I came across the video below in my Facebook feed when a college acquaintance posted. Perhaps you’ve seen it, but if you haven’t, it’s worth taking a minute or so to watch (note: may be blocked at school).
Pretty cool, huh? The video reminded me of the Franklin Institute brain exhibit, a favorite of my boys, which includes a walk through a small city street lined with one optical illusion after another. You can find more optical illusions (and some explanations) here.
Of course, as an English teacher, I immediately thought about how important perspective is in each of these illusions. For example, by simply changing your vantage point as a viewer, the puzzles in the example above take entirely new meanings.
Perspective is important in writing, too. When we work in peer response groups, we listen for the perspectives of our peers. Last week, when we reviewed our introductions, we asked for the points-of-view of other readers through our “question flood” activity. When many of you gave me feedback about my introduction, it was both fascinating and instructive to hear what you—as readers—were thinking and wondering about.
Thus, this is an essential skill—as a writer, it is imperative to be able to read your work as a potential reader would. Remember the mantra: Read like a Writer, Write like a Reader. Certainly we don’t want to write for our readers—or worse, to pander to them—but we do want to keep in mind what and how we are communicating to others.
As you revise our personal history essay, consider getting some additional perspective as you work toward your final draft. Technology makes it easy for us to share our documents with others: share your essay with a trusted friend(s), someone who you know will give you honest feedback.
FIRST, ASK A FRIEND. Get and give some peer feedback. And as a reader of someone else’s essay, help the writer revise by asking questions (like we did for the intro). Tell the writer what works/doesn’t work. Be critical—criticism means to read closely—but always constructive.
SECOND, THINK SIX TRAITS.
- Where do you need to add more support for your content and ideas? Where can you be more specific in those ideas? Look at your nouns (people, places, things) and ask yourself if you can make them more concrete and visual by making them more specific. Remember Atwell’s “Rule about a Pebble.”
- How are your ideas organized? Look at your essay lead. Use the quarter-sheet checklist from your notebook to see if you can improve it. Review your conclusion. Some conclusions tell; others show. Which does yours do? Can the alternative be better? Try an echo ending if it works. Look at each paragraph—do you need a paragraph break somewhere? How does each paragraph begin? End? Beginnings and endings are the most important places in paragraphs; use this knowledge to your advantage.
- Does your voice come through? Read the essay aloud to yourself and listen to the pacing, rhythm, and music of your sentences. Look for parallel structure—whether that’s in a list or in an anaphora—to bring your voice alive.
- Are your words specific, concrete, original? It’s less important to sound like a thesaurus and more important to know what you’re actually saying. Use words whose connotation fit what you are trying to say. Replace “meh” verbs with sharp, focused verbs (remember that you don’t need adverbs if your verbs are precise).
- Review your sentence patterns—short, long, periodic, cumulative, dramatically short sentence or paragraph? Where are the most important ideas within your sentences? Look for a sentence that has a conjunction (and, but, etc.) and see if you can reorder to make the more important ideas stand out. Look for sentences that have dependent clauses. Remember that most important information is in the independent clause.
- And finally, conventions! Take advantage of your new and emerging knowledge of the semi-colon, em-dash, and colon! It’s probably worth walking through that Prezi I reviewed in class many weeks ago, too.
THIRD, USE ONLINE TOOLS. There are certain things that only an IRL reader can do, whether that IRL reader is you or someone you’ve asked to review your writing. For example, only an IRL reader can see that you need to add or replace a generic anecdote with a livelier one.
However, here are two digital tools that I think are worth your time and consideration. Notice the types of information (data) about your writing that these two tools offer.
A caveat: As with IRL feedback, remember that you are the author and have the authority to change your writing as you see fit. But make those changes informed changes (or informed not-changes). For example ProWritingAid may alert you to too many long sentences. We know that there is nothing inherently wrong with long sentences. Do they have a tendency to be wordier? Sure. That’s why they may need a closer look: weed through your sentences if weeding is necessary. Avoid redundancy. On the other hand, sometimes a long sentence is simply just long—and perfectly so.
FINAL ESSAY DUE MONDAY, 2/29 (happy birthday to me!)
For extra credit, see if you can format your essay “magazine” style (like mine here). Steps/Tips: 1) Use 1/2 inch margins, 2) Single-space, 3) Choose the right font and then decrease font size (have you seen those magazines?), 4) Create columns, 5) Insert images, and 6) Insert drop caps. You can do this all in the desktop version of Microsoft Word (online programs like Word Online and Google Docs not as powerful).
Otherwise, format the essay the same way we formatted the “On” essays (no MLA heading, revised author’s note at end).