Sunday, December 16, 2007

Let's get these topics down to manageable size

As of right now, many of you have some ideas about a topic for the final paper, but I'm noticing that your topics are quite broad. In many cases, too broad that I think it will be difficult for you to write a focused essay to meet the requirements of the assignment. Remember, this is not a research paper like you did in 9th grade. You decide the topic, the purpose, and the audience.

As we have talked about all year, one of the most crucial aspects of the writing process is developing an idea for writing. Put some time and effort into that, and the writing part will come much easier. This is a large writing project and one in which you cannot afford to waste too much time researching unnecessarily.

Your next assignment, then, will be to start to narrow the focus of your essay. Use your blogs to write/reflect on the following prompts in a blog due by Tuesday.

Why does this topic need to be written about? What type of audience will be reading your essay? Why would they read it? In other words, what new and interesting angle are you bringing to the topic? Where will you get your information?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mr. Miller's model blog post

Note to students: what follows is a sample blog entry I wrote as if I was assigned the same prompt you have been assigned. I attempted to answer the same questions asked of you and respond in a way you have been asked to respond. 390 words by the way. Imagine that!

As I thought about a topic to investigate, many ideas crossed my mind. I'm interested in the emerging web 2.0 technology that allows such rich interaction and collaboration via the internet. As I was skimming through some blog posts about using new technology, I found a blog called Students 2.0, which is run by student bloggers, for other students. Sounded kind of interesting. There was this posting on it called Plagiarism: Not Quite As Simple As It Seems by a student from New York. In her posting, she discusses the different challenges that both students and teachers encounter in terms of plagiarism. What struck me is that some of the questions she raised about plagiarism and how to define it are just as difficult for students as they are for teachers. And in many cases, the definition is just plain murky.

The student writes about how she finds herself "staring at the computer screen, unsure on whether I can copy my AP Environmental Science textbook’s definition of biodiversity or if I needed to paraphrase. Do I even know how to paraphrase that term when the textbook’s definition seems to leave no room for a more direct explanation? Teachers always tell students to reword things they write, but what if the student can’t think of another way to reword what they want to say? In this incidence, sheer laziness isn’t the factor behind it."

She goes on to say that copying word for word is inexcusable - as all students should know - and that both teachers and students should know that "technology works both ways." Teachers can use online plagiarism software or even just Google as easy as kids can cut and paste from the internet. I know I have regularly used to detect plagiarism. With so much information available, what exactly is the best way to deal with it?

Anyway, her ideas got me thinking about the topic, and I think I'd like to write my paper on plagiarism. How has the internet altered the way plagiarism is detected? What are current plagiarism policies at colleges and what other issues have arisen with the new technology? I thought I had heard about a student suing a school over using, so maybe there are some court cases or other information I could pursue.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Getting started, finding a topic

Probably the hardest part about starting a writing project is coming up with a topic. There are thousands - even millions - of places to find information, but without a focus for your project all of that is not too helpful. Your first step, then, is to try to narrow down your topic a bit. Look through some of the following resource sites.

This site is a search engine search designed to help you depending on what step of the process you are in. Are you looking for a topic, or do you need to redefine and narrow your topic? Try this site first and explore several different places.

The next two sites are organized around topics that you might be interested in. Browse through and try to come up with some ideas. The VLRC Directory and the a list of Hot Topics.

Another option is looking through Teen Ink, either online or in class, for topics that other high school students are writing about.

By tomorrow, you need to post an entry to your blog that deals with your efforts to find a topic. What are you going to write about? Why? What made you come to that decision? What was your thought process? What resources did you explore to help you come to that decision?

In your posting, remember to include a hyperlink to any sources you mention or cite. Make your links part of your sentence writing, as I do above. Good luck.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

A culminating project in Writing the Essay

As a longterm project in Writing the Essay, you are assinged to write a longer informative essay about a school-related topic of your choice. This writing project, which is expected to take until the end of the semester, will be completed in addition to the other essay assignments in the class. It will be due in January.

The purpose of your essay is to explore your selected topic in depth by looking at different facets or components of it and explaining how it is relevant for high school students today. In a sense, you are writing a magazine article geared towards a teenage audience.

