written in a regular meter that does not contain rhyme

It allows the poet’s creativity. It can imply freedom, flexibility, and fluidity. The long lines may suggest excitement or a passionate outpouring, whereas, short lines may break the flow and add emphasis.
Couplet A pair of lines, usually rhymed It keeps a tight structure. It can also help conclude a poem.
Enjambment A line ending in which the syntax, rhythm and thought are continued into the next line. It draws the reader from line to line and verse to verse and makes poetry flow quicker by making it less blocky. It makes end rhymes more subtle. It may also  indicate excitement, anger or passion.
 Caesura A natural pause or break in a line of poetry indicated by punctuation It stops rhythm becoming predictable. It mirrors natural speech with lots of pauses, thus, slowing the pace of the poem. It may also make you pause abruptly, drawing attention to that idea.
 Semantic field

or

Lexical field

It is a set of words grouped by meaning referring to a specific subject. A general description is that words in a semantic field are not synonymous, but are all used to talk about the same general phenomenon. When a text has a topic or subject that a group of words relate to, for example if a passage of writing included the words “heart”, “flower”, “music”, “passion” the semantic field would most likely be considered ‘love’.

writing-notes-idea-conference.jpgESSENTIALLY when analyzing a poem and then carrying out an answer to a question, you will have been tackling three key issues:

  • What purpose does this poetic/literary device serve?
  • How does the author communicate his or her purpose through this device?
  • Why do readers have this response to the poetic device?

This is a skill you need to harness at High School. It is not easy but with practice you will get the hang of it. To do so, I have two important posts I have done to help you achieve a top grade in English Literature essays. Please access them here on:

AGAIN, all these strategies require commitment and dedication, so PRACTICE AND PRACTICE MORE!!

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

LEARNING THROUGH MNEMONICS – NEW WAYS OF UNDERSTANDING AND ANALYSING POETRY

  • How many of us out there find it difficult to understand and analyse a poem?

If you answered with an emphatic YES, then the techniques explored here will be of great help. Above all, the amount of elements, techniques, and creativity found in poetry is unanswered in the prose world.

If your answer to the question is a straight NO, then let me be honest with you that “You are smart.” My techniques here will help you consolidate your existing repertoire.

ACRONYM OR MNEMONICS?

AN ACRONYM is a word or name formed as an abbreviation from the initial components in a phrase or a word, usually individual letters as in NATO, for instance. Put simply, an acronym is a word from first letters of other words in the name of something, being pronounced as a word.

A MNEMONIC, (derived from the Greek word mnemonikos, which means “of memory”) on the other hand, deals with memory. It is a device helping learners in recalling pieces of information, be it in the form of lists, like facts, characteristics, steps, parts, phases and stages.

Apparently, way back in 1967, a study conducted by Gerald R. Miller was a major breakthrough in confirming that mnemonics increased recall. Miller found that students who regularly applied mnemonic devices in their learning increased test scores by up to 77%. Rather put in simple terms: Mnemomic helps us remember – it is an aide memoire or a memory aide.

In short, many mnemonics also take the form of acronyms.

For example, the seven coordinating conjunctions are FANBOYS which stands for For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So.

ROY G. BIV = colors of the spectrum/rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet.)

Expression/Word – The order of the planets from the sun outward: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. See how it is constructed for you to remember: My Very Elegant Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas.

My position in the coming weeks is to execute the use of MNEMONICS in enhancing our teaching and learning repertoire. In these posts, I want to show how mnemonics can help us learn, understand and recall important concepts better.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Mnemonics

Mnemonics serve an important role in memory, but they have limitations and should be used sparingly. If you use mnemonics too extensively, they become cumbersome and can add confusion to your learning process. If you do not study the mnemonics accurately, they hinder rather than help you recall information accurately. The following chart shows the advantages and disadvantages of using mnemonics.

Advantages

Disadvantages

1. They provide a memory bridge to help you recall information that otherwise is difficult to remember. 1. They must be recited and practiced in a precise manner in order to work correctly.
2. They involve rearranging or reorganizing information, which also helps you personalize the information and be a more active learner. 2. They require time to create, learn, and practice.
3. They add interest to studying by providing you with new ways to work with information. 3. They can become “crutches” and can give you a false sense of security that you know the information.
4. When used properly, they allow you to spend less time retrieving information from your long-term memory. 4. They rely more on rote memory than on elaborative rehearsal, so your actual understanding of the concepts may be inadequate.
5. Overuse can result in confusion and an excessive expenditure of time reviewing.

