5 Tips for Writing Better

Writing is an important skill and kids are encouraged to write in their own words from a young age. Most young people learn go through training to do some descriptive writing in high school or in their undergrad years. The problem with writing is this – it appears easier that it actually is. A lot of people think it’s an easy job to write; cook up words together and throw in some punctuation. 

Photo by Artem Maltsev on Unsplash

Well, I would love a magical cauldron like that. Perhaps it could bubble on logs of knowledge and be made of an alloy of perseverance, patience and some ferrum(got to show off my Latin here!). I could have pantry staples like punctuation marks and grammar basics. Bags of grains/flours like words and legumes. White space could be my water. Other spices and herbs like phrases and proverbs. Articles could be by salt and sugar. I could pep it up with tangy emotions. I could go on and on, but my point is made I think. 

I would need a magical wand to wave. Perhaps the words would flow out and get served on my page. Fancy printer types. Or Harry Potter’s friend Ron’s mum type.

The Process of Writing

Writing is a process. 

Some start and just go on writing, till they reach the end. It’s like they had it written in their minds. 

There are others who research it and meticulously store it all in one place. As and when they progress they reference and write on. 

For many a writing prompt helps. A gentle nudge now and then gets them chugging on. 

Whatever the process, it is never easy. It is an exercise in creativity. It is even harder when you have to write something that you are not interested in, but have to, whatever be the reason. 

That is a challenge. So here are 5 writing tips which I think will help:

  1. Let the topic play around in the back of your mind. As and when you go about your day, let it simmer on the back burner, so to say. Throw in whatever pops into your head. Alternatively, sit and let your mind float free. When the first thought forms, jot it down. Then it’s like putting a garland together as other thoughts flow by. 
  2. Research the topic, read up other essays, and put all that you want into a document. Many students who need to write assignments do this. Once they gather the information, they find an interesting angle. Jot down interesting points and write an outline. This breaks down the topic into manageable chunks. 
  3. If you feel you need additional help, there are people who help you write better. They are like trainers, who shape your writing. Feedback is good, but Remember this rarely comes without an expense attached. Of course students might have access to free writing help(virtual or in-person) if their college has set up such a service in the writing center. 
  4. When you are really close to giving up, switch to doing something you are good at. Take a break. Read about how other successful writers reached their goal. (Keep the goals simple silly). If you are writing academic articles, take a break and write something frivolous. Play with your words. Have fun. Rejuvenate your mind.
  5. If you can get a spare of ears, nothing like it. Especially if they are empathetic. Read aloud and see if your work makes sense to them. When you read aloud, many things come into focus – flow, poor sentence construction, wrong choice of words, unending sentences and paragraphs, and a flatness to the text. 

You might not need all these tips. Some bits might help. Throughout our writing lives, we finetune our writing process. Even accomplished writers go to writing retreats and use additional help that might be available. 

Legendary poet and wit Dorothy Parker knew it made complete sense when she quipped, “Writing is the art of applying the ass to the seat.” It implies that we have to get to it and do this everyday. Sit and write. Sit and write. Sit and write. Well there are those who planted their feet firmly, stood and wrote, like Charles Dickens, Lewis Caroll and Hemingway.  Then I would say – stand firm and write. 

Use the tips others offer, but find what works for you. It’s not easy, but stay at it until you find it. 

Have a tip? Share it! 

 

How to study for AP English Language and Composition – 7 Useful Tips

“2015/365/19 It is Time to Write” by Alan Levine is licensed under CC0 1.0

As a high school student in America, taking an English class for four years is par for the course. And if you’re somebody who enjoys the subject, there’s good news for you. The AP English Language and Composition course lets you pursue college-level coursework and earn college credit in high school. Also, you won’t have to take too many English classes when you’re in college. Sounds like a good idea? Here is a comprehensive guide to help you prepare thoroughly for the exam and ace it. Keep reading!

First things first

The AP Language and Composition course is far more challenging than a regular high school English class and it’s nearly impossible to pass if you don’t know how to study for it.

