Monday, February 29, 2016

SAT Word of the Week: BELLICOSE

The word bellicose comes from the Latin word bellum meaning warlike. A bellicose person is one who is always looking for a fight or given to aggessive behavior...not a sweet or winning personality!

Thursday, February 25, 2016


Remember that when you are indicating belonging or possession, you must add an apostrophe s.
For example:
The dog’s toy is lost. = The toy belonging to the dog is lost.

The girl’s hair is brown. = The hair belonging to the girl is brown.

Do not forget the apostrophe s!

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Family Wordsmithing: Ferhoodled

Ok, so I love words. I do. I'm a word-a-holic. I love the way a good word feels when it slips off your tongue. I love getting the word of the day e-mailed directly to me from But I especially love finding words that say just what you mean...words that can stand alone and yet say everything. I have found that using the right word can literally save a sentence otherwise doomed to boredom. It is one of the greatest pleasures I know to stumble upon that perfect word.

So I want to share with you my very favorite word on the planet: ferhoodled. 

Yes, ferhoodled. Go ahead, don't be embarrassed - say it. Say it out loud. Now say it with a little pizazz. Admit's a great word! I happened upon it while reading a work by Beverly Lewis and instantly fell in love. The official definition (as per, of course!) is to confuse or mix up as in: Don't ferhoodle things in that drawer! But the way I read it in context the first time was in describing a woman as so completely ferhoodled that she couldn't do anything quite right. 

Now that is absolutely fabulous!!!Ferhoodled. Don't we all get that way now and again, not just confused or mixed up but just completely ferhoodled?

Since my brilliant discovery, my family has adopted 'ferhoodled' into our household vocabulary. This word has changed our outlook on minor infractions and added some fun to the little conundrums (another great word, by the way!) that pop up here and there. 

Yesterday, for example, I found the ice-cream in the refrigerator all liquidy and seeping onto the shelf. I did my usual rant through the house looking for the culprit with fire in my eyes and melted mint chocolate chip still fresh on my fingers. I found my son in his room with a green tell-tale ring around his mouth and said "Aha!" He just looked at me and my sticky hands with big eyes as the realization of what he had done set in and said: "I was having dessert with my homework and the long division completely ferhoodled me!" 


I get that. 

I've been there more than once, like when I found my car keys in my sock drawer...

We all get confused and stressed out now and then...wouldn't it be nice to just throw your hands up in the air and say: Aaahhh, I'm so ferhoodled!

Monday, February 22, 2016

SAT Word of the Week: BOORISH

A boorish person is rude with bad manners. He would be a rough personality to get along with. In literature, a boorish character might be one from poor breeding or pedigree.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Leave Me Out of It!

Avoid using the pronoun “you” in a piece of formal or academic writing. As the writer, you don’t want to directly address your reader. As your reader, I am not in the story. Instead, your job is to create a visual image for me so that I can imagine myself there without the use of “you.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Back to Basics


We use this word so often that the true meaning often eludes us. Basic means fundamental, foundation, and starting point. The word is simple to understand, but it is overlooked—especially when it comes to writing.

First consider other academic subjects like math and reading. Basic concepts in math include counting and addition facts. Would a math teacher ever try to teach algebra before a student has a firm grasp of these fundamental skills? Think of reading as well. 

Basic concepts include learning the abc’s and the sounds each letter makes. Would a teacher ever ask a child to read a chapter book, who had never mastered these building blocks of reading?

Writing is no different. I see more and more students lacking the basic, elementary principles of  writing, yet these students are trying to write academic papers and poetry. And what’s worse: we are expecting them to!

It strikes me that we (parents and educators) simply assume that students know the foundations of written language. But it is apparent to me that we need to stop assuming. We need to revisit the basics and hammer these concepts home.

So what are the basics of written language?

The foundations of English writing are the 8 parts of speech. How many of our students can name all of them? (Hint: they are noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and article.) I would guess that if you gathered your entire family around the table and asked this question, few if any could name all 8—though I sincerely hope I’m wrong—and even fewer could define them accurately.

Why are the parts of speech so important? It’s simple, basic really, every explanation of sentence structure and every rule of grammar is explained in terms of these parts of speech. Without understanding or being able to identify these parts of speech, how can we hope to teach the finer points of language?

For example, try teaching a middle school student how to eliminate incomplete sentences from their writing.

A teacher might say: “Remember that every sentence must have a verb.”

Great. Simple. Basic.

But the student asks, “What’s a verb?”

A teacher might try to explain why the word “at” cannot appear at the end of a sentence.

“A preposition must always be followed by a noun object.”

Great. Simple. Basic.

But the student asks, “What’s a preposition?”

What’s a teacher to do? Go back to basics. Reinforce the basic principles of language. Teach students to outline sentences.

These are the ways we learned language as children. And let’s face it, the world has changed to become more technology based and fast paced. But children haven’t changed and the English language hasn’t changed. So why are we changing what worked. We are trying to move so fast that we are neglecting to teach children the basics.

Monday, February 15, 2016

SAT Word of the Week: LANCE

A lance is a sharp object or weapon with a pointed steel head. Picture a spear or a harpoon.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Details, Details, Details!

Very often, when a student submits mediocre work, it is because they have left out the details and examples that prove their point. 
If I asked what you liked about the beach and you just said “sand,” I would walk away a bit bored and wanting to know why. The same is true for your writing. If the prompt poses a question, answer it and tell why. Give details and examples and use descriptive language whenever you can.
“What do you like about the beach?”
“I like the sand best because I have a shell collection, and whenever we go to the shore, I look for colorful additions to my set. I also enjoy building sand castles in the wet sand with my little sister.”
Now this is s a full reason and explanation.  It also uses detail and adjectives (descriptive language) to let the reader form a picture and impression of his own.

