Mechanics of Writing

Click here to print the UPDATED list of assignments and vocabulary for Spring 2020 following Feb. 6 cancellation.

Parts of Speech: Nouns and Subjects
Parts of Speech: Verbs
Parts of Speech: Pronouns
Parts of Speech: Modifiers
Parts of Speech: Verbals
Parts of Speech: Prepositions, Conjunctions, and Interjections
Types of Sentences and Basic Punctuation

Thursday, April 30

You have a VERY short lecture today as I review some details about “The Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy. Then, it’s time to take the final test! Normally, we’d do a practice test together in class and you’d take the final test next week, but all plans are out the door. What a weird spring it has been!

This week, 1) listen to the quick lecture, and 2) take the final test. The easiest thing for you to do is answer the questions in a new document (in Google Docs or Microsoft Word) and email me your answers. You could even answer them directly into an email, if that’s easier for you. However you get them to me, please make sure I have your test answers by Thursday, May 7.

Have a wonderful week! Miss you all!

Thursday, April 23

Hello 🙂 Today I review a few key things about “The Necklace” and explain what a tragic flaw is in literature. In keeping with the parable-theme, this week you’re reading “The Three Questions” by Leo Tolstoy. It’s your last short story of the semester, but if you are interested in reading more short stories, let me know. I’m happy to share them with you.

This week, 1) listen to the short lecture, 2) read “The Three Questions“, 3) write a short summary of the story to show you understand it and include your personal thoughts, and finally, 4) write one more short story in the genre of your choice. I’ve posted some writing prompts below in case you’re stumped!

  • There’s an urban legend about a cab that doesn’t take you where you want to go, but takes you where you need to go. One night, you step into this cab.
  • You can read minds. You’ve always had this gift. You’ve listened to people’s opinions and fears for most of your life. Then, one day, you catch someone staring at you from across the room and hear “Me too.” 
  • A woman runs a dog shelter. One day, a stray is dropped off at the front door by a strange man. She brought the dog inside and was immediately startled when he said, “I’m sorry, but I’m not supposed to be here.” 
  • The girl’s life changed the day she realized the monsters were there to help her, not hurt her.
  • You’re at a cafe by yourself when someone walks by and drops a napkin on your table. There’s writing on it. You pick it up and it reads: “Get out while you can.”

Send me your summary and short story by Wednesday, April 29. Have a WONDERFUL week 🙂

Thursday, April 16

*I’ll post information on Thursdays for the rest of the semester.*

Hey there! We’re SO CLOSE to being done with the school year! This week I briefly explain a few things about “There Will Come Soft Rains” and tell you about the next story you’re reading, “The Necklace.” It’s a little longer, but it’s a fun read that teaches a lesson.

This week, 1) listen to the quick recording, 2) read “The Necklace” and write a brief summary that includes your opinion of it, and 3) write a short story in the genre of your choice that teaches the reader (me!) a lesson. Email your summary and story to me by next Wednesday, April 22. Have a GREAT week! 🙂

Tuesday, April 7

Hi there! As always, I hope you’re well. The recording this week is fairly short, but I’m excited to assign your first creative writing assignment!

This week, 1) listen to the quick recording, 2) read “There Will Come Soft Rains” and write a brief summary that includes your opinion of it, and 3) write a short story with science fiction elements.

I’m not putting any restrictions or requirements on the short story. Just let the plot go where it wants to go. Go back and look at Freytag’s Pyramid from two weeks ago and try to fit in those puzzle pieces – exposition, rising action, a climax, etc., and be sure the story has a whiff of science fiction to it. Turn in your summary and short story by next Wednesday, April 15, via email. If you have questions along the way, please be in touch.

