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Writers Tip #98: 18 Tips on Grammar from William Safire

01 Jun

When you read your story, does it sound off, maybe you can’t quite put your finger on it, but you know you’ve done something wrong? Sometimes–maybe even lots of times–there are simple fixes. These writer’s tips will come at you once a week, giving you plenty of time to go through your story and make the adjustments.

William Safire, speechwriter for President Nixon, Pulitzer Prize-winning political columnist for The New York Times (and one of their few conservative columnists), died in 2009, but lives on through both his writing and his wisdom about writing. The highly-acclaimed column he started in 1973 for the NYTimes called “On Language” (now written by Ben Zimmer) established him as one of the most significant voices on how to write well. His wildly-popular approach to the who-whom problem  is now called Safire’s Law of Who/Whom:

“When whom is correct, recast the sentence.”

Despite the assumed dullness of his topic, Safire had a wonderful sense of humor. Read these quotes:

The wonderful thing about being a New York Times columnist is that it’s like a Supreme Court appointment – they’re stuck with you for a long time.

Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.

Cast aside any column about two subjects. It means the pundit chickened out on the hard decision about what to write about that day.
Here are eighteen grammar tips that include his wry humor I found useful:

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7 Reasons For and Three Against Critique Groups

29 May

I tend to be a solitary person. I have no problem spending the day with myself–me and my computer (and a good book), exploring the world from the safety of my home-based office. I live through my characters, test my boundaries through them. I prevail over great adversaries and unbeatable bad guys. I out-think both friend and foe as I write, rewrite, and refine my story until it comes out exactly as I’d like it to. Nowhere in my real world can I be as popular, smart, strong, and energetic as I can be in my fictional life.

There is one compelling reason, though, I venture into the physical world: Monday evenings, twice a month, for my critique group. I joined this wonderful group of fellow writers so I could bond with kindred souls, be around others who could talk non-stop and forever (literally) about authors, books, POVs and story arcs. I found not only that, but more as I wandered down the yellow brick road in search of authorial fame and fortune. What I found instead were some glorious victories and a few hard truths (mostly about myself).

Here are seven reasons I’ll never give up my writer’s group:writers group

  • They catch my factual errors. In fact, they announce them, challenge me, and dispute my research if they’re sure I’m wrong. I better know what I’m talking about before I’m on the hot seat.
  • They let me know if a scene sounds authentic. That’s a gem. It’s easy to think the image is perfect the 2,159th time I stare bleary-eyed at the same page. They read with fresh eyes.
  • They tell me when a scene sounds right and delivers what I’d hoped. I love that.
  • They force me to show my work to others. They saw my first and second novel before my husband did.
  • I get as much out of listening to the review of other author’s WIP as I do my own. My fellow writers take their job seriously and do their best to accurately and intelligently decode the mistakes found in the selection being reviewed. I learn a lot from their words that I can apply to my story.
  • They are fascinating people. I could listen to their life experiences all day and when one of them misses a few meetings, I worry about them. I see these people more than most of my family. Well, that’s a good thing.
  • Agents want your work to be critiqued before you arrive in their mailbox.  They want to know they’re not the first besides your mother and dog who have read your story. A critique group qualifies.

That’s pretty convincing, isn’t it? These next three are all on me. They are personal quirks even as I intellectually understand the pluses of having my work critiqued:facial expression boulder man

  • I am too shy. It’s difficult to put myself out there, bare my soul, share secrets I don’t tell anyone. Yet, here I am trying to explain to this circle of patient, caring writers the motivation for one of my scenes. I don’t like talking about myself and that will never change.
  • It hurts. I don’t take criticism well. I get upset. Sure, I should have a thick skin, but I don’t. I never have and–here’s the surprise–I don’t believe that should preclude me from being a writer. The fact that I die inside when people don’t like something I’ve slaved over for months doesn’t mean I’ll never make it.
  • They contradict each other sometimes. That’s not a bad thing. It means that in the end, it’s my decision to follow well-intentioned advice or toss it to the curb.

That’s it. The pros of my writing group vastly outweigh the cons so I’m sticking with them.

Are you struggling with a decision about joining a writer’s group–really committing the time and effort it requires to make it work? Here’s Holly Lisle’s take on that subject and Writing-World’s overview on the subject.

