I’m Really Not Dead, But I Wasn’t Fighting in the Battle

It’s 4:03 in the morning. I slept all day yesterday after minor surgery, so I’m relatively bright-eyed and drug free. How are all of you?

It’s been so long since I’ve written anything besides letters, emails, figured budgets, and fixed computer problems that, I’ve forgotten how to write blogs! So I guess I’ll write you all a letter. I remember getting letters from my grandmother, and every one of them told us about someone we didn’t know or remember who had died. So I wanted you to know that at least I didn’t die, and I’m going to tell some of you about a bunch of people you don’t know.

2015 WVMS Civil War111

I got a call to be a REAL photographer last week by a friend, Lauri Polly, who IS a real photographer and editor of our Kiwanis Magazine, “What’s Happening in the Foothills.”

I’m sure you can imagine, if you don’t already know from experience, how much work it is to plan and execute a day of activities for several hundred students.  First you have to line up volunteers to present, which means you have to know a lot of people who know a lot of stuff, AND are good with kids! Then you have to con your last-minute volunteers (teachers and librarians to stand in for those who couldn’t make it.)

Then you plan the weather. It should be sunny, with a light breeze, not too hot.

Oops it rained. Plan B
Oops it rained. Plan B

Then you invite other students to join you, so there’s a little more pressure on you as a planner, but adrenaline helps because the event is exciting, after all.  I’m sure Courtney slept well that night.

Finally you plan a grand finale. And what could be grander than shooting off a Civil War canon?

And that’s how you send off the year of studying eighth grade history in Woodlake, CA with a big bang.

There’s not much information in here about the Civil War. I can’t with so many of my friends who are experts in the subject – I’d embarrass myself!  I have all the pictures with some notes from the event posted on my Facebook Page.

How to Write Essays to a Prompt for Tests, Work, or School

Sample Prompt: Explain a complicated process that you can do well to someone who doesn’t know how to do it.

If a writer knows enough about what he is writing about, he may omit things that he knows. Ernest Hemingway

Writing Is a Complicated Process                                         Do you struggle when you have to take a writing test, or write a report? As a teacher/consultant writing essays was my forté, yet writing to a prompt is a complicated task.  When I think about my professional life, I probably spent more time writing than almost any other single activity, either writing or grading essays for over 20 years.  Writing professionals have boiled essay writing down to a few steps which can be easily explained to someone who doesn’t write.  While most people THINK they know how to write if they can put words down on paper, they struggle to write even a simple five paragraph essay to answer a prompt.

Notice the blingy water.
Notice the blingy water.

Definition of an Essay

Commonly essays fall into four categories : expository, descriptive, narrative, and argumentative. Essays  convey information rather than tell a story, although they may use facts or short stories to persuade or convince readers to take action. An essay consists of three parts:  an opening paragraph, the body, and the conclusion.  Many teachers in our county use Step Up to Writing to teach this process to students and teachers alike.
  1. An opening paragraph restates the prompt stating three or more examples or facts.
  2. Body paragraphs expand on the three or four facts, one paragraph per main idea.
  3. The concluding paragraph points back to the opening paragraph and summarizes how the paragraph addressed the stated prompt.
PG and Pie
Ideas Matter: Brainstorm and Analyze  Before Writing 
Step Up to Writing  steps sound simple enough.  However, even though the process is simple, fuzzy ideas swim in the writer’s head and often come out jumbled.  Maybe the writer knows nothing about the prompt. Before I write anything I take a few minutes to ask myself questions about the prompt.  I usually jot down some notes in an informal list or outline.  If I can use the computer during the test or when writing for publication I search for a quotation and a definition or explanation of my topic. Most important: Make sure to answer the prompt.
  1. Analyze the prompt or break it into pieces.  Ask, “What DO I know about the prompt?  OR How can I relate it to something I know better and still answer the prompt?”
  2. Ask, “What can I write in a few paragraphs without repeating myself?”
  3. Consider, “Who is my audience?”
students-at-computers1
Research , Research, Research
Writing to a prompt is difficult for many reasons.  An author who does not know much about the topic may cut corners and merely copy the prompt word and repeat it multiple times throughout the essay. Unprofessional essays often start and end with the words, “Today I am going to write about (prompt words)”  This might be acceptable in first grade, but beyond that writers need to display more sophistication in their writing.
  1. Wikipedia is fine for quick bits of information partly because each entry has a bibliography which the writer can also check. It is good to have more sources than just Wikipedia. I use Google, but there are other ways of getting information quickly off the internet.
  2. Books and articles provide detailed information. Digitized books allow the writer to mark what he or she wants to remember and to sort out unnecessary information.
  3. If time is not an issue, articles and scanned documents can be processed into searchable PDF documents using inexpensive or free downloadable programs.
  4. When writers don’t have these options, note cards work well. I always note the title, author and page number, so I can go back and check my sketchy notes. I don’t take time to write detailed notes.
  5. Highlighting works well on printed material that the writer can keep.
  6. Post-it notes allow the writer to comment on materials and books he or she needs to return. Writers can color code these by book or article, topic, time period or any category they choose.
writing, blogging, book reviews, New_Office04
Weed Out All But the Most Important Information
Essayists can’t use it all.  According to the brain laboratory at UCLA, people have more than 70,000 thoughts per day. One short essay can’t utilize all these thoughts, so the first step is deciding which thoughts are keepers. When I write under pressure on a topic, use these techniques.
  1. Brainstorm on paper. Lists, webs, and tables all work well.
  2. Move to an outline. Find connections between the list of words. Sort them into categories. Writers may do this mentally, but it is more effective if they write it down. I use the old fashioned outline because it puts my thoughts into a hierarchy, most important first.Manny's Trip to Spain
Match Writing Style and Vocabulary to the Task
Prompt writing is a formal process.  Vocabulary, spelling, and style become issues.  My blogging style is informal, uses simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and I attempt humor. Formal writing style differs in several ways. 
  1. It uses a more academic lexicon or vocabulary.
  2. Sentence structure varies.
  3. The tone is generally, but not always, more serious.
  4. Each sentence starts with different words.  For example, after I have written this essay, I will go back over it and circle all the initial words.  If I have more than two or three of the same beginning word, I will change one of them.  I will look at how many of the same words I use within the sentence as well.  Word processing programs and the internet have dictionaries and a thesaurus at the writer’s fingertips, so there is no excuse for repeating the same word constantly. If the internet is not allowed during an essay, use the scratch paper to free-associate synonyms.
  5. Spelling is most difficult for me if the internet is not an option. When I can’t remember how to spell a word, I substitute a word I can spell.
  6. Punctuation errors show up, and even though there are differences about how to punctuate. Study Strunk and White before you take a test, or take it with you.
Ralph's remodel003
Keep the Conclusion Uncluttered
Students, test takers, or essayists who utilize these tips will have a passable essay for any project, exam, job application, or work-related report, and become an expert in writing to a prompt.
Related articles