If you are stumped on how to start a short story, here are a few prompts that might get your creative juices flowing:

  • Three children are sitting on a log near a stream. One of them looks up at the sky and says…
  • You wake up on Saturday morning and walk into the bathroom. After rubbing your eyes and yawning, you look in the mirror to find a different face staring back at you. Your first thought is, “Who is that?” and your second thought is… 
  • Imagine yourself as a passenger on a bus. The bus driver announces “We’re here! Everyone off.” As the bus pulls away, you realize you don’t know where you are. 
  • Nothing good can come from a knock on the door at midnight. But I opened it anyway. Standing on my doorstep was…

Tuesday, March 31

Hi, everyone! I hope you all are well. I’ve recorded a quick lesson about “Autumntime”, which was assigned last week. (I expect to get summaries of that story in my inbox by tomorrow.) These are the key points I want students to hang onto:

  • what it means to “suspend our disbelief”
  • what a Cautionary Tale is
  • What an unreliable narrator is
  • the difference between Science Fiction and Fantasy (in terms of genre)

I also review the story through it’s plot points on Freytag’s Pyramid.

For homework this week, listen to the quick lecture I recorded. Then read “The Fun They Had” and write a quick 2-3 paragraph summary to show understanding and tell me what you thought about it. Email it to me by Wednesday, April 8. ALSO be thinking of an idea for your own science fiction or fantasy story! You’ll get that assignment next week 🙂

Stay well!

Tuesday, March 24

I hope you all are HEALTHY and enjoying extra time at home. Or, if you are going stir-crazy, I hope your creativity is sparked and you find fun ways to fill time.

This week we are starting Narrative Writing, and while storytelling is a creative form of writing, there is still a method to follow. In this week’s quick lecture, I explain what Freytag’s Pyramid is, along with conflict and complications.

Click here to access the audio file. It will open in a new window. Please let me know if you have trouble listening to it.

Homework: 1) Listen to the audio I’ve recorded and take notes on each element of Freytag’s Pyramid that I mention. 2) Read Autumntime 3) Type a 2-3 paragraph summary of the story and include your thoughts at the end. Did you like it or not? What parts did you enjoy? Email the story summary to me by Wednesday, April 1. Please be in touch if you have questions!

March 12

Today was a wash. With two students out for sickness, and one student still working on the home test (in class), I decided to postpone talking about narrative writing for after spring break. Everyone REST and STAY WELL over the break and I’ll see you in a few weeks! If you want to do some creative writing on your own time and send it to me for critique/editing, I’m happy to read your work 🙂

March 5

Today we continued working on descriptive writing and transitioning into storytelling (which we begin next week).

Homework: Complete the take-home test I handed out. Use the photo below to complete the descriptive writing section. This is a photo I took in Amsterdam in October 2018. It was nearing sunset and I was crossing over a canal. Be as descriptive as possible. Really consider all the senses. Put yourself on the bridge and daydream for a moment. Have fun with it!

Feb. 27

Today we continued working on descriptive writing – this time focusing on small things that feel even harder to describe! We brainstormed descriptive terms for a stuffed bunny that was in the classroom and the perfect slice of pizza. It can be incredibly challenging, as the students discovered.


  • Define and study vocab: feign, commonplace, besmirch, desultory, paradox
  • Write a paragraph or two describing your perfect slice of pizza. Don’t just list the ingredients! Be sure to describe what they look like, smell, and taste like. How are the ingredients scattered? How big are they in comparison to one another? Is grease pooling in the crevasses between the olives and the pepperoni? What about the crust? Refer to the pre-writing work we did in class. Add more to it if you need to.
  • Then, do the same exercise for a meal or dessert you enjoy this week. It can be a big Sunday dinner or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Whatever the dish, pay attention to all the tiny details. Then, do your best to describe everything in a paragraph or two.

Feb. 20

Today we worked on descriptive writing and used a sensory chart as a pre-writing exercise to brainstorm details. For the creative mind, this is a fun activity. For everyone else, it can be mentally exhausting! We’ll just keep working on it.


  • Define and study vocab: implicate, entity, hence, mechanism, transit
  • Write two descriptive paragraphs on the event or scene of your choice. Do the pre-writing exercise of mapping or listing sensory details first. You’re welcome to choose from the worksheet we used in class or come up with your own idea.

Feb. 13

Today we started our section on Descriptive writing with semantics and figurative language. (Click here to print out my notes.) There were a lot of notes to take, but some of this was review from things they learned in earlier grades.