UNDERSTANDING AND ANALYSING POETRY

1661-182

Ways to interpret poems…

Over the years, I have seen that interpreting a poem through mnemonics is easier and has impact on students’ understanding:

First, let’s review some vocabulary used in poems:

  • LITERAL= means “exact” or “not exaggerated”. Literal language is language that means exactly what is said. Most of the time, we use literal language.
  • FIGURATIVE = the opposite of literal language. Figurative language is language that means more than what it says on the surface. Often used by poets and other writers.
  • DENOTATION = the dictionary definition of a word or phrase.
  • CONNOTATION = a meaning suggested by a word or phrase, in addition to its exact (denotative) meaning; can be the emotional feelings associated with the word.

IMAGERY This is language that (normally, though not always) evokes the senses.

  • Visual imagery – relating to sight. (The most frequent type of imagery.)
  • Aural or auditory imagery – relating to sound.
  • Olfactory imagery – relating to smell.
  • Gustatory imagery – relating to taste.
  • Tactile imagery – relating to touch.
  • Kinaesthetic imagery – relating to movement and bodily effort.
  • Abstract imagery – appealing to the intellect or a concept.

The imagery used in poetry are often not exclusive to one type – they often overlap.

When you are analysing imagery, for instance in a poetry or in a prose text, it is very important to avoid simply ‘listing’ the images that are being used but one needs to analyse and comment on them.

For each image you discuss, you should consider:

  •  What type of image is being used?
  •  Why is this particular image being used?
  •  What is the effect of this image is on the reader?
  •  How does the image contributes to the poem as a whole?

Thus, when you analyse imagery, you should suggest a possible interpretation, rather than stating your ideas as definite.

USING MNEMONIC IN ANALYSING POEMS

TP-CASTT is a mnemonic for . . .

TITLE – What predictions can you make about the poem from the title? What are your initial (first) thoughts about the poem?  What might be the theme of the poem?

PARAPHRASE – Describe what happens in the poem, in your own words.

CONNOTATION – What might the poem mean beyond the literal level? Find examples of imagery, metaphors, similes, personification, symbolism, idioms, hyperbole, alliteration, rhyme scheme, rhythm, etc. and think about their possible connotative meanings. Consider the emotional feelings that the words may give the reader.

ATTITUDE – Describe the tone of the poem. What is the poet’s attitude toward the subject of the poem?  The speaker’s attitude? Find and list examples that illustrate the tone and mood of the poem (these show attitude).

SHIFT – Is there a shift (a change) in the tone or speaker of the poem?  Where does the shift happen in the poem?  What does it shift from and to?

TITLE – Look at the title again. Have your original ideas about the poem changed? How? What do you think the title means now?

THEME – What is the overall theme of the poem? What insight, understanding, lesson, or truth are we supposed to have after reading this poem?

A. H.I.T. P.O.E.M. is mnemonic standing for . . .

  • AboutWhat is the poem about?
  •  Historical/Social Contextany important contextual information
  •  Imagerywhat images are used and their effect?
  •  Techniqueswhat poetic techniques are used?
  •  Personal Responsewhat are your pf about it?
  •  OrganisationHow is it structured?
  • EmotionsWhat is the tone or mood?
  • Message What is the theme? What is its message?

SIFT Analysis is a mnemonic standing for . . .

  • Symbol – Examine the title and text for symbolism. Ask: “What are the denotations and the connotation of this title?”
  •  Images – Identify images and sensory details. What do you see and feel?
  •  Figures of Speech – Analyze figurative language and other devices.
  •  Tone and Theme – Discuss how all devices reveal tone and theme. What is the author saying?

KEY ELEMENTS

Once you have chosen any of the Poetry Mnemonic above, you should work in conjunction with the Key Elements in combining to create the overall effect of a poem:

CONTENT – It is what the poem is about, or what the message the poet gives to the reader.

FORM and STRUCTURE   – What type of poem is it? It maybe a ballad, free verse, a sonnet, an elegy, etc. Structure is the physical structure of the poem which includes the length of the lines, the rhythms, the system of rhymes and repetition.                         