More on writing:

Writers Tip #52: Join a Writers Groups

Writers Tip #72: Don’t Worry About What Others Think

10 Tips from Toxic Feedback


Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. She is the author/editor of dozens of books on integrating tech into education, webmaster for six blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, adjunct professor, a columnist for Examiner.com and TeachHUB, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, monthly contributor to Today’s Author and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. You can find her book at her publisher’s website, Structured Learning. 

 
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15 Tips for Young Adult Writers

19 May

I Read YA week is May 18-22. “YA” or “Young Adult” fiction is novels, stories, poetry, and various non-fiction written for adolescents, the group somewhere between ‘children’ and ‘adults’. It includes popular novels like Hunger Games, Harry Potter, and SE Hinton’s The Outsiders.

HarperCollins made this great infographic that suggests 365 YA books for you to read in 2015.  To see all of the details, go here.

ya novels

The YA market is exploding, not only in published novels but readers. Plus, as many adults read YA as the core audience, so if you’re writing in that genre, it becomes a difficult requirement to fulfill at times.  Here are fifteen tips to help you succeed (some from my YA post last year):

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5 Must-have tools for Ed Conferences

19 May

digital note-takingIt’s summer, time for teachers to recharge their cerebral batteries. That could mean reading, going on field trips, spending time with online PLNs, or taking calls from family members who usually end up at voice mail. For many, it means attending conferences like ISTE and NEA to learn how the heck to integrate technology into their lesson plans. If you aren’t a veteran conference attendee, you may wonder what you should bring. That’s a fair questions considering learning is no longer done sitting in auditoriums nodding off to the wisdom of a guest speaker behind a podium. Now, you might be asked to scan a QR code and visit a website, access meeting documents online, interact digitally, or use a backchannel device to share your real-time thoughts with the presenter. Besides a toothbrush and aspirin, what should you take to your upcoming conference? Here are five tools that will make you look and act like the Diva of Digital:

Google Maps

Some conferences take multiple buildings spread out over several blocks, and depending upon the number of attendees (ISTE last year had about 15,000), your hotel may not be around the corner from the Hall. Bring the latest version of the Google Maps app on your smartphone or iPad, complete with audio directions. All you do is tell it where you’re going, ask for directions, and Siri (the voice behind the iPhone) will lock into your GPS and hold your hand the entire way. If friends are looking for a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts near the conference, Google Maps will find one. If you want Chinese, use an app like Yelp to find one patrons like (although I’m becoming a tad leery about Yelp. Anyone have a good alternative?)

Conference App

Most educational conferences have one. I find these more useful than the conference website. They are geared for people who are manipulating digital device one-handed, half their attention on the phone and the rest on traffic, meaning: they’re simple and straight-forward. Test drive it so you know where the buttons are, then use it to find meeting rooms, changes in schedules, and updates.

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How to Compare and Contrast Authentically

18 May

compare contrastTo students, knowing how to ‘compare and contrast’ sounds academic, not real world, but we teachers know most of life is choosing between options. The better adults are at this skill, the more they thrive in the world.

Common Core Standards recognize the importance of this skill by addressing it in over 29 Standards, at every grade level from Kindergarten through Twelfth Grade. Here’s a partial list:

Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take. (K-5 and 6-12 Reading Anchor Standards)

With prompting and support, compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in familiar stories and With prompting and support, identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (K Reading Standards–2)
..
Compare and contrast the adventures and experiences of characters in stories and Identify basic similarities in and differences between two texts on the same topic (1st grade Reading Standards–2)

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How I’m Doing on ‘To Hunt a Sub’

16 Apr

to do list for novelHere’s an update on my upcoming novel, To Hunt a Sub:

  • It’s fully drafted. Now I’m fact-checking
  • I’m awaiting eagerly a meeting with a friend who will help pin down some critical geeky, techie details. That’s my last step!
  • After that, I’ll re-read–for the fginal time I hop
  • I still need a cover. I’m finding images (like the ones I’ve posted in other articles on this topic, to see if they resonate long-term with my feeling for the book
  • I still need an editor. I have a couple of ideas. Anyone have one they love?
  • I have the publisher set up–the same people I’ve worked with on all my books. They’re amazing–fast, affordable, and good to work with

Sending it to the publisher of course doesn’t mean I’m done. It simply means a new TODO list that focuses on marketing. More on that later…

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21 Great Websites and Apps for Earth Day

15 Apr

earth dayApril 22nd is Earth Day. Celebrate it with your students by letting them visit these websites:

  1. Breathing Earth
  2. Breathing Earth YouTube Video–of CO2 use, population changes, and more
  3. Conservation Game
  4. Earth day collection
  5. Earth Day—NASA Ocean Currents
  6. Eco-friendly house
  7. Eeko World
  8. Ecotourism Simulation–for grades 4 and above
  9. Electrocity
  10. Footprint calculator
  11. Home of the Future
  12. My Garbology
  13. NASA City

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Google Hangouts–Are You Using Them Yet?