The exam is not merely a test of your reading comprehension skills; it is an opportunity for students to develop skills such as rhetorical analysis, master the art of information synthesis and the ability to craft well written, logical arguments. You are expected to understand the various ways in which authors construct effective arguments, the tools they use to do so and learn how to use these tools to create analytical or persuasive essays of your own.

AP English Language and Composition Exam Format

The test consists of two parts: the first 60-minute section consists of 45 multiple-choice questions divided into five sets, each based on one or more passages. About 23-25 questions test students’ rhetorical skills, while the other 20-22 are composition questions where students are required to revise the given texts. The second 135-minute free response section starts with a 15-minute reading session, followed by 120 minutes of writing where students are required to write three analytical essays. You have about 40 minutes per essay but you can structure the allocated time as you wish. One essay requires students to synthesize a variety of texts to craft a logical, well-reasoned argument. One essay calls for a rhetorical analysis of a nonfiction passage. One essay should be an original argument in response to a prompt.

Study Tips for AP English Language and Composition 

  1. Gather your Material

The best way to start is to review works included in your course syllabus and those introduced by your instructor. Look for additional materials such as other works by authors included in your syllabus. Exploring genres such as opinion essays, famous speeches, classic arguments of Greek philosophers like Aristotle and Plato and op-ed pages of newspapers and news websites is likely to pay off too. Below are some free online resources to give you a head start:

AP Reading List

Free Essays, Term Papers, Research Paper, and Book Report

Top 100 Speeches of the 20th Century

2. Be Your Own Teacher

Making a 5 on the AP English Language and Composition exam largely depends on your ability to teach yourself the material. Your teacher does not have time to cover every last detail of the content in the hour or so they have every day. Moreover, there’s no guarantee you will grasp every concept you’re taught in the classroom. So when keeping up with the class becomes a daunting project, you have no option but to research the topic on your own. The internet has loads of explainer videos and articles that clarify difficult concepts; you only have to dig a bit to find whatever you’re looking for.

3. Take and Score Practice Tests

This will help you familiarize yourself with the material and scoring methodology. To get the most out of your practice tests, replicate the test conditions, set time limits and cut off access to supportive material. If you’re unable to complete a section within the allotted time, set it aside and return to it later. Try and keep the practice test conditions exactly as they would be for the actual exam. Take a break between sections to recharge yourself. Scoring the multiple-choice section is easy but you must examine your answers to help guide your study and to connect the question with the answer in order to reinforce the connection. It is important to maintain your objectivity while scoring your essays, but if you feel this is too difficult, consider asking a friend or instructor for help. To gain further insight into the scoring process, check out College Board Guidelines at

AP English Language and Composition Exam Scoring Guidelines, 2016

4. Avoid missing classes

It is very difficult to keep up with your AP course content if you miss a class. You are also likely to get behind on assignments, which is likely to add to your already high stress levels and have a significant impact on your understanding concepts that will be covered in the exam. Just showing up in class will pay off in the form of a better score in the end of the year exams.

5. Organise a Study Group

This is one of the most effective ways to study for the AP English Language and Composition exam. Each member of the group brings something new to the table; learning different points of view on the subjects covered in the exam will boost your knowledge and help you approach each question from different angles.

6. Try different review methods

Do you prefer to work in a group or alone? Try to recreate conditions in which you are able to review the material most successfully and vary review methods periodically. Mix up various study techniques to keep things interesting and prevent burnout. For instance, try using flashcards when memorizing vocabulary, then switch to another (such as summarizing essays) when tackling free response questions. Try and revisit content and identify areas that need more attention. Strengthen these areas with extra practice and ask your instructor or a friend for help if needed. Find a study partner who can help you focus on the subject and will provide moral support. Lastly, it is important to identify a place where you can study without distractions – try different rooms at home, or a coffee shop or the library.

