Pearson Adult Learning
for Writers: Archive
During my Advanced Composition class,
students share their work. Teacher and student feedback follows. Comments
are in italics.
Simile: After living in Izmir, living in
Istanbul was like going onto a highway after travelling on a country road.
The simile is logical in that a highway is full of speedy, fast
moving objects and so the city itself has that feeling of everything
coming at you too quickly.
Metaphor: My folks told me that my future
will be a potholed road.
Originally we had “a tough road” but we replaced “tough”
with “potholed” as it gives the impression of rough, possibly harmful
events on this road.
Personification: At that time, he looked
gloomier than a cloud.
A gloomy day is a dark day. Darkness is commonly associated in
metaphor with depression and bad luck and so on. "Gloomy" is a
human emotion, thus this metaphor is properly called a personification.
April 21, 2002
Last week, I outlined my sources and reasons for reading short stories.
No less important, poetry needs my attention, if not daily at least
These days, I'm working on a poem to honour my parents' 50th Wedding
Anniversary. For inspiration, I look to the work of my favourite poets.
Some of my favourite poets:
Wislawa Szymborska (Nobel prize winner)
her poem "Possibilities" and then click on
"biography" to learn more.
An interview with
poems by Lorna Crozier
A great Web site for a "daily poem" and much much more.
April 14, 2002
A good short story is a rare and wonderful thing. Although
I read many, only a few approach greatness. But, I keep trying, since the
best short stories give me critical insights and an irreplaceable feeling
Reading is always connected to writing. What we have read
in the past, what we are reading in the present, gives us more experience
than one life could possible contain on its own.
Each week, I read the
story published in The New Yorker Magazine. One of the most difficult
publications in the world to have a story accepted in, the magazine
publishes great fiction.
Every month, I read the new story published in The
Atlantic. Better yet, I can print and read many stories going back to
November of 1995 at their recent
fiction Web page.
Whatever you decide to do, I consider regular reading of
short stories as an essential element of the professional development of
any writer. Read on!
April 7, 2002
“If you would be pungent, be brief. For it is with
words as with sunbeams: The more they are condensed, the deeper they
burn.” — Robert Southey
Need I say more? April 1, 2002
When writing essays, especially essays about a piece of
fiction, a student needs to know the difference between a primary and a
Simply put, a primary source is the work of literature
(fiction or nonfiction) itself. A secondary source is any comment made
by another writer on the primary source.
Although one might assume that a criticism or comment
made in a secondary source will be a powerful tool in an essay, and that
quoting such sources will help in attaining a high mark, this is the
Referring to the primary source and making a comment of
one's own is a better way to attract the attention and praise of your
teachers and professors.
As a teacher of high school literature, I can often
detect when students are passing on second hand comments, or the common
truths of a work of literature. When I see some fresh or unusual point
made by a student, that's when my desire to raise a student's mark
becomes strong! March 25, 2002
A good writer makes sure that topic sentences (and
theses) contain clear "controlling" ideas. But, what exactly
is a "controlling" idea?
A "controlling" idea is an idea that makes a
reader ask a question. Any time a topic sentence has a good
"controlling" idea, the reader will have his or her curiosity
In effect, the reader will say (in the mind) questions
such as How? or In what way? or What does that mean?
Examples of good
"controlling" idea topic sentences:
It is difficult to read English for someone who
has used Farsi. (Why is it difficult? How is it difficult?)
Yesterday, I had an unusual experience on the
bus. (What experience did you have? Why was it unusual?)
Example of a topic sentence with
NO "controlling" idea:
Last year, my wife and I went to visit Banff, Alberta.
(A fact, but I have no questions to ask you; if you had said, "had
fun in Banff," then I would have questions for you!
March 18, 2002
Where does Brad turn for the definitive answer on
abbreviations, punctuations, or Canadian usage?
To The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and
Editing, published by the Department of the Secretary of State
Whatever you do, make sure you have a manual whenever
you write some important text. The style guide will help with memos,
reports, and formats for resumes, too.
information for The Canadian Style.
March 10, 2002
Writing sentences of comparison or contrast can be tricky. Recently, students in the Advanced
Composition class practiced using a number of different types. Teacher comments are in italics.
