Posts Tagged ‘teachers’

Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar on November 3, 2009 at 12:50 am

stack of books ONE WAY TO USE A SEMICOLON ;

One of the most misused forms of punctuation is the semicolon (;). For some reason, students love to use the semicolon. They’re cute, and they seem so sophisticated. I think because so many students see semicolons as cool, they’re often misused. Students use them instead of commas, instead of colons, or at odd places in a sentence. Really, there are only two uses for semicolons. Below, I’ll describe the first. We’ll talk about the second use for a semicolon next week.

The only time that you absolutely must use a semicolon is when you have a list of things AND when the things in your list have commas within them. Usually, when we write a list, we separate items in the list with commas:

I went to the store and bought a flashlight, a bicycle helmet, fancy shoes, and a stick of gum.

What happens, though, when the things in your list have commas in them?

I have been to New York, New York, Chicago, Illinois, Madison, Wisconsin, Atlanta, Georgia, Seoul, Korea, and San Francisco, California.

It gets confusing, doesn’t it? The solution is the semicolon. Here’s how we’d fix that last sentence:

I have been to New York, New York; Chicago, Illinois; Madison, Wisconsin; Atlanta, Georgia; Seoul, Korea; and San Francisco, California.

Voila! The list is organized.


This week, I’m settling in to do some serious paper-grading. I made the mistake of having major papers due in each of my classes the same week (silly me!), so I have quite a stack of papers to get back to students. It’s no small thing, to comment on a student’s paper: to be fair and challenge each student to grow as a writer, while also being kind, respectful, and considerate of the student as a writer and a human being.

As I’m commenting on papers, I know that writing is a very personal thing. When you write for a class, you’re putting your ideas on the page and waiting for your teacher to grade what you come up with. That’s a risky endeavor, and many students have been discouraged enough by an English teacher’s critical comments to give up writing altogether. At the same time, it’s important to be challenged to grow as a writer (I never want to stop growing myself). It’s a weighty job, this commenting on papers. No matter how many times I do it, I feel a tremendous responsibility.  Here I go, diving into the stack…


Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar on October 12, 2009 at 6:58 pm

stack of books GRAMMAR: SYNTAX

Syntax is English-teacher lingo for sentence structure — how you put your sentences together. Each language has its own rules for syntax. In English, for example, we put the adjective before the noun. I might talk about a green bicycle. In Spanish, the adjective comes after the noun: bicicleta verde (bicycle green). Sometimes, differences that you’ll notice in syntax from your native language to English are relatively small (like the adjective-noun order above). Other times, using your native structure with English could prevent your listener from understanding what you’re trying to say. Sentence structure is important. You could argue that it structures the way we think, so sentences that follow an unfamiliar structure can be difficult to decode. If your native language has a syntax that’s very different from English, you’ll want to look carefully at the ways that English sentences are constructed.

As with any grammar challenge, I want to encourage you not to focus on memorizing the rules of English sentence structure — but to build these rules as habits. When it comes to sentence structure, this means reading and listening to English as much as possible. Our goal is not to get you to be able to recite the definition of a subordinate clause or participial phrase — but to use them naturally, without having to think too much about it. The way to do this is through lots of reading and listening.

If you’d like to understand the basic structure of English language first — or if you’re a particularly visual learner, you might take a look at how people diagram sentences. Basically, sentence diagramming is something English teachers used to teach in every American classroom thirty years ago (American kids don’t learn it in school anymore). When you want to see how a sentence is put together in English, looking at a diagram can help. You can find some very basic sentence diagrams here — and if you’re interested, you can see how people have diagrammed President Obama’s (much more complicated) sentences here.


Our fall quarter began this week, and the halls at my school were full of new students. I love the start of a new quarter. For teachers, this new beginning means preparing a syllabus and learning the names of new students. Read the rest of this entry »

Monday Grammar & Teacher Journal

In Grammar on October 5, 2009 at 10:00 am

stack of books GRAMMAR: VERB TENSES

Last week, we talked about the importance of subject/verb agreement, when it comes to grammar. Another aspect of verbs that you’ll want to notice is the verb tense. Tenses are one way to show the passage of time in English. Some languages (like French) have lots of tenses, while others don’t. From what I hear from my students, English has lots of tenses!

  • simple past
  • progressive past
  • past perfect
  • simple present
  • progressive present
  • present perfect
  • simple future
  • progressive future
  • future perfect

There’s a tense for talking about the past (I ate lunch), a tense for talking about the past of the past (I had eaten lunch) and a one for talking about the process in the past (I was eating lunch). There’s even a tense that describes an event that, at some point in the future, will have already happened and will then be past (will have eaten lunch). Complicated, isn’t it? The people who helped develop the English language must have really cared about time.

If you think too much about tenses, you’re bound to drive yourself crazy. “Am I in the past of the past?” you might ask yourself. “Maybe this is really the continuing past or just plain old, regular past.” The more you ponder the nature of time, the further you’re likely to get from knowing the best tense to use. As long as you’re speaking English relatively comfortably, it’s best to just go with your gut.

Once you’ve settled on the past or present in your writing, keep your verbs in that time frame as long as possible. If he ATE an apple, then he probable WENT to work afterward and SAW a parade going down the street. We stay in past tense as long as possible.


