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The following notes come from a student practice session on writing improvement. Includes samples of student writing and teacher comments (in italics).

The Best Gifts

Student Writing

Student One

The first and the best gift I have ever received was a hot water bottle given by my husband.

We corrected the tense to the present perfect. Study your grammar book and learn it well. It’s very useful to know it.

We took out the commas after “gift” and after “received” as unnecessary. There was a “which was” before “given” and we took that out because it doesn’t help us with meaning.

Student Two

The present I receive from or give to someone always makes me happy.

When it is a fact or habit, use the present tense. Again, review the basic English tenses regularly. Don’t assume you know something if you studied it once or even twice before.

A pack of crayons that I received from the International Red Cross at my elementary school was the best present until now. All Koreans were poor. It was just one year after the Korean War ceasefire. There were no good pencils, notebooks or even crayons for the schoolboys.

The list in the final sentence emphasizes the word “crayons” because it is last in the list. Use the last position in this way to emphasize your most important item.

Student Three

The best gift in my life was a gift/one I received on my wedding day. It was a very interesting present.

The definite article “the” is tricky. Articles give lots of trouble to many language speakers. We changed “the gift” to “a gift” because we haven’t identified it yet. The second sentence makes us more curious. Just because you have a good topic sentence does not mean you don’t need to go on and be clear.

Teacher Sample

 A Teacher’s Gift

     When I was in the seventh grade, a teacher gave me a wonderful gift. It wasn’t something material at all, but I still remember it fondly now, 38 years later. I enjoyed writing as a boy and worked hard on my assignments. My Grade 7 teacher wasn’t a sentimental man, however, and didn’t encourage me very much. It was my science teacher who gave me his kind words. He stopped me one day outside the school office at lunchtime and said that he had read something I’d written. He told me that he thought I was a good writer and that he had enjoyed reading it. But the most important thing he told me was that he believed I would be successful in the future and that my writing would be an important part of that future. How true! His name was Peter K. Snidal and I’ve never forgotten him. Once, I even tried to find him via the Internet to thank him, but he’s lost to me now. Truly, he gave me the greatest gift in my life. (179 words; first draft by Brad Hyde on March 9, 2005)

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