Descriptive writing is all about including sensory details. It’s time to break loose from the stiff academic language! This will be easy and enjoyable for some, but it will be a hefty task for others. 🙂


  • Define and study vocab: consternation, squall, ensnare, obstinate, stature
  • Write two or three paragraphs on a topic of your choice using some of the elements we discussed today. Don’t go overboard with metaphors, alliteration, and personification, but do try to create a scene that captures the senses. Elevate your language! Use a thesaurus if you want to, but be careful not to just exchange one word for another. Consider rewriting the whole sentence if it’s flat and boring. For those who have trouble brainstorming a topic, feel free to use the one we discussed in class: Dollywood/Disney World/Tennessee Valley Fair on a hot and humid summer night.

Feb. 6

I have adjusted the assignment list to reflect our lost class day. Everything just shifts by one week. I’m not assigning extra work, so everyone can just enjoy the break or brush up on grammar 🙂

Jan. 30

Today we reviewed a few common things I see in students’ writing, such as avoiding filler words and comma misplacement. I also reviewed some editing marks so students can understand what I write on their paragraphs.

Also, I told everyone to please submit all writing in the following format: Times New Roman, 12 pt., double-spaced. This is the foundation of MLA format, so they might as well start getting used to it!

Homework: Please complete the test I sent home today. Students can use the groundwork we made today on “How to Choose and Care for a New Pet” as the written part of the test. However, if they want to write new compare/contrast or process paragraphs for the test, they can complete today’s process paragraphs for extra credit. It’s their choice!

Jan. 23

We continued working on Compare/Contrast by listing transitional words that help writers move more smoothly between points. Transitional words include: like, both, however, similarly, too, also, whereas, in the same way, on the other hand, alternately, etc. Using a variety of transitional words prevents writers from repeating the same

For example: Both veterinarians and medical doctors heal injuries and cure diseases. However, medical doctors treat only one species of patients, whereas veterinarians treat multiple species of patients.

We also listed transitional words for the Process writing model, which is literally what the word implies – a piece of writing that explains how something is made or accomplished. Transitional words for a Process include: first, second, third, next, then, after, finally, lastly, etc.

Together we wrote a paragraph on how to make a grilled cheese sandwich. We were sure to include a topic sentence:

It is easy to make a grilled cheese sandwich. First, heat the pan on medium and add a pat of butter. After the butter is melted, put two slices of cheddar cheese between two slices of bread and place it in the pan. Cook one side for a couple of minutes or until it is golden brown. Then, add another pat of butter to the pan and flip the sandwich. The grilled cheese sandwich is done when the other side is browned.

Finally, we brainstormed a Venn Diagram (in list form) for the similarities and differences between a wedding and a funeral. Here are the notes we made:

Wedding: a happy occasion, colorful clothes, months of planning, lots of potential locations (beach, church, elope), focus on a couple, happy music, honeymoons afterward, and lots of gifts

Funeral: a sad occasion, black/dark/muted clothes, short planning period, takes place in a funeral home or cemetery, focus on one person, somber music

Things in common: lots of food, lots of attendees, brings together families and friends, can be very expensive, music is played, flowers are on display, people usually wear formal clothes


  • Define and study vocab: occur, distribute, legislate, assume, theory
  • Write a paragraph on the process of your choice. Be sure to include transitional words as you move from one sentence to the next. Also be sure not to choose a topic that’s too big. Keep it short and simple.
  • Write two or three paragraphs comparing/contrasting a wedding and a funeral. If you think of more points than what’s listed above, feel free to include them. Be sure to use transitional words to create smooth transitions from one point to the next.
  • TYPE your paragraphs, if you are able. Thank you!

Jan. 16

Today we talked about Compare/Contrast as an expository writing model and illustrated the pre-writing phase with a Venn Diagram. We compared/contrasted medical doctors and veterinarians, and then students wrote three paragraphs that reported the main facts. I read everyone’s first draft in class, but they need to finish them this week at home. I always encourage students to read their work out loud. It will help them hear mistakes.