Always go back and infuse your work with details and examples that bring your ideas to life! 

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Write Qualifications

I recently read an article in The Atlantic by Cindy O’Donnell-Allen titled: “The Best Writing Teachers are Writers Themselves.”

The title alone intrigued me. After all, this seemed obvious (and more than a little self-serving). I am a writer and I teach how to write. It seems natural.

But then I thought more about who else is teaching writing to our young people.  Certainly students are being taught the fundamentals of writing in school with teachers who have taken curriculum and education courses in college. These teachers have passed state licensing and certification tests. Certainly these teachers are well equipped to teach writing...or are they?

Writing as a discipline is difficult to teach primarily because it doesn’t fit into any of the traditional school subjects. We use grammar in good writing—but knowing grammar doesn’t automatically make you a strong writer. We use spelling in writing—but being a great speller doesn’t make you a well rounded writer.

Writing is complex and personal. It is not something that can be outlined on the board, memorized, and regurgitated. Writing is a process: and if you aren’t intimately familiar with the process, how can you teach it to beginners?

You see, I love to write. I do. In fact, I love writing just about anything: lists, rhymes, articles, letters, proposals, books, plays, ...anything. I’ve been writing ever since I learned how to hold a pencil. Writing is a significant part of my daily life. And truth be told, my own writing continues to improve with each passing project … because it IS a process and the learning never ends.

It surprised me, then, to read another article in The Quarterly where teachers in a writing seminar were taken aback by the suggestion that they write with their students. As Tim Gillespie of the Oregon Writing Project found out, school teachers and administrators are not always in favor of creating expert writer/teachers.
"Look,'" said one principal, "With all due respect, I'm a little tired of all this creative experience stuff. I don't give a damn if my teachers can write a pretty little poem or story; I want them to know how to teach writing."
Basically, this administrator doesn’t care if the teachers can do the work [write] so long as they can tell children what to do. This is akin to not caring if a math teacher can do algebra as long as he can read the rules out loud from the teacher’s guide.
Clearly, this is not logical.
Schools wouldn’t hire a social studies teacher to teach algebra. They wouldn’t hire a PE teacher to teach physics. Why then do we not demand the same training and proficiency for teachers of writing?
How can a teacher who rarely picks up a pencil to write (no matter how outstanding his/her grammar may be) identify with a student with writer’s block? How can a teacher who has never written for pure joy and pleasure identify with a student’s enthusiasm when their character comes to life in their imagination? How can a teacher who hasn’t struggled to write a thesis give practical tips and suggestions to his students.
Writing needs to be nurtured as much as taught.
The only way to become a proficient teacher of writing is to write yourself—to experience the trial and error, highs and lows...writer’s block and all.
If every teacher who assigned a 10 minute writing prompt to a class of middle-schoolers sat down and wrote alongside her students, she would absolutely be able to identify with the task at hand. She would be able to set the good example—and, yes, sometimes she might miss the mark, but isn’t that an essential learning moment?
Students would see that every writer begins with a rough draft. They would learn what the process of writing looks like. By sharing and writing with students instead of teaching at them, wouldn’t students gain a stronger experience to draw from? 
It is time to take the teaching of writing more seriously and demand the best teachers for this discipline in our schools.

Monday, February 8, 2016

SAT Word of the Week: EPISTLE

An epistle is a letter or correspondence. The word holds a formal or old fashioned connotation to it. Often letters from Apostles that appear in the New Testament of the Bible are called epistles.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Oxford Comma

Let’s review the role of a comma in a list.

When you list things in a sentence, use a comma between every item in the list including before the final conjunction that joins the last two items.

It used to be, when I was a child, that no comma was placed before the final conjunction, however the rule has changed.  It is now common place and taught to put the comma there. This is called the Oxford Comma and should be taught as a punctuation rule. 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Top 10 Little Known Careers for Creative Writers

Do you have a student who loves to write but just can’t imagine how she can make a living that utilizes this skill? Well, wonder no more! There are a smorgasbord of careers that the creative writer can pursue to combine their love of the written word with a paying career. And, of course, some of these careers are, well, creative!

10. Greeting Card Writer: Creative Writers come up with those clever rhymes and moving poems that consumers buy regularly.

9. Song Writer (Lyricist): Creative Writers partner with musicians to write catchy and meaningful lyrics that people just can’t help but sing along to.

8. Comic Book Writer: Creative Writers make up the   monsters and villains that kids and adults alike love to hate.

7. Travel Guide Writer: Creative Writers travel the world finding great activities and hotels and then use their words to entice us to visit.

6. Blogger: Creative Writers spend their days writing on every topic from gardening to gaming.

5. Advertising Executive: Creative Writers create jingles and commercials that catch the attention of even savvy shoppers.

4. Reviewer (Movie, Book, Restaurant…): Creative Writ- ers sample things and write their opinions in maga- zines, newspapers, and online publications.

3. Publicist: Creative Writers: Creative Writers schedule interviews, appearances, and handle press releases and advertising for their clients.

2. Columnist: Creative Writers use their unique point of view to create weekly articles on  topics that interest them for publications around the world.

1. Literary Agent: Creative Writers read manuscripts for quality work and represent the author in their publish- ing ex perience.

Monday, February 1, 2016

SAT Word of the Week: ACRID

The word acrid has two meanings. As an adjective, acrid means bitter tasting. As a verb, acrid describes someones personality or tone. A person with an acrid personality is angry or biting. No matter whether it is being used as an adjective or verb, acrid always holds a negative connotation.