7. Manage your stress

Studying for the AP English Language and Composition can be highly stressful. And feeling nervous is normal. But if your anxiety is making it difficult for you to focus and affecting on your overall performance, this is what you need to do to keep stress at a minimum:

Before the test

Eat a balanced diet throughout the year and make sure you’re well rested, especially in the week before the exam. Keep yourself hydrated to stay healthy and focused.

During the test

Many AP candidates experience intense feelings of stress and anxiety during the test. Use these time-tested relaxation techniques to get back on track:

  • Focus on positive thoughts
  • Pause and relax your body at regular intervals
  • Breathe deeply
  • Read the questions/instructions carefully
  • Answer the easy questions first, then go back to the ones you had trouble with when you have time
  • Treat stress as a stimulant and use it to spur you on, instead of allowing it to paralyse you

After the test

This is the moment you put the entire experience out of your mind. Instead of worrying about answers you cannot change, focus on productive strategies you can employ to get the best possible score in future.

Here is a useful resource for managing stress:

Overcoming Test Anxiety in High School

With a bit of foresight and planning, studying for AP English Language and Composition can be a lot easier than you thought.

 

How to Increase Parent Engagement in School – During COVID -19 and After

The United States has witnessed an unprecedented disruption of education due to widespread school closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. While most schools have elected to conduct online classes during this time, they must also take steps to ensure that parents remain as involved as ever in their child’s education. Educators have long been aware of the correlation between strong parental involvement and student success. And while schools cannot force parents to get involved in their child’s education, they can certainly encourage and facilitate it.

Parent Teacher Meeting

_D3N1034_fix_6x4_b” by Innovation_School is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Fortunately, we live in a digital age that offers a variety of tools to connect schools, parents and teachers, lockdown or no lockdown. Here are some innovative ways to spark (and maintain) parental involvement in school.

Embrace the internet

One of the best ways to promote parent engagement is to get parents to share their stories and experiences in a dedicated parent blog. This could be enhanced with social media presence and an event calendar that keeps busy parents in the loop. This encourages communication and forges connections between parents as they work with the school to create an online community. While Facebook groups are a popular social media platform for parent engagement, you could also try other outlets such as Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, basically whatever medium parents are most comfortable with.

Use social media to post links to your blog, calendar, announcements and other important information. Post pictures from your latest event (in a pre or post-COVID-19 world) on Instagram so parents can see what they missed and let them know how they can be more involved next time. With a large number of parents working from home during this time (and also spending time on social media sites), implementing a concerted social media outreach plan is bound to pay off. Remember – schools + online communication tools = greater parental involvement.

Another interesting (and underused) way of reaching out to parents is via online videos on your school website. Here, parents and teachers can exchange ideas, provide guidance and offer feedback about assignments or areas where a child may need extra help.

Parent Surveys

Parents are more likely to be involved in school if they feel their opinions are valued and their feedback can be surprisingly insightful. Send out parent surveys at regular intervals (beginning of the school year, after each quarter/semester). A good survey will generally contain a judicious mix of multiple-choice questions as well as free response questions that give parents the space to express their opinions. A short 5 or 6 question survey is enough to pique parents’ interest in important school decisions and spark a conversation in your online community. It could even make parents more involved in the outcome and prod them to attend meetings and be more involved in planning committees. Use services like Google Forms or SurveyMonkey to create and disseminate surveys; email, social media or the school website work well for outreach. Here are a few sample topics you can put in a parent survey: classroom goals/expectations, dates for school activities, methods of contact, volunteer opportunities for parents, concerns or suggestions, etc.

Do’s and Don’ts for Improving School-Parent Communication

  • Provide clear direction to teachers on which tools to and define protocols regarding communication with parents.
  • Keep communication brief but frequent to keep parents updated on a regular basis.
  • Offer parents the option to personalize the information they wish to receive as well as the method of delivery. This keeps all communication relevant and prevents information overload.
  • Provide actionable information that parents can use to support or prepare their child for class assignments, extra-curricular activities or special events.
  • Find opportunities to communicate positive news along with regular updates regarding homework assignments, daily schedules, upcoming events, etc.
  • Reach out to parents to share information about their child’s strengths and weaknesses, the kind of support system available to the child and any relevant information that may impact their behavior in the classroom.

