(Apologies for not getting this up till today. I had some computer problems last night.)

Here are the notes from today’s class:

  • We began by covering basic sentence structure, identifying parts of speech and explaining their role in a sentence.
    • We briefly reviewed the difference between fragments (incomplete clauses lacking a subject or verb), run-on sentences (single sentences with clause piled on clause), and correctly written sentences.
    • We talked about how to break up run-on sentences by breaking them up into separate sentences or finding other ways of breaking them, such as introducing conjunctions or using semicolons.
  • From here, we covered a few particular problem areas I noticed in this week’s responses:
    • Here we briefly mentioned run-on sentences initially.
    • Then we looked at subject-verb agreement and verb tenses.
    • Finally, we talked about the dangers of leaning too heavily on “to be” verbs. If you can express the same idea by saying “He was running to the store” or “he ran to the store,” you should use the latter because it is a tighter sentence with stronger verbs.
  • I recommended a few practices to help you with your responses:
    • First, read your responses out loud after you are done. If you find yourself needing to stop and take a breath in order to get through the sentence, that means the sentence is too long. Break it up into something more manageable.
    • Second, review the response for any “to be” verbs (is, are, was, were, etc.) and see if there’s a way of changing the sentence to use a more active verb.
    • Third, avoid phrases like, “I think,” or “I believe.” It is your response. I assume it is what you think or feel. Just get to the argument. Instead of, “It seems to me that Wilson thinks…” just say “Wilson thinks…”

We will not meet the next two weeks. Next week is Labor Day. The week after I will be in Seattle on a work trip. So do not turn in anything this Friday. Instead, turn in your response to this week’s reading on Friday, September 9 by noon. I will grade and return digital copies to you via email or Google Docs by September 12. For class on September 19, read The Lost Bet by Wendell Berry. I will get the document and prompts uploaded later this week.

For next week’s response, answer one of the three prompts:

  • We talked about how Tolkien is able to use relatively simple, accessible sentences to create a world that readers find compelling and interesting even as he writes in a style accessible to children. Identify specific sentences Tolkien uses that, though relatively simple, manage to tell you a great deal about Bilbo and his home.
  • One thing we talked about in class is that writing shouldn’t psych us out or frighten us because at root it is simply communication with words–written words rather than spoken, but words all the same. Indeed, much of the best writing mimics the way that we talk. Think of a place that you especially love–it could be your bedroom, your grandparent’s house, or somewhere else entirely–and write a 500 word description of it. Identify the details that tell me more about the place. In our reading, we learn a ton about Bilbo just from the fact that he has multiple wardrobes and pantries. Find similar details about this place. Paint a picture of it for me using reasonably simple sentences. Use Tolkien as a guide if you aren’t sure how to do this.
  • Do the same exercise above, but for a person instead of a place. Note how Tolkien introduces Gandalf here. He introduces him as if we already know him, he says that if we know only a quarter of what he’s heard we’ll be quite impressed. These sorts of descriptions tell us a great deal about Gandalf without actually telling us much at all. We don’t know what sort of person he is or why he is famous; we just know he does amazing things and that he’s known enough in Bilbo’s world that he can be introduced simply as Gandalf. We learn more about him through his conversation with Bilbo. Write a 500 word description of a friend, relative, or teacher modeled after Tolkien’s description of Gandalf. Specifically, do this without the use of any “to be” verbs.