If you prefer and are able, you can email me the homework this week (and every week they have typed homework, actually). This will help our turn-around time for feedback and you don’t have to worry about printing them out.


  • Vocab: furtive, grueling, diminish, deft, restitution
  • Edit and type the medical doctor vs. veterinarian paragraphs
  • Choose one of the Compare/Contrast topics listed, draft a Venn Diagram as we did in class, and type three cohesive paragraphs. Be sure to write clear topic sentences. Choose from: 1) Tent Camping vs. Staying in a Hotel, 2) Flying on an Airplane vs. Traveling by Boat, 3) Living on a Farm vs. Living in an Urban Apartment

Jan. 9

Today we quickly reviewed expository writing, sentence structures, and how to write a paragraph according to the Sandwich Method. Then I handed out a sheet of information about our national symbols and students worked on writing one- or two-paragraph summaries. It’s a hard task for some, but it’s a good mental exercise to weed out impertinent information and only include what captures the essence of the story.

We will continue with writing exercises like these for the next few weeks. They’ll write in class with me there to help them, then they’ll write some more for homework. Please know that the work they turn in on Thursdays needs to be typed.

Homework for Jan. 16:

  • Define and study vocab: vigilant, peremptory, capricious, supercilious, pungent
  • Revise and type the paragraph(s) on national symbols that they started in class.
  • Read the handout on Abraham Lincoln and type a one- or two- paragraph summary. Keep to the third person, please.

Dec. 12

Whew! We made it. Everyone worked hard today on their tests and then we played Hangman. I will send grades at some point over the weekend since most of us have to forward them on to umbrella schools.

Thank you for the teacher gifts, and thank you for working so hard on grammar this semester! Rest well over the break and I’ll see you all in January 🙂

Dec. 5

Everyone took a practice test today in preparation for next week. We reviewed the answers together and walked through the diagrammed sentences. The final test next week will be longer than what students took today, but it will be similar in content and format. I really encourage everyone to study and review grammar this week. Let me know if you have questions!

Nov. 21

Today students took their last vocab quizzes and I handed back their third home test. Then we reviewed EVERYTHING from this semester, from all six types of nouns to the difference between connotation and denotation. We were casual about it, and I was pleased to see how much they’ve retained!

When we return on Dec. 5, they’ll take a practice test (no notes) which we’ll review in class together. This will serve as one last review session before the in-class test on Dec. 12 (again, no notes). This final test isn’t a huge part of their grade. It counts the same as the previous three, so please reassure your kiddos that there is no need to stress!

When we return for the spring semester, we’ll get back to expository writing, a little persuasive writing, and then narrative and descriptive. If you have a creative writer itching to tell a story, he/she will get the opportunity.

There is no homework over Thanksgiving break, but it wouldn’t hurt to review all the notes I’ve linked above in the yellow box. Just in case 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving

Nov. 14

Today we discussed the difference between denotation (the literal meaning of a word) and connotation (the emotional meaning behind a word). For example, some words have a neutral meaning, such as group. However, saying team has a positive connotation because it presents an emotional image of teamwork and camaraderie. On the other hand, the word clique presents a negative image of the original word, group.

We also continued workshopping the topic sentences from three weeks ago. Then I handed out the homework that is due Dec. 5. It’s a five-page packet of commonly misused words. Students need to draft sentences using each word properly.


  • Define and study vocabulary (these are our last words of the semester): scurry, vigilant, translucent, swarm, repugnant
  • Start working on the Commonly Misused Words packet. Turn it in Thursday, Dec. 5.

Nov. 7

Today we workshopped their topic sentences into paragraphs using the Sandwich Method. We will continue working on them next week, so be sure to keep those pages tucked in notebooks!

I sent home the third Home Test, which is open book as usual. If your student loses a copy, be in touch and I’ll email it to you.

Homework: Complete the Home Test and return it to me in class next week.