08 Apr

google hangoutClasstime traditionally is a static point in time. Students show up in your room. You teach for 50 minutes (or however long the period is). You may post study guides and homework on a class website, but they don’t make a lot of sense to the student who missed class because s/he was sick or out of town. Those students—you try to meet after school to catch them up, which may or may not work with your schedule or theirs. Or they get notes from friends which also may or may not work.

That has become a dated idea. Let me give you an example. My daughter invited me to participate in one of her MBA classes at the University of Maryland (with instructor permission). I’m in California; she’s in DC. Five years ago, that would have been a show-stopper, but not anymore. She broadcast the class on her iPad with her Google Hangouts (GHO) app, sent me an invite, and that’s it. I saw everything she did. When her professor accessed an internet program, I brought it up on my computer and worked along with him. When he played a TED talk, I listened on my screen. When I had a question, I typed it into the backchannel (a message board that pops up with GHO) and my daughter asked for me (since I was observing, I muted my mic).

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Summer PD–from Ask a Tech Teacher

02 Apr

Summer is coming, and so is Tech Training! Join me with a great group of professionals (who will quickly become your best online friends) for three weeks of intensive training on tech topics you want to learn about. All the details are below.

Note: Early Bird special for those who sign up by May 31st. Use coupon code SUMMERPD to get 10% off!

Sign up now–

  • it’s all online, but a lot of 1:1 assistance, so space is limited.
  • you get lots of the materials as soon as you sign up. Take from now until June 22nd to review them, use them in your end-of-year and next-year planning

 

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What is the 21st Century Lesson Plan?

27 Mar

lesson plansTechnology and the connected world put a fork in the old model of teaching–instructor in front of the class, sage on the stage, students madly taking notes, textbooks opened to the chapter being reviewed, homework as worksheets based on the text, tests regurgitating important facts.

Did I miss anything?

This model is outdated not because it didn’t work (many statistics show students ranked higher on global testing years ago than they do now), but because the environment changed. Our classrooms are more diverse. Students are digital natives, already in the habit of learning via technology. The ‘college and career’ students are preparing for is different so the education model must be different.

Preparing for this new environment requires radical changes in teacher lesson plans. Here are seventeen concepts you’ll want to include in your preparation:

