The following information is reprinted from my book, Teaching English, How To…. (Xlibris, 2004).
Question: How can teachers help students learn to correct basic mistakes in grammar and to use Standard Written English?
Answer: Ten-Minute Essays
How I Used Ten-Minute Essays to Demonstrate Standard Written English.
Contractions: I changed contractions into complete words.
“There” and “It”: I replaced “There” with the actual subject of the sentence. “There are six ingredients in this salad.” “This salad contains six ingredients.” (Use of “There” as the first word in the sentence also leads to grammatical mistakes as in “There is six ingredients in this salad.”) I also avoided beginning a sentence with “It”:”It was a great achievement.” “His achievement was truly outstanding.”
Needless Repetition: I eliminated needless repetition of words and expressions. I demonstrated three methods for “tightening” students’ expression: Sometimes dropping one of the words worked. Sometimes substituting a synonym worked. Usually re-writing the sentence was the best method for eliminating unnecessarily repeated words. By the way, needless repetition is one of the hallmarks of conversational writing.
Demonstrative Pronouns: I demonstrated how to provide clear references to the demonstrative pronoun, “this,” “that,” “these,” and “those.” For example: “The team members worked hard to improve their foul shooting. This practice helped them to make more than 70% of their free throws.”
“Thing” and “Get:” I substituted specific nouns for “thing” and more precise verbs for “get,” “getting,” and “got.”
Parallel Structure: What occurs on one side of the coordinate conjunction must also occur on the other side of the conjunction. “He likes to hunt and fishing.” Corrected: “He likes hunting and fishing.” “He likes to hunt and to fish.”
Dangling Modifier: “Coming home, the steps tripped him up.” Corrected: “Coming home, he tripped on the steps.” In the dangling modifier, the subject appears to be “the steps.” The steps were not coming home; he was.
Misplaced Modifier: “Ms. Smith, the explorer, described her trips through the jungle in our social studies class.” Corrected: “In our social studies class, Ms. Smith, the explorer, described her trips through the jungle.” Place the modifier as closely as possible to the word being modified.
Active vs. Passive Voice: I encouraged use of the active vs. passive voice. Instead of “It has been decided that all employees will be administered drug tests.” Mr. Jones, the CEO of the company, has directed the medical staff to administer drug tests to all employees.” “It has been decided….” hides the person or persons responsible for the decision. Also, the active voice is simply more direct and clear.
Why Demonstrate Standard Written English?
The purpose of this approach to the ten-minute essay was not to eliminate conversational use of language in writing. Conversational English has its advantages. An informal style invites the reader to join the writer in a somewhat intimate partnership. The purpose of the second round of 10-minute essays was to make students aware of how to write formal Standard English. I wanted to prepare students for the times they would need to use Standard Written English. The purpose of Standard Written English is clear, precise expression.
During the three weeks in which I used the ten-minute essay, the students wrote during the first ten minutes of class. Involving students immediately at the beginning of class settles them down and puts them immediately to work. The ten-minute essay helped students to form the habit of writing. In the first three weeks, I focused on basic skills in sentence structure, usage and punctuation. In the second cycle of three weeks, they learned to distinguish between informal and formal Standard Written English. Inevitably, the mistakes or the characteristics of informal English occurred less frequently and often not at all. The students said that they gained confidence in their writing from this exercise.
Was all that effort worthwhile? Absolutely. RayS.