TONE      – This is the attitude that the poet exhibits towards the subject or audience.

VOICE    – Voice is the writer’s lively, powerful words on the page, speaking to the reader to form a relationship. This is also the persona.

MOOD    – It refers to the atmosphere, emotions and feelings evoked by the poem’s language.

RHYME  –   a repetition of similar sounding words occurring either internally or at the end of lines in poems or songs. It creates a pattern within a poem making it memorable. It also drives forward the rhythm as well as unifying the poem and adding structure.

RHYTHM  –  It is the pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables, or beats within a line of poetry.                          

IMAGERY   – These are elements in a poem that deal with the senses. It creates vivid mental pictures and evokes ideas, feelings and atmosphere by appealing to the senses (sight, smell, taste, touch, and sound).

Chaucer

Chaucer reciting his poetry

Another simple approach to studying poems is to approach through:

*Overview – a short summary of what the poem is about.

*Context – background information about the poet/the poem.

*Themes – the main ideas dealt with in the poem. This is particularly useful to know when thinking about the comparison questions.

*Content – step by step through the poem explaining what it is about. The most important section.

*Language and techniques – highlighting key words or phrases and their use, as well as different literary techniques and why they’ve been used.

*Structure – everything relevant about the way the poem is built and explaining how to write about it effectively.

*Tone – the emotion of the poem and the way it would be read.

My next two posts focus on analyzing  poetry. These are entitled:

Essential Words To Use When Analysing Poetry – 1 & 2

The best way to recall all these mnemonics is to pick on one type and use it quite often so that it becomes second nature. That way you will analyse both seen or unseen poems better!

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL

 

ESSENTIAL STRATEGIES ON IMPROVING READING COMPREHENSION

birthday-cake-cake-birthday-cupcakes-40183.jpegMOST HIGH SCHOOLS no longer have students taking reading tests. However, when students are identified as not meeting adequate yearly progress in their reading, it is certain that there is a deficit in their reading foundational skills. Often-times, when students struggle in reading, educators mistakenly concentrate all of their efforts on improving comprehension. But in many cases, it is a lack of foundational reading skills— phonemic awareness and phonics, which lead to poor decoding skills—which result in students’ poor understanding.

In this post, I am exploring how High School teachers and students can approach Reading And Directed Writing in the classroom as well as essential strategies on how to tackle exam questions with aplomb and flair, that is, answering the questions precisely and accurately.

However, . . .

At High School, reading comprehension is essential.

READING COMPREHENSION is the ability to understand, remember, and communicate meaning from what has been read.

READING STRATEGIES are crucial for any reader. Once students have adequate decoding and vocabulary skills to allow for fluent reading, their understanding can be improved by instructing students to develop a routine for reading which includes specific strategies that can be employed throughout the reading process (before, during, and after) that increase their awareness and understanding of a text.

These strategies include the following:

BEFORE READING 

Preview the text on how the writer’s background and purpose influence what they write. In a way reading a text critically requires you to ask questions about the writer’s authority and agenda. You may need to put yourself in the author’s shoes and recognize how those shoes fit a certain way of thinking.

DURING READING

Monitor their own reading, generate questions about the text; and identify and organize ideas based on a text’s structure.

Engaging and Connecting with the Text – Once students have addressed unfamiliar words through previewing, they can really engage with the text as they read it by visualizing, focusing on the content, generating questions, and identifying and organizing text structure to improve understanding of the material.

The following are effective strategies that help students engage with a text:

Annotating Text – Marking important text or taking notes about information that is important will help students remember the essentials of a reading passage.

Using Questioning Strategies – Questioning strategies help the reader to clarify and comprehend what he/she is reading. Direct students to develop these as they read and to use cue words, such as who, what, where, when, and why, to guide them in order to make effective questions.

Identifying and Organizing Text Structure – The way an author organizes information in a passage can help the reader increase their understanding of the text.

AFTER READING 

Answer high-level questions and summarize the text.

Having students review and summarize material after reading gives you a simple way to ensure that they understood what they read. Retelling challenges them to retain what they read. Summarization allows them to discriminate between main ideas and minor details.

Rereading is the most effective strategy to increase one’s knowledge of the text. Students should be encouraged to do this especially when they encounter a difficult and challenging piece of text.