  1. Students are graduating from high school unable to work in the jobs that are available. It’s the teacher’s responsibility to insure students learn over-arching concepts such as how to speak to a group, how to listen effectively, how to think critically, and how to solve problems. The vehicle for teaching these ideas is history, science, and literature, but they aren’t the goal.industry analyst
  2. To focus on the over-arching concepts above, make learning platform-neutral. For example, when teaching spreadsheets, make the software or online tools a vehicle for practicing critical thinking, data analysis, and evidence-based learning, not for learning one brand of software or a particular spreadsheet tool. Besides, what you use at school may not be what students have at home. You don’t want students to conflate your lessons with ‘something done at school’. You want them to apply them to their life.
  3. Morph the purpose from ‘knowing’ to ‘understanding’. Teach the process, not a skill. Students should understand why they select a particular tool, not just how to use it. Why use PowerPoint instead of a word processing program? Or a spreadsheet instead of a slideshow? Expect students to be critical thinkers, not passive learners.
  4. Transfer of knowledge is critical. What students learn in one class is applied to all classes (where relevant). For example, word study is no longer about memorizing vocabulary, but knowing how to decode unknown academic and domain-specific words using affixes, roots, and context.
  5. Collaboration and sharing is part of what students learn. They help each other by reviewing and commenting on projects before submittal to the teacher (GAFE makes that easy). The definition of ‘project’ itself has changed from ‘shiny perfect student work’ to review-edit-rewrite-submit. You grade them on all four steps, not just the last one. This makes a lot of sense–who gets it right the first time? I rewrote this article at least three times before submitting. Why expect differently from students? Plus: No longer do students submit a project that only the teacher sees (and then a few are posted on classroom bulletin boards). Now, it is shared with all classmates, so all benefit from every students’ work.collaboration
  6. Self-help methods are provided and you expect students to use them. This includes online dictionaries and thesauruses, how-to videos, and access to teacher assistance outside of class. These are available 24/7 for students, not just during classroom hours. This happens via online videos, taped class sessions, the class website, downloadable materials so students don’t worry that they ‘left it in their desk’.
  7. Teachers are transparent with parents. You let them know what’s going on in the classroom, welcome their questions and visits, communicate often via email or blogs when it’s convenient for them. That doesn’t mean you’re on duty around the clock. It means you differentiate for the needs of your parents. Your Admin understands that change by providing extended lunch hours, compensatory time off, or subs when you’re fulfilling this responsibility.App icons
  8. Failure is a learning tool. Assessments aren’t about ‘getting everything right’ but about making progress toward the goal of preparing for life
  9. Differentiation is the norm. You allow different approaches as long as students achieve the Big Idea or answer the Essential Question. You aren’t the only one to come up with these varied approaches–students know what works best for their learning and present it to you as an option.
  10. The textbook is a resource, supplemented by a panoply of books, primary documents, online sites, experts, Skype chats, and anything else that supports the topic. This information doesn’t always agree on a conclusion. Students use habits of mind like critical thinking, deep learning, and evidence-based decisions to decide on the right answers.education resources
  11. The lesson plan changes from the first day to the last–and that’s OK. It is adapted to student needs, interests, and hurdles that arise as it unfolds, while staying true to its essential question and big idea.
  12. Assessment might include a quiz or test, but it also judges the student’s transfer of knowledge from other classes, their tenacity in digging into the topic, their participation in classroom discussions, and more.big idea Light bulb  illustration icon
  13. Vocabulary is integrated into lessons, not a stand-alone topic. Students are expected to decode words in class materials that they don’t understand by using quickly-accessed online vocabulary tools, or deriving meaning from affixes, roots, and context.word study
  14. Problem solving is integral to learning. It’s not a stressful event, rather viewed as a life skill. Who doesn’t have problems every day that must be solved? Students are expected to attempt a solution using tools at their disposal (such as prior knowledge, classmates, and classroom resources) before asking for help.
  15. Digital citizenship is taught, modeled and enforced in every lesson, every day, every class. It’s no longer something covered in the ‘tech lab’ because every class has as much potential for working online as offline. Every time the lesson plan calls for an online tool or research using a search engine or a YouTube video, teachers review/remind/teach how to visit the online neighborhood safely. It’s frightening how students blithely follow weblinks to places most parent wouldn’t allow their child to visit in their neighborhood. Just as students have learned how to survive in a physical community of strangers, they must learn to do the same in a digital neighborhood.
  16. Keyboarding skills are granular. They aren’t used only in the computer lab, but in every class students take. If students are using iPads, Chromebooks, laptops, or desktops for learning, they are using keyboarding–which means they must know how to do so efficiently, quickly, and stresslessly. Since keyboarding benefits all classes, all teachers–including the librarian–become partners in this effort. I go into classrooms and show students the broad strokes; the teacher reinforces it every time the student sits down at the computer.typing on keyboard
  17. Play is the new teaching. It is a well-accepted concept for pre-schoolers and has made a successful leap to the classroom, relabeled as ‘gamification’. Use the power of games to draw students into learning and encourage them to build on their own interests. Popular games in the classroom include Minecraft, Mission US, Scratch, and others on this list. If your school is new to this concept, clear it with admin first and be prepared to support your case.play

When I first wrote lesson plans, it was all about aligning learning with standards, completing the school’s curricula, ticking off required skills. Now, I build the habits of mind that allow for success in education and home life and construct a personal knowledge base with students that will work for their differentiated needs. Like any lesson plan, this is only difficult the first time. After that, it seems natural.


Jacqui Murray has been teaching K-8 technology for 15 years. She is the editor/author of dozens of tech ed resources including a K-8 technology curriculum, K-8 keyboard curriculum, K-8 Digital Citizenship curriculum, and dozens of books on how to integrate technology into education. She is webmaster for six blogs, CSG Master Teacher, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, CAEP reviewer, CSTA presentation reviewer, freelance journalist on tech ed topics, a tech ed columnist for Examiner.com, and a weekly contributor to TeachHUB. You can find her resources at Structured Learning.

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