Chinese save money to buy a house or car, even if it takes a
lifetime. In contrast, Canadians like to buy houses and cars or even a 2
000 dollar television on credit.
In the above example, the student first establishes the facts
about Chinese (from Mainland China). Then, using a contrast transition
("in contrast") the student contrasts the Canadian (and
American!) way of behaving.
Canadians like to spend much time enjoying nature; similarly,
Romanians find in nature the most peaceful and healthy place.
In this example, the student first establishes the Canadian
behaviour. Then, she uses a semicolon followed by a comparison
transition ("similarly") to introduce the similarity to our
own nation's people.
When the X Files was filmed in Vancouver, the
star, David Duchovny, went each day for a coffee at Starbucks. Unlike
what he would have experienced in America, however, in Canada he was
able to quietly read his newspaper and drink his coffee, undisturbed.
This time, the teacher first establishes a fact about
David Duchovny. Then, he uses the contrast transition "unlike"
to introduce an implied fact (Duchovny would have been bothered by fans
in a Starbucks in America.) followed by a fact about Canada and
Canadians—we tend to leave famous people alone in public!
March 3, 2002
One way that semicolons are used is to separate closely related
independent clauses. Recently, students in the Advanced
Composition class gave them a try. Teacher comments are in italics.
I spent all the money that I had to invest in my business; however,
it’s better than dreaming all my life about having a business.
The sentence is clearly calling for a semicolon. The ideas
contrast and are related, so the construction is suitable.
He can ski, but doesn’t know how to ride a bicycle; I can ride a
bicycle, but don’t know how to ski.
This is a humorous sentence, because it plays with ideas in
opposition and doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, the
semicolon is perfect in this case to draw our attention to the contrast
between the two individuals.
The weekend was idyllic; it’s end, however, was not.
Note here that this construction slows the reader and
emphasizes that something bad would be described in the sentences to
follow. The sentence could also be written: "The idyllic weekend
ended badly." or "The weekend was idyllic, but it's end was
not." Can you think of another way?
February 24, 2002
Adding detail to a sentence is essential in good
writing. One good way is to use an appositive phrase at the END of your
An appositive phrase is defined as "a word or
phrase that identifies in different words a preceding noun or
pronoun." Appositives are always preceded by a comma, but do not
make a full sentence, only a phrase.
For example: (Appositive is in bold; Noun
"My friend loved his new red car, a 2002
Mazda Miata." Note how the word "car" is the same as
"2002 Mazda Miata."
"I wondered whether she would like the Valentine's
Day flowers, the gorgeous red roses in a hand-cut crystal vase."
"She wouldn't even talk to me, the
apologetic man who had forgotten our anniversary.
February 17, 2002
Many beginning writers want to begin at the beginning
and end at the ending.
A perfectly reasonable desire, isn't it?
The problem comes, however, when your heart wants to
begin at the ending and end at the beginning.
What to do?
Write the words that come out, first. Later, decide on
where these words will go in your writing.
February 10, 2002
These days, we are exposed to persuasion daily, from the
television advertising we see through to the editorial comments in our
Since the goal of any persuasion is generally to move
us, the readers or viewers, to action or to, at the least, a change of
our thinking, we must be careful in our evaluation.
To be effective, persuasion must be supported by
evidence, the facts and examples the reader expects as support for an
argument. In particular, for opinions that are not widespread or common,
persuasion must use strong, verifiable evidence.
If not, and particularly if the writer or broadcaster
presents persuasion without any contrary views, then we name this
propaganda (one-sided persuasion that speaks to those who already
Take a hard look whenever you are asked to change your
opinion. Have you been persuaded by evidence? Or, have you had your own
February 3, 2002
Did you know that you can check for a required adjective
when using two (or more) before a noun?
To do so, rewrite to see if an "and" is
For example: "My friend is a lonesome, depressed
person." Rewrite as, "My friend is a person who is lonesome and
depressed." Note that one cannot write the second sentence without
Sometimes, common nouns include an adjective. Examples
of this are "income tax" or "filing cabinet." With
these noun/adjective combinations a comma is not required when
adding another adjective.