What Kind of Animal Are You?

People love animals.  Popular picture book writers use this adoration. Children and adults alike identify with real and stuffed animals.  One of my writing groups asked the question, “If you were an animal, what kind would you be? Why?”

PG Prancing 1r

I love dogs, cats, and guinea pigs because they have been my favorite pets.

Piggles eating copy 1t

This prompt reminded me of teaching strategy called Four Corners we practiced in a teacher training seminar.  Each corner had a white piece of poster paper with the name of the animal written at the top.  Participants went to the corner that represented the animal with which they most closely identified:  gorilla/monkey, lion, snake or rabbit.

I chose rabbit because none of the others appealed to me.  As we defended our choices with other participants who had chosen the same animal, I developed an affinity with the rabbit.

Bunny 1crt

First we listed characteristics of the animal we chose, real, stuffed and pictures. Here are my random thoughts today.

Rabbits:

  • reproduce prolifically, so it is doubtful they will be endangered.
  • are soft and fuzzy
  • are cute
  • usually make good pets (I hated mine.  He was “wrascally.”)
  • make good stuffed animals
  • make good stories – The Velveteen Rabbit as an example
  • kick hard
  • Bugs Bunny
  • have good luck feet
  • are not dangerous to humans compared to a venomous snake, gorilla, or lion
  • have their own year  I was born in the year of the rabbit.
  • are in the moon
  • are sensitive to the underworld, to vibrations and sensations humans can not detect
  • don’t need light to guide their way
  • are symbols of the earth, and are close to it
  • easily camouflaged, and therefore safe
  • are “wrascally,” and therefore intelligent.
  • travel in complicated zigzag patterns  Don’t try to catch one!
  • always know an escape route
  • defend their territory against other pets
  • are tucked in and self-composed

In the next part of this exercise we determined which of the other three animals would be OUR most fearsome enemy and why. Our group determined that lions were probably most dangerous to the rabbits since they are avid carnivores.

Finally we decided which animal would make the best ally.  I can’t remember which we chose, but personally I would prefer an alliance with a monkey or gorilla and not a snake.  Snakes can travel on and under the ground as well as hang from trees.  If I am enjoying my underground home, I don’t want a snake slithering in on me in the middle of my private family moments.  I’m not sure that I would trust a large hungry snake not to mistake me for a mouse, and try to eat me for dinner.

I hate to admit it, but I am prejudiced against reptiles because they don’t have fur.  Mammals are more my type.  I identify better with critters with feet, since mine are so lucky.

A monkey, however, is crafty and smart, like me, but has the agility of swinging from trees.  The monkey could help me watch out for dangers from above, while I protect him or her from things on the ground.

As a girl with a harelip, I couldn’t help but choose the rabbit group.  As a child, I never felt ugly because of my mouth unless some rude stranger pointed it out.  I had far more serious physical failings that caused me great pain as a young teen.  I wore a triple A padded bra.  🙂  I didn’t need my harelip to feel insecure.

So if you too have had physical failings, I’ll leave you with a famous quote from the Velveteen Rabbit, that I find heartening.

“Once you are real, you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand.”

Margery Williams

Which animal would you be, or would you choose a different one altogether?