From Struggling Writer to Solid Writer and Beyond

As an English teacher, I have a strategy that usually works for struggling and reluctant writers. If they claim to not be able to write something, I ask them to tell me the story or response to address the prompt. Then, after they tell me a sentence or two, I repeat it back to a student and tell him to write it down. Kid says,

Messy Subjects and Verbs

This morning, as I worked with my kids at school, I realized just how often subjects and verbs get complicated and mismatched. This happens most frequently when you have more than one noun in the subject in the sentence. Consider the following: One of the boys jump over the fence. One of the boys jumps over the fence. Which one is correct? Let’s dissect them

Idiotic Idioms

While we all love a good colloquialism, there is most certainly too much of a good thing at times. Idioms, or those charming expressions that don’t make any sense to anyone outside of your area, can be overused. We’ve done a bit on the more offensive and odd slang in the (American) English language, but there are plenty of more polite, if occasionally idiotic, expressions

Yay! It’s Yeah and Yea!

This is driving me crazy. I just got an email with the subject, “Yeah a Birthday Baby is Born”. I’m not sure the sender (who is not known for her grammatical prowess) meant to sound as sarcastic as the teenagers we teach, but to someone who knows the difference between “yeah”, “yea” and “yay”, she did. And just what is the difference? If you don’t

Organization in Writing: A Lost Art

Remember the days of the five-paragraph essay? We started in elementary school learning about topic sentences and then main ideas. We threw in some supporting details, restated that topic statement and rounded that paper out. It was clean, it was simple, and yet it is fast becoming a relic we need to bring back! When you’re learning to write in a different language or looking

Help! I Is Missing Again!

At lunch the other day, a group of English teachers were laughing about some of the things we find funny in student papers. Note that we weren’t laughing at students, but at how often we see the same mistakes, and one of the funniest is that we often have no idea who is writing a paper. I fully understand why this would only be funny

The Six Biggies in Writing

There are six key strategies I teach students as they improve their basic writing skills. As a writer, it’s interesting to me how well these six elements still translate to improving my work at a professional level. When you’re paying attention to these areas of your work, you’ll start to see ways to tweak your work to make it more readable. Learning more about how

Slang and Other Nonsense in the English Language

There was a request in the comments of a previous post about understanding and using more idioms in the English language. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to dig into some of the slang and other odious expressions we bandy about – you know, the crap we say – or the words we speak that really don’t make much sense. A quick warning – if

Using Academic Language to Improve English

There is a strong correlation between how well you know your native language and how well you can write in English – at least formally. In essence, being highly educated in one language will make it far easier to become proficient in the English language. The root of this is the academic language that is surprisingly common throughout the world languages. Take the word “academic”:

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here!

Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here. Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, got some adverbs here. Come on down to Lolly’s, get the adverbs here! I’ll admit I’ve used it in the classroom more than a few times although I don’t know how much good Schoolhouse Rock really does to teach teenagers anything about the parts of speech. Don’t know what I’m talking about when I refer

Pronouns, Antecedents and Other Quirks

Here’s one you don’t think about all the time – do your pronouns match your antecedents? Consider the following sentence I used today in class: The squirrel attacked him, and he was frightened. Yes, yes – the old attacking squirrel trick. Subject aside, the pronouns are words like him and he. The antecedent in this case is the squirrel or an anonymous him. That’s the

Everyone Get Their Red Pen – This Is a Big One!

It’s easy to get frustrated with the complexities of the English language, especially when it becomes clear that many native speakers still struggle with certain words and phrases. How is a non-native speaker supposed to handle herself with the language when the supposed experts can’t? So native and non-native English speakers alike – be aware of this (very) common usage problems: “Their” means MORE than

Red Flags for ESL Writers

Those writers who speak English as their second (or third, or fourth) language can come from any country, culture or background, so everyone experiences different sorts of issues in their writing that stand out to native audiences. Believe me, the natives aren’t perfect either. Understand, of course, that native audiences aren’t always right, and they certainly aren’t perfect, but if you’re working for US-based clients

ESL Discrimination: Real or Ridiculous?

Non-native writers face discrimination online. Much of this negativity come for failing to write English “properly” – at least according to prospective clients. Looking been around various forums and markets, I’ve come across more than a few exclusionary advertisements about “native English speakers only” and such. Is there a reason so many jobs are asking for native English speakers only? Absolutely – and I’ll tell

Want to Improve Your English? Please Skip MTV

It’s a joke on too many shows these days that the alien or the foreigner learns English by watching MTV or the equivalent. It might have been marginally funny the first time, but it’s way past time for that joke to be over, and the underlying message is actually rather dangerous for those who are trying to sound like professionals. It’s hard to learn real

Simple Sentence Basics for ESL Writers

If you’re looking for an easy way to dress up your writing and to improve its readability in English, your sentences likely hold the answer. The fluent reader chunks text as she reads. This means that sentences should flow naturally as she’s reading and be easy to put together into sections or phrases. If the sentences are malformed or worded unnaturally, they become a challenge