The assignment will involve several steps. At its most simple level, we will follow the process outlined below:
  • First, you will brainstorm different ideas and select a topic.

  • Next, you will research several sources and take notes on relevant information.

  • Then, you will decide on a focus and organization for your essay.

  • Then, you will begin writing your essay, sharing parts of it with the rest of the class and me on a regular basis through your blog.

  • Finally, you will write your completed essay.
On top of the writing aspect, this assignment will also provide us the opportunity to use 21st century research tools, online resources, and collaboration methods. This involves setting up a personal blog to act as a central clearinghouse for your work; using a social bookmarking tool to share your findings as you go along; searching through online resources more comprehensive and valuable than simple web searches; posting your work online to invite regular feedback on your efforts.

Your blog will serve as a major component of this project, both as a way to compile your research and to showcase your work.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Looking at some comparison essays

As we begin discussing different types of comparison essays, it is important that we look at professional models and exemplars. Part of that we've done in class.

Your first task now is to write your thoughts about the two comparison essays from The New York Times. Write a blog entry in which you evaluate the two different articles. Your entry should include the following:
  • Begin your blog with a paragraph that mentions something you've learned about writing (either in class or through your reading) and how it relates to what you are doing.
  • Several direct links to each article as hypertext for sourcing. For your reference, the article about the brothers is here and the car article is here.
  • A substantial summary of at least two important points made in the articles.
  • An examination of the organizational style of the essays.
  • How you plan to use this information to help you write your essay.

Your second task is to write another blog entry related to your assignment. In this entry, you must:

  1. Include a direct hyperlink to a source you used as part of your research. For your reference, there are resources linked at write to help you get started. I will also post more there periodically.
  2. Insight into your writing and thinking process related to this assignment.
  3. Discussion of choices you are making to help you prepare, organize and write this assignment.
  4. Be creative in some way ... post a picture, some interesting insight, a link to something interesting you found...

As always, run a spell check on your entry and use proper mechanics and convention. You must proofread all entries.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Comparison Essay

One of the best ways we learn about new people and new things is by comparing and/or contrasting them to people and things we already know. By examining similarities and differences, we gain insights and are better able to see meaningful connections.

Your next writing assignment is to write a comparison essay. As always, the topic is up to you. But select a topic that can be explored in adequate depth and breadth for you to write a coherent, intelligent essay of at least 800 words. The ideas in your essay will be organized in a precise manner, either the block method or the flip-flop method. We will learn more about those patterns during this unit.

Your essay will be graded on the following:
  • A controlling idea in the introduction that states the two topics being written about and the direction of the essay
  • Ideas organized in either block or flip-flop method
  • The use of specific details to support each topic explored
  • The use of transition words to point out similarities or differences, or to repeat key phrases or structures
  • A conclusion that ends the paper with a sense of finality, summarizing the major points or commenting on the major ideas proven in the paper
  • The use of varied, powerful sentence structure
Resources: The following link provides comprehensive information about comparison/contrast essay assignments. It might be a helpful place to review before and during the writing process.

The rough draft of this essay will be due Tuesday, Dec. 4. The final draft will be due Thursday, Dec. 6.

Note: As with most of the assignments this year, this idea comes from the Stack the Deck writing program. Thank you.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Your opinions, your blog, and cell phone jammers...?

One of the features of blogs is that they allow anyone to post an instant opinion. Coupled with the Internet's capability to provide access to millions of different kinds of information and ideas, there is never a shortage of instapinions (instant + opinion = instapinion). News organizations like The New York Times have also begun providing opportunities for its readers to leave their comments and opinions on the news that's reported on their site. Bloggers, too, rely on the latest news and trends to find topics on which to post their opinions.

Here's an example. Earlier this week, The New York Times ran an article on a growing trend in the use of electronic gadgets to block out cell phone signals. These gadgets, which are illegal in the United States, but still available for purchase overseas, allow the user to jam nearby cell phone conversations in public places. Like most of our new innovations, it has also raised a debate on the limits of privacy and the use of technology. It has spawned spirited opinions of all kinds.

One blogger used his space to bluntly express his distaste for the new gadgets. While another bloggers, offers a little more support for the use of the handheld jammers.

