Category Archives: Language Arts

“Who Decides the News?” and Why it is Important for Readers to Understand This

Tragic news about the site moderator.

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Better Your Writing: Step 3 Map out the Topic – Outline

So, for the past couple weeks you have been writing to your heart’s content and at the same time exponentially increasing your terminology for everything in your environment.  Awesome!  I am sure you have strung together sentences with words you never imagined you can join. And I hope you continue to let that writing fire burn.

However, now it is time to switch gears from using the creative right side of your brain to the more logical left side of your brain– but don’t worry, your creative self will still need to make an appearance every now and again.

The first action you want to take is to look through your journal and decide which entry inspires you the most, or fills you with passion, rage, bewilderment, etc.  The more emotion you feel, the more likely you will have something to say.  Now try to peer at your page with more “logical” eyes and answer the following question.  What is this entry about?  What do I want to say about this topic?  Did I already give examples for my point in my journal?  Are there more examples I want to add? Who will care about this? What is the purpose of this writing? (Do you want to give your opinion, educate or persuade the audience?)

After answering these questions, you should have enough information to quickly plan the basic information that will be included in your introduction paragraph, and body paragraphs (one body paragraph for each example provided).  To quickly plan your your basic information, create a graphic organizer:

On the top of one page draw a large rectangle and label it, “Introduction”.   Inside the rectangle, write what your topic is and why it is important or what your call to action, argument or opinion is.

In the middle of your paper, draw a second large rectangle and label it, “Body Paragraphs”.   Number each piece of evidence you have as you list it in the body paragraphs box.  Each piece of evidence will be the focus of that body paragraph.

The purpose of this is to simply serve as a road map while you are writing your paper. You may still need to do more research to find the answers you need to make your argument compelling.  Once all of this information is collected you can begin fully drafting.  In the meantime, you can use your graphic organizer as a guide for what research needs to be done.

Good Luck!!

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Better Your Writing: Step 2 Build Your Vocabulary

What makes for effective writing is the combination of a well thought out point with an attention-grabbing delivery.  Sentence variety plays a major role in that and one of the many ways to create a variety of sentences is to include a broad sampling of vocabulary.  The best way to obtain the knowledge of a broad sampling of vocabulary is to make a conscience effort to learn and incorporate new words into your daily speech.  There are several strategies to go about accomplishing this:

  1. Start with what you know.   Find synonyms to replace words you already use on a daily basis.  To do this for free, simply go to and search for words you use regularly. For example, I looked up the word “argue” and found this list:   Now instead of saying, “Kids, don’t argue with each other.” I am going to say , “Kids don’t contend with each other.”   I feel smarter already.  For those with a little to “invest” in vocabulary expansion, there is software available and rated on
  2. Be proactive when you don’t understand. When you are reading or listening to something new and you see or hear a word you don’t understand, be sure to make a note of it in your journal or reading log.  Before looking up the word, try to figure out what the word is referring to in the way it is used in the sentence.  Once you have meditated on the possible meaning, look it up and compare how close or far off you were from figuring it out.
  3. Compare word meanings. Sometimes the same word can be used to mean different things.  Familiarize yourself with all of the definitions of a particular word and be sure to use them in speech or writing.

All of this may seem very time consuming, but the truth of the matter is activities like this shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes a day and should be incorporated into any time you set aside for yourself to read and write.

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Better Your Writing: Step 1 Journal Writing

In my last post, I left off with challenging my readers to purposefully work on building their writing skills.  But then it dawned on me that perhaps I should clue you in on the steps you can take to become a better writer.  The first tip I would like to share, in all honesty, has been repeated by English teachers and writing coaches a like for many years.  And even though I would classify this as a cliche, if it were possible to classify actions as cliches the way one would an over-used phrase, I still think this activity is the number one way to get your writing juices flowing and therefore build on your writing skills. This number one activity is: keeping a journal.

