Category Archives: Learning Guides

Better Your Writing: Step 4 – The First Draft

“Ain’t nothing to it but to do it.” – Ronnie Coleman

First Draft

With road map in hand, look through the notes you have in your journal about this topic and enter those thoughts in the box of your writing road map that makes sense. Now its time to let go. As you think more deeply on your chosen topic, let the words flow on to the paper or screen. In some ways this is the most liberating part of the writing process.

Really take a moment to explore the main point of each supporting paragraph. Write down every thought you have that relates to each main point. Feel free to look up information from credible sources and include that information into your rough draft.

You don’t need to worry about form, voice, sentence structure or any grammar in general. You only need to get your thoughts out of your head. Whether they are fully developed thoughts, half complete thoughts, just the beginning of an idea or just the end of an idea -this is the time to dignify your thought process by introducing it to the world.

The only real rule you want to adhere to is to put your thoughts in the correct boxes you created for your outline. Following this rule will save you time in the next revision phase. While this is the time to be free, be free in an organized way!

For example, if you are providing background information, or explore generally why you feel the way you do about something, most likely this information belongs in the introduction box. If you are providing evidence to support one of the claims you are basing a paragraph about, put that information in the correct paragraph block; If you are giving your final thoughts on the matter, be sure to write that information in the conclusion.

What to do if you can’t think of anything to write?

There are several techniques that people can use to get move past writers block.

First things first, be sure your environment is conducive to writing.. Make sure auditory distractions are kept to a minimum, though I do suggest soft study music if it doesn’t distract you. Be sure you are sitting comfortably at your desk or table, with the intention set in your mind that it is time to work. Have snacks and drinks available within arms reach to avoid having to leave the room to obtain nourishment. Try to make it impossible to distract yourself from the task at hand.

Before you read, take the time to read over the notes you have already taken about the topic at hand. See if any other thoughts, connections or strong feelings are evoked by reading over the material. If so, take note of it. These sentiments could lead to main topic sentences for your body paragraphs.

Another technique to employ to get through writers block , if reading your current notes isn’t helping, is to read. It seems counter intuitive, but many an author employs this technique. By filling your mind with new information, it gives you new concepts to wonder about, and connections to make, which ultimately translates into having more things to say.

If you don’t know what to say, perhaps you have questions about the topic? Write down all those questions – in the appropriate paragraph box in your outline- until you are done asking questions. Then look up the answers to those questions and write the answer – you guessed it- in the appropriate paragraph. It never hurts to let curiosity be your guide, when writing a paper at least.

Finally, you may want to keep yourself in the pre-writing session until you have something to work with. If you find you don’t have enough material, you will need to go back to your references, or find new ones, to make your point. It may be a vicious cycle. Due to this, it may make sense to schedule more than one pre-writing session until you have all the information that you want to include in your paper.

Still looking for ways to better your initial writing? Review my past posts on Journal Writing and Prewriting.

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Why You Should Expand Your Vocabulary

expand your vocabulary

Do you find yourself utilizing the same word repeatedly? Do you have a hard time expressing yourself clearly? Have you ever wanted to find a more direct way to speak or convey your thoughts to others? All of these happenings and thoughts could be clues that you desire to expand your vocabulary.

But these aren’t the only reasons people should actively work towards refining and expanding their language ability. In fact, they only scratch the surface in terms of reasons for anyone to actively seek to improve their communication skills and expand their vocabulary. From advancing your communication skills, to connecting to people, to having a deeper understanding of the world around you, there are practical and beneficial reasons for actively expanding your vocabulary.

Words Are Our Tools

“Words are instruments, they are tools that, in their different ways, are as effective as any sharp edge or violate chemical. They are, like coins, items of great value, but they represent a currency that, well spent, returns ever greater riches.”

Tim Radford, Address Book: Our Place in the Scheme of Things

Words (after individual letters) are the basic tools humans have for conveying our messages to each other. The words that we choose to use and the way we string them together make all the difference between a message being clearly received by the recipient, or not. The idea that words can be used as social tools is explored in the linked psychology paper.

Think about a time that you had to have a difficult conversation with someone – perhaps with a boss or a loved one that you were upset with but didn’t want to hurt. When it was your turn to speak, did you angrily say whatever words came to mind recklessly? Or were you careful, pausing before speaking to ensure your message was delivered gently? Believe it or not, even if on a subconscious level, you understood in these situations that your words were powerful and had the ability to either make or break the situation.