For example: "My old filing cabinet has a broken
January 27, 2002
A slim book of 85 pages, The Elements of Style by
Strunk and White holds a wealth of information. Buy it.
Until you do, however, you can read the first edition
online. The sample below gives some excellent advice on dividing
subjects into paragraphs, including reports done for school assignments.
the paragraph the unit of composition: one paragraph to each topic
January 20, 2002
I was struck by the statement of a Professor at Simon
Fraser University, my Alma Mater, on the subject of the recent plagiary
She said (I paraphrase here) that she was most upset
that students who cheated in this way had not done the assignments she
had carefully designed so they could learn. It was a betrayal of all her
work, an indication that, to these students, marks were more important
I also heard comments from the public like, "They
were business students, so what do you expect!" To me, it is even
more shocking if the students were business majors, not less.
Although infrequent, I have dealt with plagiary as a
teacher throughout my career. It is most uncomfortable, for both teacher
and student, when cheating must be confronted.
Should you wish to know more about plagiary, see my Weekly
Feature on Plagiary for more concrete information. In the meantime,
I feel ashamed that my university's good name has been sullied by a
cheating scandal and hope that all you who read my tips avoid the
January 13, 2002
Restating the thesis is often not done or poorly done by students.
Remember that the first sentence of the conclusion is RESERVED for the
Paraphrasing is the essential skill for this kind of writing. Two
ways used in our worksheets for restatement of the thesis:
use a different form (from a noun to adjective for example) of the
same word OR
change the word order of the sentence.
Three BIG problems with conclusions: the first is NO
restatement; second, the restatement is a new idea or different; third,
the conclusion itself contains NEW ideas. (By the way, I forgot to tell
you these ideas)
Make sure to carefully write your conclusion, checking for proper
form BEFORE handing it in!
Three BIG problems with introductions: THESIS is placed in the
first sentence in the paragraph (as in a regular, body paragraph);
second, the THESIS is in more than one sentence; third, student tries to
say TOO MUCH in the introduction (the introduction is as long or even
longer than the body paragraphs that follow).
Make sure your thesis is the final sentence and that the
main ideas are contained in ONE sentence.
Save your details and examples for the body of the
January 6, 2002
Resolve to improve your writing for the New Year! The
old year, 2001, is almost over, so take some time to write down some
ways that you will change in order to make your writing better.
I have some suggested resolutions for you to choose
Begin a journal, writing down a page or two of
your life's events every day. Make sure to buy a fine quality book,
since your words, one day, may be used to write your biography!
Write paragraphs of description after every
important outing. Yesterday, for example, I went with my family to
Spanish Banks (a gorgeous beach in Vancouver). The air was crisp, the
sand, partly frozen. Across the water, the city of North Vancouver was
shrouded in sea mist. The sky was a brilliant, mid-winter blue . . . .
Free write for 20 minutes every day. To
free write, take a pen and paper, sit down, and write, without
stopping. What to write? Write everything and anything that comes into
Revise a favourite piece of writing from a
week, a month, a year ago. Look at it with new, more mature eyes. Make
it even better than it was before.
Read good writing, every day. A short story can
be as refreshing as a shower, sometimes, and takes only 20 to 30
minutes of your time.
Make your own, personal, resolution. Good luck
and have a safe and happy New Year's!
December 30, 2001
This past week, your teachers met to discuss the recent
certificate tests, especially the student writing. Since good writing
skills are exceedingly important for successful study at our higher
levels, we worked hard to make sure our tests would be fairly
A number of concerns were raised by the teachers, the most
serious being what to do if a student writes a composition (essay or
paragraph) off topic.
There were two ways students appeared to go off the
assigned topic: one way was when the student had clearly misunderstood the
given topic; the other was when the student had a "pre-prepared"
idea of their writing and seemed to have "memorized" key
All of us noted essays and paragraphs that, for example,
outlined the difficulties of learning the English language. The problem
was that no topic given on the tests required such a response from
the students! It became clear to us that students may have used the topic
before and then tried to make it "fit" to the given topic.