What is your opinion? Respond on your own blogs with your own opinions. Remember to link to any sources your cite or refer to. This includes the news article, the blog posts, or any other links you come across while reading about the topic.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A persuasive essay that you really want to do, trust me

In persuasive writing, the writer holds strong feelings about a specific issue and attempts to persuade his or her audience to agree with a certain point of view. You will select a topic that you feel strongly about, or at least one that you feel strong enough about to write a 700 to 900-word essay.

For this assignment, your subject should be a topic upon which you have strong feelings and can speak with some authority. You must take a stance on one side of a controversial issue and support your position with sound, specific arguments.

Your essay will be graded on the following:

  • A strong controlling idea in the introduction
  • Ideas organized in an order of importance sequence
  • The use of specific details to support opinions
  • The use of transition words to shift from one reason to another
  • The use of varied, powerful sentence structure
A reminder: as we have discovered in class this year, the most important part of any essay assignment is selecting the topic. A persuasive essay is no different. Select a topic you are passionate about and one that will allow you to support your opinions with good reasons. It's not the time to drift off on an unfocused rant.

Rough draft due: Wednesday, Nov. 14. Final draft due: Tuesday, Nov. 20

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

So what is a blog anyway?

In the last two weeks, we've begun to use individual blogs in this class. It started with my class blog - the actual site you are reading this on - where I wrote something and asked you to leave a comment about it. It has now moved to each of you creating your own blog. For the rest of this semester, you will be maintaining the blog.

That leads me to my next point. If we are now going to do more of our writing online, using a blog, then what is it that we should know about this communication form? Writing a blog is fundamentally different than any other kind of writing you've probably been asked to do in school. One teacher in Colorado explains blogging this way: "The value of blogging, as I've come to learn, is in the way that it requires that I interact with source material, either another blogger or any other text that I can find to quote and think about. That interaction with sources is what I think is so, so, so essential in the education of students." He's right. A blog can be a strong educational tool, and I hope you come to realize that, too.

But what exactly is a blog anyway?

One plase to start is the place that provided the technology for you to create a free blog - Blogger. They have a definition here. A little closer to home, a student who used a blog for class writing assignments weighs in on the blogging process. And finally, has ranked the most popular blogs in the world. Check a few of them out.
What are the unique characteristics of a blog that make it different from other forms of writing or communication? One blog you might be familiar with is this one, which I've used to communicate to you as part of class. Take a closer look at this posting, for example. What do you notice? Write a blog posting of your own that addresses this topic.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The introduction of your essay

Writing a blog will earn you admission into your number one college. Your writing will grow stronger, more reflective, and interesting. That's what colleges are looking for these days.

I hope I caught your attention. The first few lines of any essay, whether it's a blog or on traditional 8 1/2 X 11 paper, needs to stand out. If you want to grab the attention of a college admissions officer, then you better write an essay with a memorable introduction.

To help you along, for your next blog assignment I am asking you to post your introduction to your blog. But wait, it's more than just cutting and pasting the first few sentences of your college application essay. In your posting, briefly explain what you were trying to do with your introduction and why you made the choices that you did. Finally, pose a question about your introduction - your writing, choice of topic, order of information etc... - that you'd like your classmates to post a comment about.

Once you do that, go out and read the introductions of your classmates. See what they have to say and leave a comment for them.

Remember, this is a writing assignment, so the following should always apply when writing and posting:
  • Proofread and run spellcheck

  • Write a catchy title related to your post

  • Take your time and let your thinking show in your writing

Good luck and enjoy.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Are you ready to write a college essay?

It's time to start looking at the qualities of a good college essay. All of you have likely begun writing your college essay. However, to help you develop one that will leave a strong impression on whoever reads it, it is important that you take the time to first read some samples and explore some of the resources out there for you.

First of all, it's important to know that there is no one right formula for writing a college essay just waiting for you somewhere. I'm going to assume you have a topic or you have already begun to think about some ideas for your essay. Your topic is a crucial first step. Good writing can make almost any topic seem interesting, but keep in mind that if you're looking to stand out to a college admissions officer, you have to make it so.