Oct. 31

Yesterday we talked about topic sentences and their place in an academic paragraph. I explained that these guidelines apply to academic writing – expository and persuasive writing – not descriptive and narrative works. We’ll get to creative writing in the spring. Right now, we’re focusing on the tedious work of how to draft sentences and paragraphs that inform or persuade.

A topic sentence introduces the reader to the information coming ahead, and there are generally five types or ways to write a topic sentence:

1. List Statement: A list statement tells the reader exactly what the paragraph will be about by listing the three-star ideas. For example: My favorite sports include soccer, football, and racing.

2. Power Number Statement: Power Number Statements do not tell the readers each of the star ideas but use number words (many, few, a number of, four…) to present the general topic. For example: There are several reasons why the Green Bay Packers can make it to the playoffs.

3. Two Nouns and Two Commas: Two Nouns and Two Commas always starts with a noun (a person, place, or thing), describes it, and then makes a statement about it (an appositive). The description part of the sentence is surrounded by commas (one before the description, and one after it). For example: The Green Bay Packers, my favorite team, could make it to the playoffs.

4. Occasion Position: Occasion Position topic sentences start with an occasion (a dependent clause) and use words like when, whenever, although, even though, and they end with the writer’s position on the topic (an independent clause). For example: Whenever I cheer for a football team, I root for the Green Bay Packers.

5. Get the Reader’s Attention: These topic sentences try to grab the reader’s attention by making a declarative statement that is thought-provoking, controversial, or interesting. For example: The Green Bay Packers is the best football franchise in the NFL.

All of this should be in their notes, but I posted it here just in case. We also talked about the Sandwich Method for drafting paragraphs, which we’ll dig into further next week.


  • Define and study vocab: concoction, bluff, hasten, outlandish, recuperate
  • Write ten topic sentencestwo sentences for each type listed above. They can be about whatever subject you choose, but make sure the subject is interesting enough to you. We’ll use these sentences as starting points for drafting paragraphs next week. (If handwriting is an issue, please type the sentences.)

Oct. 24

I can’t tell you how thrilled everyone was today when they learned they wouldn’t be taking notes the entire class time! There was an audible relief that swept the room! I told them the section with parts of speech was intense, but I promised there is a method to my madness!

Today we worked through sentences that were awkward in various ways – disjointed, misplaced modifiers, run-ons, etc. We talked about how our ears are just as reliable as our eyes when it comes to writing, which is why I ALWAYS recommend they read their work out loud! It’s a habit I still have today as a journalist. Sometimes we know a sentence is awkward, even if we can’t define why it’s awkward.

That being said, there is no one perfect way to rewrite an awkward sentence, so everyone took turns sharing what they wrote. Some students tried fixing run-ons by making new run-ons, but it’s all a work in progress. We will spend the rest of the semester working on it.


Oct. 17

So, some students really struggled on the second test, which tells me the following: 

  • Some students have test anxiety and struggle to manage the pressure of an in-class test, or
  • Some students 1) don’t take coherent notes, or 2) don’t have my own notes printed off from the class page and tucked inside their notebooks, or
  • Grammar just isn’t their thing! (Totally understandable! We are a weird bunch, so I get it!)

In an attempt to boost confidence and reinforce the seeds that have been planted so far, I sent home an extra credit worksheet that your student is welcome to do. It’s not required, of course. Not everyone is struggling and needs to do extra busy work. However, it may be helpful to reinforce the things we just covered.

We spent the entire class time today reviewing the things we learned in the first half of the semester in preparation for writing. Since I don’t know where everyone is writing-wise, the homework for this week is their first writing assignment (in addition to vocabulary and, if necessary, the extra credit). Please do not overly help your student complete this work. Of course, help them understand what’s required, maybe brainstorm ideas with them, but don’t sit down and help them write. I really need to see what each student understands about subject-verb agreement, sentence structure, and so on. This will help me plan well for the rest of the semester. 

Let me know if you have any questions!