This is not the “Dear Diary” of your younger years where you reveal your crush or some other deep secret that would be horrifying to make known to anyone else but your diary -though it could be used for that purpose if you wish.  You want to use this journal to explore all things that inspire you to think.  Did you just read something in the local newspaper that irritates you? Write about it.  Did you just watch your child play with other children and it reminded you of a time when you were younger?  Explore the memory in your journal.  Did you just read something in a novel that reminded you of something that happens in your life?  Investigate the connection in your journal.  Don’t have any thoughts fighting their way out of your mind? Simply take some time to free write and let your stream of consciousness take over.  What does that mean?  It means to simply write down what is coming to your mind, whether it makes sense or not.  For example:

The road we took to get here was so bumpy.  It kind of reminded me of the way you bump through El Torro at Great Adventure.  I wonder what kind of safety measures they take to make it safe.  They have a lot of rides, that is a lot of safety measures!  How many people would they need to inspect all the rides?  Is there some sort of national council on ride safety measures?  Do all ride safety measure workers have to be certified?  Do they pay for the certification or does their company pay for it?   How would you even break into a field like this. Some fields aren’t easy to break into.  My uncle waited for 3 years to get called into the electrical union, IBEW.  Electrician is a high demand.  I wonder what other jobs are in high demand?

As you can see, my main concern when I was writing the preceding paragraph was that I was getting out the ideas in my head.  I have punctuation, pronoun and subject-verb agreement errors through out the paragraph.  But, in stream of consciousness and journal writing, the adherence to grammar rules in not the main concern.  Just focus on letting your thoughts out.

Rules of Journal Writing:

  1. Spend at least 10 minutes a day 2-3 times a week.  Obviously the more practice you have the better you will get, but you don’t want writing to become a chore for you at the same time.  Do what is comfortable for you, but this basic amount of writing will get you on the right track.
  2. Just like when you are writing with your stream of consciousness, don’t worry about grammar.
  3. The purpose of journal writing is to explore your thoughts, but if you are having trouble coming up with something to write, start off using writing prompts. (Some examples are listed below.)  Eventually, if you keep at it, you won’t need prompts.
  4. Don’t give up.  Once you start, stick with your writing schedule!
  5. Analyze.  After some time you will want to review everything you have written and take notice of your improvement.  Are your sentences getting longer? Are you entries getting longer?  Are you  producing more thoughts? Are your thoughts going deeper than scratching surface topics? Do you find yourself writing for a longer period of time than you schedule?  Have you come up with solutions to problems?  Take the time to notice where you have improved.
  6. Congratulate yourself on a job well done.  Through your own sheer drive and determination, you took the steps necessary to better your writing skills, by yourself.

Writing Prompts:

  • “The three best things that happened to me today?”
  • “The three things I encountered today that I didn’t like and my solutions to change them”
  • “Today I am happy because…”
  • “Today I am angry because….”
  • “Where is a ____ when you need it?”
  • “I really wanted to _____ but I changed my mind.”

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Chapter 13

How does the author describe Lincoln’s night before?

Which players did Lincoln hangout with after the game? Where did they go?

Why do you think Tony was quiet at first?

What did Tony tell Lincoln about the TV from the thrift shop?  Based on this, do you think Tony was ever rally mad at Lincoln?

What plans did Lincoln and Tony make?

How did the phone call go with Monica?

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Filed under Summer Reading Reading Guides, Taking Sides Gary Soto

Chapter 12

What was Lincoln trying to communicate to his mom? Was he successful?

Why did Lincoln carry a framed picture with him from the bathroom to the kitchen?

What did Bukouski address Lincoln about?

Why did Lincoln say what he said originally?

How did their argument end?

Did his knee hurt when he practiced?

Who did Lincoln see on the Franklin side?

Which team possessed the ball first?

Who was Lincoln looking at on the Franklin side, instead of watching the game?

What happened to Bukowski in the game?

Did Lincoln find Monica in the crowd? Who was she with?

How did the second half start for Lincoln?

“…feeling giddy because he was now understanding that he was a Franklin boy beneath a Columbus uniform.”  Why is this sentence and the paragraph the follows it, an important discovery for Lincoln?

Lincoln was going to play for himself, not school pride…” Who did Lincoln “take sides” with?

Who won the game? What was the score?

Did Tony and Lincoln make up?

What was said during the conversation between Mr. Kimball and Coach Yesutis?

What happened when Coach Yesutis grabbed Lincoln hard by the arm?

Did James communicate with Monica?

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Filed under Summer Reading Reading Guides, Taking Sides Gary Soto

Chapter 11

In the paragraph, ” Lincoln helped steady the door…” What is the significance between Ray and Lincoln in the paragraph?