Another serious concern was that teachers felt that a few
students appear to have shared the assigned topics with friends who were
writing later that day.
In such cases, teachers found differences between their
students "normal" writing ability and mismatches between writing
in, for example, the body of an essay and its introduction and
In some cases, information given in an essay far exceeded
the required number of words and was in more detail than an in-class essay
would normally be (all of us have sketchy memories for facts,
As a result, teachers have agreed that, in order to mark
fairly all of our students, we will adopt the following rules for the next
certificate tests in June.
New Rules for Marking of
1. Writing "off topic" will be awarded a DNP
(did not pass).
2. All writing topics will be on a separate sheet and
given out at random (for example, five students come to get a topic; each
topic sheet received will contain different topics)
3. At level's 4 and above, students must pass writing before
taking grammar and reading tests. If the student does not pass writing,
the other parts of the test will not be written.
4. To emphasize the importance of writing (and reading),
marks will be weighted as follows: writing (40%); reading (40%); grammar
December 23, 2001
Marking forty student test essays was interesting for me
this term. The application of our new essay marking system will certainly
bring great benefits to PALC students.
Many of you passed the English 10 level this term. I look
forward to working with you at the credit course level next term. Those of
you who have not yet passed, pay special attention to my comments below.
Each student receives feedback on four key areas of their
writing: use of conventions; formal structure; sentence style; meaningful
ideas and content.
Make sure you pay special attention to your score in each
area. Each of the four counts for 25 marks from the 100 total. If you
score, for example, a 9/25 in conventions, then it is time to get out your
Language Exercises (A-H) and get to work on exercises!
Remember, you are not allowed to keep your tests, so be
sure to write down your scores. See last
week's writing tip for general information on the exact meaning of the
terms, conventions, form, style, and meaning.
As a general comment, I found many of the best essays were
also the most personal. By "personal," I mean that the writer
conveyed unique information in a concise way that reflected his or her own
life experiences. Thus, these students wrote better essays that better
reflected their our own thinking.
I greatly enjoyed reading all the essays and longer
compositions this term. For those of you who shared the more personal
details of your lives, I thank you. Each night, after marking many essays,
my head was pleasantly filled with your experiences and unique ideas.
Good luck to all of you next term, and have a safe and
December 16, 2001
To mark your composition, teachers will
look at four areas: Conventions, Form, Style, and Meaning.
Each of these is worth 25% of your total score on any composition.
The teachers assign a mark for each area in
the same order as given above (C, F, S, M). You will see these marks on
your test paper when you come to the review day on December 18.
Briefly, the four areas are defined as
Conventions: These are the basic
parts of your writing: the spelling, punctuation, grammar, and sentence
structure. Teachers look for the number of errors made and, more
importantly, to see if these errors make it hard to understand your
writing. (Go to our Quiz Page for
Form: This is the order of your
writing and how easy it is to follow your ideas. In an essay, for example,
teachers examine how well your introduction, body, and conclusion work
together and how logical your order of ideas is inside each paragraph.
(See class notes with tips for
Style: Here, your sentence variety
and knowledge of idiom and vocabulary are very important. How fluent is
your language? Are your sentences precise? To excel, a student needs a
good repertoire of sentence types, along with a strong vocabulary. (View
the Advanced Composition Worksheet
Meaning: Teachers look here for
signs of your developing voice in writing. The more individual (meaning
your ideas are specific to your own experience and you have conveyed them
well) the better. Are your ideas convincing? Are they mature? Originality
counts here. Remember the rule: Show, Don't Tell! (Worksheet
on Show, Don't Tell)
December 9, 2001
Recently, students at the PALC had a lively discussion
about commas versus dashes (thanks Jennifer!). To set the record
straight, here are some important pointers.
First, use of the dash as a replacement for a simple
appositive is a bit heavy handed. For example:
He, my English teacher, is giving a writing tip.
He—my English teacher—is giving a writing tip. (Unnecessarily
strong emphasis on the phrase in appositive)
However, we can use the comma itself to provide emphasis
(where a comma is not usually required, for example).
We require a letter from the social worker on ministry
letterhead stating that you are allowed to go to school. (correctly
We require a letter from the social worker, on
ministry letterhead, stating that you are allowed to go to school.