  • Define and study vocab: illuminate, exasperation, cunning, dispel, malleable
  • Write (or type, if you prefer) two paragraphs with varied sentence structures based on the examples and suggestions provided (we covered sentence structure on Sept. 26, so it’s not brand new info). Complete the extra credit worksheet too, if desired. I handed out the assignments in class, but here they are just in case: Homework – – – Extra Credit

Oct. 3

Today students took their second tests in class. A few chose to finish them at home, which is completely fine. When we return from fall break, we’ll spend some time reviewing the first eight weeks but then we’ll move on to building strong sentences. The writing portion of this class will begin! 

Speaking of, I am happy to accept handwritten writing homework, though I know (from personal experience) that not all handwriting was created equal. If your student has particularly tough handwriting, or if he/she is an exceptional typer, I am happy to accept typed homework. That will eventually become a requirement, but not yet. I just wanted everyone to know that’s an option.   

Have a wonderful fall break!

Sept. 26

Today we talked about the four types of sentences and sentence structures, which seemed to be review for most of the class. (It was at least somewhat familiar.) We also reviewed diagramming.

PLEASE NOTE: I made a change in the syllabus so that there will be no homework over fall break.

Instead of sending home a test on Oct. 3, I decided they can take the test in class with their notes. (Updated syllabus is here.) To help your student be more prepared, print off the notes I have linked above in the yellow box. They may use them to complete the test. If your student has test anxiety and cannot finish the test during class, he/she can take it home and bring it back when we resume classes on Oct. 17.

Let me know if you have questions!


  • Define and study vocab: deviate, qualitative, albeit, mediate, coincide
  • I handed out the homework for this week, so your student should have it in his/her folder! (If it got lost, click here.)

Sept. 19

Today we covered the last few parts of speech (whew!) and then practiced diagramming. For our last two class meetings prior to Fall Break, we’ll talk about types of sentences and passive/active language. The first part of the fall semester feels tiresome, but we’ll just keep reviewing everything as we move onto writing.


Sept. 12

Today we talked about verbals (linked above in the yellow box), which are tricky little verbs that function as other parts of speech. Then we dug into diagramming simple sentences, which I could tell was a wee bit overwhelming. When it comes to the homework, please have the student do his/her best – take a stab at it, really – and we’ll go over it together in class next week. Don’t stress!


  • Define and study these words: defiance, egregious, jostle, pertinent, recluse
  • Print and complete this worksheet on verbals and diagramming. Again, no stressing allowed! 🙂

Sept. 5

Today we went over modifiers (adverbs and adjectives), which I’ve linked above in the yellow box. Now it’s time for the first home test! There’s no vocabulary, and the test is open notes. Please let me know if you have any questions!

Homework: Home Test 1

August 29

Today we muscled through six types of subject and object pronouns! (My notes are linked above in the yellow box if you’d like to print them out.) Everyone is doing a great job trying to keep up, but I suggested that if taking notes in class leaves them feeling jumbled, sometimes re-writing the notes neater and more organized at home is helpful. I know that sounds like a punishment, but it’s not! Transcribing is a powerful tool for memorization. If your student’s notes look like a hot mess, maybe it would be a good idea to re-write them this week.

We are nearing the first home test, which is open notes, so keep that in mind.


August 22

Today we talked about verbs – transitive, intransitive, linking, and helping. We also talked about Direct and Indirect Objects. It seemed daunting for some, but don’t despair! We will keep reviewing until those things are locked in.

Parents – if you want to use my personal notes to help your student, I’ve linked them above in a yellow box.


August 15

Everyone muscled through his/her first day of hardcore note-taking! We covered the eight Parts of Speech, then focused on the various types/cases of nouns with examples for each one. We finished with subjects and what the baseline looks like for a diagrammed sentence.

As I explained in class, my goal is to have 30-35 minutes of instruction and note-taking, 15-20 minutes of practice on paper or at the board, and then spend last few minutes on Plexers. Taking notes is imperative since the homework and take-home tests are open notes. Plus, all that repetition is key for driving home the rules of grammar.


  • Define the following words in preparation for a vocabulary quiz: apprehensive, conspicuous, momentum, precipice, kindle
  • Print and complete this worksheet to turn in next week.