This week is the first week of the fall quarter for me, so I’m back to school, with a fresh stack of syllabi, new pencils, and that fall excitement about the start of a new school year. I work with The Bridge Program at Antioch, and this week is the first for a new group of Bridge students as well. I’m gathering new student orientation materials, maps of the school, and school supplies for everyone. Read the rest of this entry »

Using a Syllabus Wisely

In organization on August 27, 2009 at 10:00 am


I remember my first day of college. I had a literature class at 11am, and the first thing the teacher did was hand out a thick packet of sheets, single spaced, in tiny font. This was the syllabus, and over the course of the first week, our professor kept talking about it. I didn’t know what a syllabus was. We didn’t have them in my high school, but it seemed like it was important, at least to my teacher.

I quickly learned that a syllabus is a class plan for the semester. The plan includes all the papers, tests, and projects you’ll be doing over the semester, along with the due dates. In the following years, whenever I got a syllabus for a new class, I would read it and promptly panic. I’d imagine reading the five novels we’d have to read in the next 16 weeks. I’d imagine all those tests, all those papers to write. I learned after a while, though, that it was never as bad as I’d imagined. I didn’t have to read all those books in a day, and I didn’t have to know all that information immediately. I learned to look at the big picture but also to think of the class just one or two weeks at a time.

What I never knew as a student was that teachers think of the syllabus as their contract with the student. This is the real reason that my teacher kept talking about the syllabus on my first day of college. This was her agreement with us, and she wanted to be clear in making that agreement. This is where we could find our teacher’s policies on everything from attendance to late assignments to what happens when you use your cell phone during lectures. The syllabus serves as a record that students received the information.

What do you do with all that information, then, when you get your syllabus? I’m glad you asked!

Acing Your English Class: A Free Download

In Tools on June 11, 2009 at 10:00 am


I’m introducing a new tool in the Tools section of the website today. It’s a free guide with 5 pieces of advice for international students. The tips are designed to help you with English classes, but many can help with your other classes as well. In creating this little list, I drew on worries that I’ve heard from international students and my experiences as an English instructor to look for solutions that might help you do better on your papers, beat procrastination, and prevent mis-communication with instructors about what is expected in class. I hope it’s useful for you!

There are two ways to download the guide:

1) Just click here for the free download.

2) You can also access the guide in the Tools section of the site. Just click on TOOLS FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS. The guide is the second free tool “created by Kathryn.” Click the link, and the pdf file will download. You can also explore other free resources for international students on this page — and learn about more tools that are in the works.


Do you have to get on a teacher’s good side to get a good grade?

In grades, teachers on September 17, 2008 at 3:21 am
Photo by Filipe Ferreire (thank you!)

Photo by Filipe Ferreire (thank you!)

The Student’s Blog recently posted ways to start off on the right foot with your new professors this fall. Check it out:

7 Ways to Get on your Professor’s Good Side from Day One

As an instructor, I think most of these  suggestions will help you do better in class — but not necessarily because they’ll make your teachers like you more. A teacher who grades you on how much she likes you is not a fair teacher, and teachers who are professional will use criteria and grading practices that are as objective as possible. For example, when grading writing, I often read papers and decide on a grade without looking at a student’s name, to help insure that I’m grading not on past success or personality, but on the paper that’s in front of me. I don’t have any studies to back it up, but many instructors I know have similar practices to ensure that their grading is based on the work, not the personalities of students.

Still, these 7 strategies are great! The reason I think many of these suggestions work so well is that they help communicate your needs to your instructor. Also, many suggestions (like coming to class and participating) help keep you involved and active in the class, which makes it easier to remember what’s happening and retain information.

Try them this fall as you head back to class, and see how they work?

#1 Tip for acing your classes: communicating with your teacher

In teachers on September 17, 2008 at 2:15 am


My number one suggestion for international students who want to do well in school is to communicate with your teachers. I know it’s not always easy to talk with teachers, but when you start a new class, make an effort to have a conversation (in person, not online, if possible). Stop by your teacher’s office hours and introduce yourself. Talking with your teacher now will make it easier to ask questions and get help later in the semester, when you really need it.

But how are you supposed to start a conversation? I’ll tell you a secret that might help. Most teachers get into teaching because we care about our subject (in my case, writing and literature), and we want to share this passion with our students (you). To connect with your teacher, see if you can find something interesting about your teacher’s subject. Then, talk with her about it.

If you approach your teacher and say, “I really want to get an A. How do I get an A?” odds are, she’ll be at least a little annoyed (even if she doesn’t show it). Why? Isn’t it a good thing to want to get an A? Yes, but what most teachers really want is not for you to care about grades but for you to care about learning. Try asking this question instead: “I really want to learn as much as I can in this class (or be a better writer or be more confident speaking in English, or whatever it is). How do you think I could do a better job at that?” Can you see the difference? Try to talk with most teachers about grades, and they will tell you to work harder. Try to talking with them about how to learn, and I’m guessing most teachers will go to the moon and back to help you learn as much as you can from the class (and, as a result, you’ll get a better grade).

Try it, and see how it works?

Photo by tigerplish (thank you!)