To sum up, communication between schools and parents is the glue that helps bind (and nourish) a thriving school community, especially during these difficult times. While most schools in the U.S. had already embraced online methods of parental involvement (as opposed to twice-a-year PTA meetings), the current pandemic has forced schools to hastily adapt to the realities of social distancing and hand sanitizers.

How to Speak Like a Native – A Brief Guide to English Pronunciation

ESL

“Group Effort” by Dennis S. Hurd is licensed under CC0 1.0 

As an ESL teacher, I’ve encountered hundreds of students who mispronounced common English words despite having an extensive vocabulary and near-perfect grammar. That’s not really surprising, considering that English happens to be their second (or even third) language; what IS surprising is how many of them were completely unaware of the fact, despite being fluent English speakers and prolific writers. I’ve come to the conclusion that learning correct pronunciation is one of the toughest things about learning English as a second language. The good news is, you can teach yourself to speak like a native English speaker in ways that are efficient as well as budget-friendly. The not-so-good news is that it takes tons of time, patience and perseverance; there are no shortcuts to perfection. But as I always tell my students, there’s more in you than you think there is, so hang on long enough and you’ll get there sure enough. 

Tip No. 1 – Listen

If you want to achieve native proficiency in English without actually moving to England or the United States, you can do what so many actors do when a role demands fluency in a foreign language – listen carefully to recordings of native speakers, record your own imitation and compare both versions. Record yourself speaking sentences or reading paragraphs. Repeat this exercise, correcting your mistakes each time, until you’re able to imitate the original pronunciation and accent flawlessly. If possible, have a native speaker listen to your recordings to help you figure out the finer points of pronunciation. 

Listening to podcasts may be helpful here because you can listen to people speaking clearly and casually, just like they would in an everyday conversation. Add YouTube videos and free pronunciation apps for variety. Read a transcript of the podcast or video as you listen – this will help you connect the sounds to the letters. 

Tip No 2 – Write

And how exactly might writing help you improve your pronunciation? In my high school French classes, we had to take dictation; the teacher spoke for fifteen minutes and we had to listen carefully and write down exactly what she said. Trying to decipher her accent wasn’t easy but we wrote down what we thought we heard – this process helped me understand French spelling and pronunciation so much better. My ESL students say they used to be terrified of dictation but it has worked wonders for their language learning skills. 

Keep a notebook handy to write any English pronunciation problems you might have. Write out difficult words phonetically (by their sounds). If in doubt, ask others how they would say it. Make a list of words you have problems with and cross out the ones you’ve conquered. This will show you how much you’ve progressed with your pronunciation and is especially useful for visual learners. 

Make flashcards if you can. Write a word on one side and its phonetic spelling on the other. Underlining the stressed syllable(s) will be helpful here since English is a highly stressed language and learning the rules for stress is incredibly important for correct pronunciation.

Tip No. 3 – Speak

Practice your English in front of the mirror, speak to yourself at home, cultivate a language buddy, record your voice – in a nutshell, find ways to get over your nerves so you feel comfortable while speaking English with others. In my experience, nerves often lead to mispronunciation, undoing all the hard work you’ve put into learning the language. Practise speaking slowly and clearly for a few minutes everyday until you get accustomed to hearing yourself speak English. 

When it comes to learning a second language, pronunciation is as important as grammar and vocabulary. With diligent practice, the above tips will soon have you speaking English like a native!

Study tips and time management tips for working students! — Pink For Days

I thought I should do a post sharing my experience as a teacher, tutor and working student. I have learned a few things along the years, things that might be helpful to you, either if you’re still in high school or if you’re starting university or already there. Topic I – Revisions and notes in […]

via Study tips and time management tips for working students! — Pink For Days