Salespeople are a group of people that are acutely aware of the power of words. They are trained, or some instinctively know, to stay away from words that sow doubt in the minds of their buyers and will tend to use words that breed positivity or make a buyer feel good about what they are buying.

In each of these instances, the respective speakers are aware of how their words can affect the outcome of the situations in which they are participating. Whether it is completing a sale or having a heart to heart with a loved one, or conducting a professional conversation at work, the words used during these conversations are important, and most people understand this – even if it isn’t something they actively think about.

Expanding your vocabulary to be able to use the precise word needed in any given situation can greatly increase your chances have having the situation work in your favor.

“Language is the key to the heart of people.”
― Ahmed Deedat

When working to connect with people, the words that we use can help bring those connections closer.

Perhaps you have heard the idiom, “you are speaking my language.” There is so much truth to that phrase and there are instances where knowing the vocabulary of the person with whom you are speaking will undoubtedly help you to connect with that person and ultimately achieve whatever objective you are seeking.

Perhaps it is simply to make new friends, court a significant other, complete a sale, or successfully deliver a persuasive message to different people, speaking the language of the people with whom you are trying to connect can lead to better results.

One of the best ways to “speak the language” of your audience is to learn the basis of their language – their vocabulary. So if that person is into music, social justice, manages a company or had a different point of view than you, you need find the way they speak or think, and cater your message to that way of thinking. That task will include needing to understand their vocabulary and the concepts to which they subscribe. But of course, their concepts might be explained using specialized jargon – jargon that you would need to know in order to connect with your audience.

If you want to connect with different people, for any reason, expanding your vocabulary to knowing and understanding theirs is the first best step.

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.”
― N.H. Kleinbaum, Dead Poets Society

As the late, great Robin William’s character Mr. Kleinbaum so eloquently proclaimed in the above quote – using less advanced vocabulary is in some ways an act of laziness. Especially given the technological advances that have flourished since that inspirational film was released.

Finding the exact word needed to properly convey one’s thoughts is easier than ever now that the internet and Google have been invented. And when it comes to wording a message in the exact way needed to meet an objective, taking a few seconds, or minutes, to search the right word is the least that could be done to get the message right.

Sometimes, crafting a message, even in everyday discussion, can be a labor of love. Adequately preparing can reap rewards ten-fold.

Do your self a favor, take the advice of Mr. Kleinbaum, and use the appropriate advanced word to further your message. Take the time to expand your vocabulary and you can’t go wrong.

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a weak thinker. The richer and more copious one’s vocabulary and the greater one’s awareness of fine distinctions and subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is likely to be one’s thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words, you can hardly know the thing.”
― Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

It can be argued that the more words you know, the more minutely concepts could be understood which ultimately results in a more robust knowledge base. Just like words are the basic building blocks of communication between humans, they are also the basic building blocks of our knowledge and our thoughts. The higher level verbiage we use translates into a higher level thoughts and thought processes. These higher level thought processes can lead to an expanded understanding.

One example that illustrates this point is the way most science text books are set up. At the beginning of every chapter is a list of vocabulary words that will be utilized during the chapter study. Understanding the meaning of those words and the context in which they are used will help a student to understand the material better.

While it is true that everyone has different learning strategies, I am hoping that I presented enough evidence here to support the idea that expanding your vocabulary is a beneficial activity that can help enhance your life in many ways. From creating or deepening personal relationships to achieving goals and having a deeper understanding about the world around you, expanding your vocabulary is the best first step anyone can take to increase their knowledge.

Do you agree? Do you think it is beneficial to expand your vocabulary? Why or why not?

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Filed under Language Arts, Learning Guides, Vocabulary Words

What is Metacognition?

If you have ever declared you are a “hands- on learner,” or knew that you learn by reading, doing, writing, or discussing with someone, congratulations, you have taken part in metacognitive thinking! Essentially, metacognition is having an awareness of how you learn. It is when someone takes the time to think about how they think.

By taking the time to think about how you learn and then utilizing strategies that are most effective for your learning style, you are setting yourself up for a more successful learning experience than someone who doesn’t use metacognitive skills.

If you are looking to improve your metacognition skills, there are three areas that you can focus on: planning, monitoring, evaluating. (Teal, 2012) For the sake of this article, we will use the activity of researching a new topic as a guide for implementing these three steps.