What type of questions did Lincoln’s mom have about the  intruder?  What was she worried about?

Who was the letter from that Lincoln received? What did the letter say?

What memory does Lincoln have of Tony while he is trying to do his homework?

How does Lincoln feel about seeing Monica at school?

What did Lincoln have for lunch?

Which team mate passed by while Lincoln was eating lunch?

Summarize their conversation.

As Lincoln was walking toward the library, the author described the remaining pep rally activity? What was it?

Lincoln saw Monica again. What happened?

Who got to play in Lincoln’s place?

Chapter Story Element Questions

Character: Lincoln finally opened up to Monica about what was going on with him.  Why?

Plot: What problems are Lincoln still facing? Has anything been solved since the beginning of the story?

Setting: Where did this chapter take place?

Story Structure: Name the chapter.

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Filed under Summer Reading Reading Guides, Taking Sides Gary Soto

Chapter 10

What did Lincoln do to help remedy the “intruder” situation?

Why couldn’t Lincoln tell Monica about the break in?  Is that typical of Lincoln?

How did Lincoln’s “appointment” with Monica end?

Describe the second encounter Lincoln had with Monica in the hallway. Why did Lincoln act that way?

Did Lincoln try to tell his coach about his knee? What happened?

When was Lincoln finally able to tell his mom about the intruder?

After practice, Coach Yesutis and Lincoln exchanged words. Summarize the conversation.

Why did Lincoln wave off James?

Chapter Story Element Questions

Characters- Both Monica and James were rebuffed by Lincoln when they were being nice to him.  Why do you think Lincoln does this?

Plot- The conversation between Lincoln and Coach Yesutis lead to a plot change.  What was that?

Setting- The words describing the setting in the last two chapters also feed into Lincoln’s mood.  The words, creep and creeping, alone, limping in the darkness, describe the setting, but how can they be applied to Lincoln’s feelings?

Story Structure- Name the Chapter

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Filed under Summer Reading Reading Guides, Taking Sides Gary Soto

Chapter 9

How was Lincoln’s knee in the morning?

Was Lincoln excited about possibly seeing the doctor?

How does Lincoln want to handle his hurt knee with regard to school?

Who did Lincoln call in the morning? What “appointment” does he make at lunch?

Where, did we learn, does Flaco come from?

Why did the rapper Iced T remind Lincoln of Tony?

Lincoln woke up to a startling surprise.  What was it? How did Lincoln handle it?

Chapter Story Element Questions

Character- Did you expect Lincoln to handle the intruder the way he did?

Plot-What is the significance of Lincoln dealing with a break in both in the mission district and Sycamore?

Setting: Where did this chapter take place?

Story Structure- Name the chapter.

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Filed under Summer Reading Reading Guides, Taking Sides Gary Soto

Chapter 8

Lincoln did a lot of thinking before he went to visit Monica.  Almost two pages worth!  What were some of the thoughts he was having before he met Monica?

Why do you think Lincoln lied about going to church?

Lincoln thought about having the “venison conversation” on the way to meeting Monica.  Did the talk turn out as he planned?

What games did Lincoln and Monica play? Who won each game?

The text says, “He passed the ball to Monica and was relieved it didn’t pass through her hands and smash her in the face.” What is this referring to from earlier in the chapter?

Why did Lincoln scream, “Ay”?

Why did Monica not answer Lincoln when he asked if she wanted a boyfriend?

Lincoln learned two exciting things about Roy, Lincoln’s mom’s boyfriend, when he gets home from playing basketball with Monica.  What are they?

What story did he hear about Coach Yesuitis?

Chapter Story Element Questions

Character: Monica- Throughout this chapter there were several things Monica did that Lincoln “liked”.  Based on this, what characteristics does Lincoln like in a girl? Regarding Ray, Lincoln’s approval of Ray seems to change in this chapter.  Why?

Plot: Towards the end of the chapter, Lincoln hurts his knee and this may affect an upcoming event in the plot (as discussed at the end of this chapter.) What might be affected?

Setting: Do you think Lincoln’s injury had to do more with the setting or with the character Monica?  Describe the setting of the basketball game with Monica and explain how it could have contributed to Lincoln’s injury.

Story Structure: Name the chapter.

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Filed under Summer Reading Reading Guides, Taking Sides Gary Soto