What we've been learning in this class are strategies and techniques to build strong writing skills. That's what is going to Writing the Essay is how to You must write clearly, expressively, and confidently. Above all, you must write well. And you must be willing to revise, revise, revise.

So here goes. Check out some of the following sites and see what you can learn from them. Then, in your own blog entry write a posting that reflects on what makes writing a college essay so challenging and/or so important. Feel free to use ideas you glean from your reading. What are your thoughts on this entire process? What do you intend to do?

Here are some links to help provide you guidance on the college-essay writing process:

What should be apparent in all this is that there is an abundance of advice, tips, and examples for you out there. Essentially it comes down to what you are going to do with your essay to make it stand out. This class is not designed for your college essay, but to help you write better. That's what's going to get you noticed in any writing you do.

Good luck.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Sharing a piece of your observation essay

This blog assignment is due before class starts on Monday, Oct. 15

Earlier this week you were assigned to write an observation essay, an assignment which requires you tell in detail about a specific event or experience. Your essay should include telling details and well-written, interesting sentences.

As you work on this assignment, I am going to ask that you post an excerpt from your essay in the comment section of this blog. It can be as short as three to four sentences, or as much as an entire paragraph. However, it must be an excerpt that you illustrate the following:
  • Several telling, specific details that demonstrate a close observation of your event.
  • Several well-crafted sentences, including those beginning with effective ING phrases or subordinate clauses.

Your excerpt is not a summary of your essay in progress. Instead, it is a paragraph that's part of your larger assignment. The purpose here is to share a piece of your work with your classmates and to provide opportunity for more feedback on your writing.

Before submitting your writing, remember to PROOFREAD!

Monday, October 8, 2007

The Observing paper

Your next assignment involves writing a detailed, close observation about an incident you have experienced or observed. It does not have to be an event of earth-shattering significance, just something you remember vividly. The more specific you can remember it and bring those vivid details into focus, the more interesting your paper will be.

However, you must write your essay in third-person narration. Even though it is an incident you recall or observed, you must write it as if you were simply an observer. Use the pronouns he, she, or they without referring to yourself directly.

The observation must be focused and limited, so you can develop it fully. Think about an event and describe all aspects of it, like the author of a novel might. If your event is too broad or covers too long a period of time, you will have difficulty precisely developing your idea.

Some possible topic ideas to help you get started: your most embarrassing moment, the most horrifying, or the most terrifying.

Rough draft due: Tuesday, Oct. 16. Final draft due: Thursday, Oct. 18

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Practicing our descriptions

A cool breeze floated out over the BHS athletic field, washing over the dozens of students participating in high scool gym class. They played flag football while their teachers, each sporting sunglasses, watched as the students ran and jumped along the green artifical grass. Not one cloud marred the perfect blue sky. Some students did not play football. Making their way around the track, four different groups of girls walked and chatted. A bright yellow sun, heading towards the midday sky, shone bright and hot on the players and the spectators...

We all spent part of class observing gym class on Wednesday, a beautiful day that felt more like early summer than early fall. What observations did you make? How would you describe the sight?

You've read the beginning of my description. Now it's time to post your own version. Write it in the comments. But remember to use strong, active verbs and ING words to help convey motion to the scene.

Here's the catch. Your description - like mine above - cannot contain any adverbs. In other words, no words that end in -ly or similar words. Let your verbs and nouns do all the work. Try it.

Monday, September 24, 2007

An essay describing something chronologically

Your next assignment in Writing the Essay is one that asks you to write an essay about an event that you experienced first hand. The main purpose of the assignment is to describe the changes that take place in a specific location in three different time sequences. For example, if you choose to write about a storm, you must describe a particular setting before/during/after the storm.

Your essay must:
  • Make your event the focus of the paper
  • Be organized in the before, during, and after time sequences
  • Balance the organization by repeating important ideas in each sequence
  • Use transitions to indicate a shift in each sequence
  • Include powerful words (active verbs, ING words) to convey motion and action
As with any assignment, begin by brainstorming ideas. We will also use a think sheet to organize the essay. Refer to the calendar at the right for due dates.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Some good writing to consider

Periodically through our semester Writing the Essay, I will ask you to read and consider some excellent examples of essays. The purpose of this blog is to give you a place to access the essays and provide a forum for you to post your own writing in response. Your assignment is to read both essays linked below, and then, in the comments section write a 100- to 150-word response to one of them. Your response should be thoughtful, well-written, and it should be a personal response to the ideas raised in the articles.