As most answers come directly from the passage or text being read, students should always be able to support their answer choices with specific quotations from the text. They must not answer the questions by memory alone nor rely on their own knowledge or opinion of the subject but must answer with particular reference to the text read.

17 Ideas On Teaching Students’ Reading Comprehension

Comprehension strategies are conscious plans — sets of steps that good readers use to make sense of a text. The ideas suggested here help students become purposeful, active readers who are in control of their own reading comprehension: C.R. Adler has identified strategies to teach text comprehension which include:

  1. Activating – This is “priming the cognitive pump” in order to recall relevant prior knowledge and experiences from long-term memory in order to extract and construct meaning from text.
  2. Monitoring Comprehension – Students who are good at monitoring their comprehension know when they understand what they read and when they do not. They have strategies to “fix” problems in their understanding as the problems arise. Research shows that instruction, even in the early grades, can help students become better at monitoring their comprehension. Comprehension monitoring instruction teaches students to:
    1. Be aware of what they do understand
    2. Identify what they do not understand
    3. Use appropriate strategies to resolve problems in comprehension
  3. Establish The Main Idea: Check the first and last sentences of every paragraph, or the first and last paragraphs in the passage. As you read, continually ask yourself what the main idea of the paragraph is, how that idea is explained or illustrated, and how that paragraph connects with the rest of the passage.
  4. Metacognition – It can be defined as “thinking about thinking.” Good readers use metacognitive strategies to think about and have control over their reading. Before reading, they might clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text. During reading, they might monitor their understanding, adjusting their reading speed to fit the difficulty of the text and “fixing” any comprehension problems they have. After reading, they check their understanding of what they read.
  5. Inferring – Bringing together what is spoken (written) in the text, what is unspoken (unwritten) in the text, and what is already known by the reader in order to extract and construct meaning from the text.
  6. Specific Details – Use line references when they are given. Make sure you are circling/underlining efficiently as you read so you can locate information quickly. Circle key words in the question and then scan the passage to find them or their synonyms.
  7. Tone/Attitude – How is the author emotionally engaged with the subject? Know the following words: aloof, ambivalent, apathetic, callous, candid, caustic, cautionary, condescending, contemplative, contemptuous, cynical, derisive, detached, didactic, disparaging, dispassionate, erudite, flippant, forthright, grudging, incredulous, indignant, indifferent, ironic, jaded, judicious, laudatory, malicious, naïve, nostalgic, patronizing, pedantic, pompous, pragmatic, prosaic, resigned, reverent, sardonic, satirical, skeptical, trite, vindictive, whimsical.
  8. Vocabulary In Context – Many of the words have multiple possible meanings, so you must always look back to the passage to decide how the author is using the word in context. Substitute each answer choice for the word in the sentence and see if it makes sense, even the tense choice. For unfamiliar words, look for clues nearby in the passage.
  9. Backward and Forward Monitoring – Students may use several comprehension monitoring strategies:
  • Identify where the difficulty occurs, eg: “I don’t understand the second paragraph on page 76.”
  • Identify what the difficulty is, eg: “I don’t get what the author means when she says . . . “
  • Restate the difficult sentence or passage in their own words
  • Look back through the text
  • Look forward in the text for information that might help them to resolve the difficulty
  1. Graphic and Semantic Organizers – Graphic organizers illustrate concepts and relationships between concepts in a text or using diagrams. Graphic organizers are known by different names, such as maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, or clusters.

These are also seen as visualizing, organizing and constructing a mental image or graphic organizer for the purpose of extracting and constructing meaning from the text. Graphic organizers (venn-diagrams, storyboard/chain of events, story map or cause/effect) can:

  • Help students focus on text structure “differences between fiction and nonfiction” as they read
  • Provide students with tools they can use to examine and show relationships in a text
  • Help students write well-organized summaries of a text
  1. Answering Questions – Questions can be effective because they:
  • Give students a purpose for reading
  • Focus students’ attention on what they are to learn
  • Help students to think actively as they read
  • Encourage students to monitor their comprehension
  • Help students to review content and relate what they have learned to what they already know

The Question-Answer Relationship strategy (QAR) encourages students to learn how to answer questions better. Students are asked to indicate whether the information they used to answer questions about the text was textually explicit information (information that was directly stated in the text), textually implicit information (information that was implied in the text), or information entirely from the student’s own background knowledge.