(commas added for emphasis [it must be letterhead]; remember to
add two commas!).
Reserve the dash for use as an informal colon or as a
major break in the flow of your sentence. See
the tip on dashes. Also, the parenthesis can be used for major
breaks. See the tip on parenthesis.
See the worksheet, Making the
Dash Work for You.
December 2, 2001
Many students at Levels 3A, 3B, 3C and 4A and 4B will
need to write a good quality paragraph during the certificate
It is especially important as teachers want students to
have good writing skills before advancing to higher levels (which, of
course, they hope all of you do!).
Here are some of the resources available at the PALC Web
site to help you with the paragraph:
Feature: Writing Paragraphs
Writing: Writing a Good Paragraph
Brad's Sample Descriptive
Eight Student Sample
Paragraphs (An Important Person) (Includes teacher comments for
for Writing Good Paragraphs
November 25, 2001
Beginning November 29, students will begin to write their Certificate
Tests. To find our many sample essays, follow the links below.
These essays were written in class and demonstrate the correct form for
a test essay. (Level 5 and English 10)
"A Fat Nation" and
"Some Unattractive Entertainment"
"The Advantages of a House"
and "The 'Why' of Crime"
"Hints for a Perfect Vacation"
"Solving School Cheating"
and "Cheating in School" (Two drafts of the same essay)
"A Fit Lifestyle" and
"On Getting Older" (incomplete draft)
"Talking about My
"A Summer Lesson" and
"Learning to Teach"
See also: Revision of these two
November 18, 2001
Many times, I have noticed that my students have a less than perfect
understanding of the present perfect tense. Review the following to
improve your understanding of this important tense.
1. Use present perfect to express your action or emotion that began
in the past but continues to now (and will likely continue
into the future)
I have lived in Vancouver for twenty years.
I have always enjoyed eating chocolate.
2. Use with "just" or "already" when the action
only recently finished.
I have already picked up my corrected essay.
I have just returned from the school. (note that, in writing, we would
often use the past perfect if we describe actions such as these)
3. Use for an action that happened in the past at no definite time.
If the time is definite, use simple past.
I have gotten my driver's licence. (last week)
The teacher has corrected my essay. (earlier that day)
November 11, 2001
Below, find examples of Advanced Composition student
sentences demonstrating correct uses of the dash. Remember that the dash
is an informal mark of punctuation, one that can substitute for commas
and colons. Also, it can replace parentheses.
This morning, I had a feeling that it was going to be a hectic day—what
happened was even worse.
This dash definitely "points" at what follows and
My [too] short long weekend had to begin as usual—without
unexpected events—but, that early morning my clock didn't buzz.
We could add "too" in front of "short," but
it's still a good piece of humour. Also, the use of the verb
"buzz" is an example of onomatopoeia, or a word that sounds
like the sound itself.
Some weeks—when my husband works on the day shift—I am in a real
hurry at three p.m.. My husband will be home soon and the apartment
looks like a battlefield—dishes in the sink, books and newspapers
everywhere, my empty coffee cup on the table.
In this case, the first sentence could have used commas, but the
dashes make for a stronger interruption. The second dash acts as the
informal colon, and the explanation of "battlefield" follows.
November 4, 2001
Recently the Advanced Composition classes wrote a description of a
place—either a favourite or a disliked one. Using specific words
brought their descriptions to life.
The daytime is good, but, at night, there are no lights on the
streets, a lot of mosquitoes, the whoop of baboons and the roar of the
When you are making a contrast, remember to use those little words
like "but" to make it clear to your reader. In this example we
changed "animal noises" to include the sounds of baboons and
lions. Note how much more interesting it is to know the specific,
African, animals. [teacher comment]
That is the messiest room in my house. When I open the door, I could
see their dirty underwear, filthy socks, and stinky shoes were thrown
When a simple word will communicate your message, choose it. Do
not seek fancy synonyms unless the word is not communicating your
message. We changed "clothes" to "dirty underwear, filthy
socks, and stinky shoes" and have used parallel structure in our
list. [teacher comment]
October 28, 2001
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