First, here's wonderful piece by Dave Barry, who's better known for his humorous syndicated newspaper column. This piece is serious and, like everything Barry writes, is well-crafted and memorable. The only problem is that it's a PDF file, so you may have to adjust the zoom to read it.

Here's an essay that helped a high school student from Wisconsin get into Connecticut College. Notice how the writer captures your attention immediately with his opening. Concrete nouns and strong verbs help make his case throughout the essay.

Finally, here's one by a well-renowned editor, who discusses the importance of finding the right "place" to write. Take special notice of his tone.

In posting your responses, write your first name only - no last names please. You should probably write in Word or another word processing program so you can proofread and edit your work before posting it.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The problem-solving essay - structure and organization

You have already been assigned the problem-solving essay, but you might be wondering just how to best organize your essay. It is important with these assignments to focus on your organization of ideas, building your idea around it.

You should use the following structure to build your paragraphs:
  • Introduction - includes a one-sentence controlling idea
  • One attempt that failed - who, what, where, why, when, how
  • Another attempt that failed - who, what, where, why, when, how
  • Any other attempts - who, what, where, why, when, how
  • The attempt that was successful - who, what, where, why, when, how
  • Bring story to finality
As we have discussed in class, there are other important areas to focus on with this essay. Use transitions between your ideas and vary your sentence structure.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Writing the problem-solving essay

The next assignment in Writing the Essay is a problem-solving essay, an assignment that asks you to examine a difficulty or challenge that you faced, and how you over came it. Everyone has faced some kind of difficulty or challenge in his or her life and has worked through them. Let's write about it.

In constructing the essay, we will address the following objectives:
  • stating a specific problem in the controlling idea
  • explaining how the problem was solved
  • providing specific details to describe each attempt to solve the problem
  • using transition words to link ideas
  • using concrete verbs

Start by brainstorming a list of possible topics. Narrow down your choices and create a web or idea map to generate ideas for your essay. If you are to write this effectively, your essay must adhere to a specific structure that lays out your problem, explains different attempts to solve it, and finally describes the ultimate solution.

Rough draft due Sept. 18 - Final draft due Sept. 20. Check out the calendar to the right.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Getting started on your personal narratives

Our first assignment is to write a personal narrative. A narrative is anything that tells a story, so this assignment is quite open ended. You decide the story you want to tell. One way to get started is to think of important experiences/people/memories from your life that you believe have shaped you. As you begin deciding what you want to write about, we will also be examining examples from other students.

Read the following three narratives linked below. These student writers have explored memories, people, and hobbies.

For the love of the game

Dancing Genes

The Birthday that never happened

As you read them, keep an eye out for what makes them effective, interesting, and/or well-written. This class is called Writing the Essay, so it is important we focus on those choices that good writers make. What is it that the authors do in these pieces to effectively tell their story and illustrate to their readers why the experience/person/memory has such significance to them. Choose one of the essays and complete a Personal Narrative Think Sheet for the essay. The Think Sheet should also help you brainstorm ideas to explore and develop in your own essays.

As a follow up to this assignment, complete a Think Sheet of your own for the personal narrative you plan to write. Bring it with you to the next class. A copy of the Think Sheet can be found here.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Welcome to Writing the Essay

Welcome back to Branford High for a new year and new learning experience in Writing the Essay.

As we've discussed in class, the focus of this year is writing. This blog will play a significant role in that learning process.. Here you will find regular assignments, important links, and opportunities to contribute ideas. In many instances this site will also serve as an extension of the reading, writing, and thinking we do in class. Using a blog like this allows us unique opportunity to publish our writing and maintain a record of our thinking and learning through the year. What makes a blog unique for our writing is that it allows us to publish our words, contribute ideas to others, and collaborate with one another.

You'll also notice that there is a calendar on the right of this page which lists upcoming due dates and other important announcements. I plan to add even more materials and information to help you learn in this class. And as the year goes on, you can expect this site to grow with content from me and from all of you.

Good luck and enjoy the year.