There are four different types of questions:

  • “Right There” – Questions found right in the text that ask students to find the one right answer located in one place as a word or a sentence in the passage. Example: Who is Frog’s friend? Answer: Toad
  • “Think and Search” – Questions based on the recall of facts that can be found directly in the text. Answers are typically found in more than one place, thus requiring students to “think” and “search” through the passage to find the answer. Example: Why was Frog sad? Answer: His friend was leaving.
  • “Author and You” Questions require students to use what they already know, with what they have learned from reading the text. Student’s must understand the text and relate it to their prior knowledge before answering the question. Example: How do think Frog felt when he found Toad? Answer: I think that Frog felt happy because he had not seen Toad in a long time. I feel happy when I get to see my friend who lives far away.
  • “On Your Own” Questions are answered based on a students prior knowledge and experiences. Reading the text may not be helpful to them when answering this type of question. Example: How would you feel if your best friend moved away? Answer: I would feel very sad if my best friend moved away because I would miss her.

12. Generating Questions – By generating questions, students become aware of whether they can answer the questions and if they understand what they are reading. Students learn to ask themselves questions that require them to combine information from different segments of text. For example, students can be taught to ask main idea questions that relate to important information in a text.

13. Monitoring and Clarifying – Thinking about how and what one is reading, both during and after the act of reading, for purposes of determining if one is comprehending the text combined with the ability to clarify and fix up any mix-ups.

14. Recognizing Story Structure – In story structure instruction, students learn to identify the categories of content (characters, setting, events, problem, resolution). Often, students learn to recognize story structure through the use of story maps. Instruction in story structure improves students’ comprehension.

15. Summarizing – Summarizing requires students to determine what is important in what they are reading and to put it into their own words. Instruction in summarizing helps students:

    • Identify or generate main ideas
    • Connect the main or central ideas
    • Eliminate unnecessary information
    • Remember what they read

16. Searching and Selecting – Searching a variety of sources in order to select appropriate information to answer questions, define words and terms, clarify misunderstandings, solve problems, or gather information.

17. Identifying Techniques – How does the author structure his/her argument? Is the passage meant to teach, persuade, or describe? Is the argument objective or subjective? What is the author’s thesis? What type of evidence is used? Does the author quote his sources, or simply cite their names or titles? Are the ideas concrete or abstract? Does the author give specific details or rely on generalizations?

pexels-photo-261895.jpegEffective Comprehension Instruction

Research shows that explicit teaching techniques are particularly effective for comprehension strategy instruction. In explicit instruction, teachers tell readers why and when they should use strategies, what strategies to use, and how to apply them. The steps of explicit instruction typically include direct explanation, teacher modeling (“thinking aloud”), guided practice, and application.

  • Direct explanation – The teacher explains to students why the strategy helps comprehension and when to apply the strategy.
  • Modeling – The teacher models, or demonstrates, how to apply the strategy, usually by “thinking aloud” while reading the text that the students are using.
  • Guided practice – The teacher guides and assists students as they learn how and when to apply the strategy.
  • Application – The teacher helps students practice the strategy until they can apply it independently.

Work To Understand Your Own Strategies And To Improve Them

  • Ask yourself questions about how you read: Do you read too quickly or slowly? Do you tend to lose your focus? Can you scan for key information or ideas?
  • Consider the characteristics of effective reading above, in relation to those practices and strategies you already employ, to get a sense of your current reading strategies and how they might be improved.

Just as having more than one conversation with another person leads to closer understanding; conducting a number of readings lead to a richer and more meaningful relationship with, and understanding of a text.

This, essentially, requires a lot of practice.

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: Be EMPOWERED and EXCEL!

EFFECTIVE GROUP WORK IN THE CLASSROOM – 2

“Find a group of people who challenge and inspire you, spend a lot of time with them, and it will change your life.” – Amy Poehler

This is my second and final post on EFFECTIVE GROUP WORK IN THE CLASSROOM and please access the first one here.