Planning

Metacognitive planning means to identify the task at hand as well as the resources, tools or strategies needed to complete it. One technique is to ask questions to confirm understanding. For example, in order to identify the task at hand, ask yourself, “what exactly does my teacher, manager, coworker or teammate need from me?” Ask for confirmation if you aren’t certain you understand what is being asked. It seems like a simple step, but making sure you understand what is asked of you will save you from wasting time working on unnecessary tasks. Sometimes I employ this question before asking any other questions. Make sure you know your objective.

The next stage of planning is identify what process needs to be completed in order to accomplish the task or similarly what tools are needed to meet an objective. Sometimes this understanding may be immediate. For example, a student proficient at locating information in a textbook will use headings and subheadings to quickly identify information asked of them. Similarly, an HR admin may automatically know which programs to use to pull an employee time report without giving it too much thought. Other times, the process or tools needed to meet an objective are not so apparent.

If you are presented with a new situation and aren’t sure how to proceed, go down the checklist of questions below.

1. Confirm the intended outcome.

2. Identify the best processes and tools needed to accomplish the outcome.

3. If you are having trouble with step 2, solicit assistance from your classmates, coworkers, teacher or managers.

So, if you were tasked with writing a paper – and you never wrote a paper, nor do you know anything about the topic at hand, your first step would be to 1. write down all the questions you have about the topic and 2. write down all the resources you may want to consult in order to find answers to your questions. The list of resources you create may look something like this:

  1. Library -physical or digital
    1. section of library that’s relevant to your paper topic
  2. Websites – usually ones ending in .gov or .org
  3. Peer-Reviewed Journals
  4. Individuals to interview
  5. Associations dedicated the topic.

Monitoring

Monitoring can be challenging step in the metacognition process because one has to objectively record what takes place during the process of completing the task at hand.

As you work through your project, either keep a mental note or actually record the steps you take while completing the project, along with the results of each step. This can be done with journal-style entries or with a form specifically created to record data.

If you have ever participated in the scientific process, this step is exactly the same as recording the results. The only difference is you are the basis of the science project, which can make it difficult if this is the first time you are observing yourself.

It may be helpful to create a data recording sheet, that outlines objective questions and outcomes, prior to commencing the project. This will help keep assessments objective.

In the case of writing a paper, a way to monitor what is working in your research approach would be to record how useful each resource is in answering the questions you have about your topic. You could create an excel spreadsheet, word document or a learning journal that records the outcome of each resource used. The notes you take could be as detailed as you would like, however the more detailed the notes are, the better off you will be when you work on your next paper.

Evaluating

Finally, once your learning project is complete, it is time to review your notes and reflect on the process as a whole. You can evaluate by answering some basic questions, as outlined below, or reflect in a journal-style entry. After reviewing the results of this learning project, you may want to conclude with how you can improve your learning process next time.

1. Were you successful on the first try?

2. Did you understand the task at hand?

3. Did you choose the correct tools/ resources to accomplish your task?

4. Were you partially successful? In other words, if you were to do this project, would you keep some of the strategic steps you used, while changing others.

5. Did you have to change your method or strategy mid-project?

Specifically, as it relates to researching a topic, evaluating the notes taken in the previous step can help guide the next research project. For example, did any resources lead to a dead-end? Did one type of resource prove to be more useful than originally thought? Was interviewing someone more stressful than originally thought? Take the time to review how each resource helped or hindered your research process.

All in all, taking the time to think about how you think will save you time in the future and refine your thought process on future learning projects.

Being conscious about the way you learn is a skill that you will employ each and every time you tackle a new learning project. By consistently honing your skill of learning, you will become a better learner.

But don’t just take my word for it, there are plenty of books out there that explain the learning journey of individuals as well as the mechanics of how learning occurs. Sometimes, when we read how other people worked through their learning journey, it can inspire us to take up our own.

This awesome book teaches children about the pliability of their brain with the focus of maintaining a growth mindset. This book teaches readers what their brain is capable of and tips on how to learn. Hint – it involves asking yourself questions!

If you are ready for a book with a little more substance, with techniques that dive a little further than what the tips in this article provide, this is the book for you. In this book, Saundra Yancy McGuire delves into the tried and true techniques she has used as an educator over the past decade or so. She has an entire chapter dedicated to Metacognition.

If you prefer to read about someone else’s learning journey, “The Art of Learning” by Josh Waitzkin is an excellent read. Josh was known the world over as a chess wiz kid and his story was told in the movie, “Searching for Bobby Fischer.” In this book, he details specifically how he was able to learn about chess to become a national champion, and how he applied similar strategies to later study martial arts.

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