Groups work best when they have been together for quite some time. This means students get to know each other and besides the camaraderie created, they become committed and work for each other. Of course there are exceptions but knowing the elements for effective group work can help teachers to build and maintain high-performance teams throughout the duration of the task at hand.

group hand fist bump

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David Ingram identifies FIVE key conditions for teamwork to prosper. Whilst his ideas work well among colleagues at work, I felt the conditions he set up can easily be applied to the classroom IF ONLY, we, as teachers, teach these to our students: These are:

  1. Commitment and Trust . . . Each member must devote a reasonable amount of time and energy to advancing the group’s mission and must be able to trust that all other team members are doing the same.
  2. Communication . . . Effective teams must have open lines of communication. Communication must be honest and flow between all team members equally.
  3. Diversity of Capabilities . . . Take time to ensure that each team member possesses skills and strengths that complement the skills, strengths and weaknesses of other team members.
  4. Adaptability . . . The group must be flexible and adaptable to changing conditions. Team strategies, goals, tasks, workflows and even members can change over the life of the team. Team members should be able to rally together and meet new challenges head-on,
  5. Creative Freedom . . . All team members should feel free to think creatively, that is, to try new things and fail without the fear of consequences.

Some More Types Of Groups

“There is no such thing as a self-made man. You will reach your goals only with the help of others.” – George Shinn

BUZZ GROUPS – These groups involve students engaging in short, informal discussions, often in response to a particular sentence starter or question. At a transitional moment in the class, have students turn to 1-3 neighbours to discuss any difficulties in understanding, answer a prepared question, define or give examples of key concepts, or speculate on what will happen next in the class. The best discussions are those in which students make judgments regarding the relative merits, relevance, or usefulness of an aspect of the lesson.

MICRO LAB – This is a structured small group approach to an issue, question, or problem. This involves only speaking and listening-it is not a time for discussion or dialogue. It means the teacher forms groups of three or four students in small circles. Within each circle, each student has a minute to speak. Designate a volunteer in each group to speak first. Announce when time is up.

MOVING OPINION POLL – The poll is a way to activate students, to gain insight into the possibility that people can disagree without arguing or fighting, that they can listen respectfully to views different from their own, perhaps even change their minds.

Post two large signs on opposite sides of the room: “Strongly Agree” and “Strongly Disagree.” Tell students they are to participate in a moving opinion poll. Each time students hear a statement they are to move to the place along the imaginary line that most closely reflects their opinion. For strong disagreement, move all the way to one side of the room. For strong agreement, move to the opposite side.

FISH BOWL –  This is an especially good for involving the whole class in one small group discussion when students have very different views on a controversial issue. The teacher begins with a conversation asking five to seven students to make a circle with their chairs in the middle of the room. Try to ensure that the group reflects diverse points of view. Ask everyone else to make a circle of chairs around the fish bowl to create a larger circle around the smaller circle. Only people in the fish bowl can speak.

After 15 minutes or so, invite students from the larger circle to participate in the fish bowl conversation by tapping a fish bowl student on the shoulder and moving into that student’s seat. Continue with additional questions.

ROTATING TRIOS – This strategy involves students discussing issues with many of their fellow classmates in turn. Beforehand, prepare discussion questions. In class, students form trios, with the groups arranged in a large circle or square formation. Give the students a question and suggest that each person takes a turn answering. After a suitable time period, ask the trios to assign a 0, 1, or 2 to each of its members. Then direct the #1s to rotate one trio clockwise, the #2s to rotate two trios clockwise, and the #0s to remain in the same place; the result will be completely new trios. Now introduce a new, slightly more difficult question. Rotate trios and introduce new questions as many times as you would like.

THE BELIEVING GAME – This activity asks students to enter as fully as possible into a point of view that may be unfamiliar or even disagreeable, to suspend judgment and experience it, to look for virtues and strengths that might otherwise be missed.

“Everyone agrees in theory that we can’t judge a new idea or point of view unless we enter into it and try it out, but the practice itself is rare,” writes Peter Elbow.

In their discussions, students are to make only statements that support the viewpoint presented. They are not role-playing, but working to find anything with which they can genuinely agree.

“Teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – Patrick Lencioni

PLEASE try some of the suggestions above and see your class achieve more.

I have used most of the group work activities above and my top FOUR best of all time are:

  1. Fish Bowl
  2. Buzz Groups
  3. Moving Opinion Poll
  4. Rotating Trios

Good luck in all your endeavours.

As of old: BE EMPOWERED AND EXCEL