High SchoolEnglish

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The puzzle pieces of an argument
When learning about argumentative writing, my students regularly freeze. The terms claim, reasoning, evidence, and explanation all appear to be the same. They are unsure where to start and where to end. So let’s break it down together.
How to use an outline to your advantage when you’re writing
How often do you start writing an essay with a great idea in mind, only to lose steam—or worse, lose track of your argument—well before you meet the length requirement? Have you ever reread a paper draft only to realize what you’re arguing on the first page isn’t quite the same thing you’re arguing on the last one? These sorts of problems are ...
Why I love teaching English
“I’m not good at writing.” “I don’t really like reading.” “I don’t think of myself as a writer.” “Why do I need to learn how to write? I’m going to study engineering!”
Reading is hard. But it doesn’t have to be.
There is no denying it. In the age of the attention economy, bright stimulating screens, and exhausting schedules it is very hard to sit down and read with focus. Whether we are talking about a novel for English class, a source for AP U.S. History, or that dense SAT Reading passage from the Federalist Papers, it is hard to truly dig in and read ...
How to organize a paragraph: the MEAL plan
Composing a clear paragraph is a foundational skill in academic writing. In high school, you may have been taught that a paragraph requires a certain number of sentences – maybe three, maybe five. But paragraphs come in different lengths, and rather than follow strict rules about word count or a requisite number of sentences, it’s important to ...
How to remember what you read
Maybe this sounds familiar: you’re sitting in class, racking your brain for the answer to a question you know you should be able to answer, but the information’s just not there. You’re frustrated. You spent hours doing the reading, yet now it’s like it evaporated from your head.
Tackling the AP English Language and Composition essays: part 1
More than any other test, the AP English Language and Composition Exam is dominated by essays. Three timed essays—the Synthesis Essay, Rhetoric Essay, and Argument Essay—will take up most of your time on the exam, and count for more than fifty percent of your score. In this three-part guide, I’ll walk you through the process of writing timed ...
Top grammar errors to avoid
Throughout the years I’ve spent reading and writing, I’ve seen my fair share of grammar errors. But few are peskier, or more pervasive, than the two I’ll discuss in this post. So common are these two grammar errors that I regularly encounter them in professional writing — sometimes even in articles by full-blown professors! These two errors often ...
How to use root words to learn vocabulary
Retaining new English vocabulary is challenging, whether you’re learning English for the first time or studying for standardized tests like the SAT or GRE. The challenge arises, in part, from the sheer volume of words in English. English’s massive lexicon comes from words in several other languages, and learning some of these words—more often ...
How to revise your work
Before anything else, congratulate yourself. You wrote something! That’s huge! Writing is hard. Having something is so much better than having nothing. Something can be revised. And revising can be a lot of fun, as long as you have the right support. Here are some tools to help you navigate the revision process:
Up close and personal: how to prepare for a close reading paper
Close reading? Shouldn’t we already be reading “closely” for class? Correct! But the term “close reading” also describes a very specific type of literary inquiry in which one pays careful, prolonged attention to a small chunk of text (or art object) in order to produce an argument about that text and how it works. Close reading is the ...
What I learned about the writing process from bread baking
Working from home means I can adapt myself to the capricious schedule of bread making. Dough waits for no one (and it will not rise more quickly if prodded!). I’ve loved baking since childhood, but I discovered bread more recently.
Why reading is the best way to improve your SAT score
Reading is fun. I promise. Take it from me, someone who used to hate reading. I started hating reading in high school because we read so many books in class that I wasn’t interested in. But I soon learned that reading one boring book does not mean all books are boring. Find books that interest you, and do not compromise. If you read the first ...
How to think like an AP Rater/Reader on the AP English Language exam
As someone who tutors AP English Language and Composition (lovingly referred to as AP Lang) and as someone who struggled with timed writing herself, I know how daunting a task it can be to score a 5. Luckily for you, I’ve also served as an AP Rater/Reader and can offer some additional insight into what we are told to look for while scoring a ...
Tone and mood
When attempting an analysis of a text for English literature classes, such as the IBDP course, some of the advanced features that students have to understand concern tone and mood. It is customary to associate tone with dialogue and speech, and mood with the setting of novels. However, tone and mood are not just features of fiction and can also be ...
How to tackle sentence and paragraph sequence questions on the SAT
The style questions on the writing and language section of the SAT can often be the most difficult. While you’re working to memorize your grammar and punctuation rules, it is also essential to develop strategies to tackle each type of style question.
Confronting commas on the SAT writing and language section
You see commas everywhere when you're reading, and you may put them everywhere when you're writing, but do you really know when to properly use this tricky punctuation mark? The SAT requires you to know exactly when a comma is either necessary or obstructive, so it is important to take the time to learn comma rules as you prepare for the writing ...
Homonyms
English is one of the languages in which spelling is a big deal. Spelling bees were created in English, and the concept is not present in other languages in which words are more often pronounced just like they look. In English, we have words that are pronounced the same but have different meanings and spellings (homophones). We also have a lot of ...
Grammar: one to 1
When learning a new language, students almost always begin with the alphabet and numbers. We use letters, of course, to form words, which form sentences that express ideas of varying complexity in a form that people who read this written language can understand. Numbers designate a different kind of language, one that conveys equations and ...
Betwixt and between: difficult grammar rules explained
English is not the easiest language to learn. This may be because of the many exceptions to its rules or because the same combinations of letters can be pronounced in many different ways. English also has one of the largest vocabularies of any recorded language, which means English speakers can say what they mean in a lot of different ways, but ...
5 tips to improve your writing
I was recently helping someone with a comparative essay they had to write for school. This person did not like writing—a common enough state of affairs. They felt that they had no talent for it. The process frustrated them. I could see that they were struggling in part because they were trying to do everything at once (come up with ideas, write ...
SAT Reading: Which comes first? The passage or the question?
It depends. I’m sorry, but it does. There are essentially two opposing strategies for passage-based questions: read the passage first or read the questions first and consult the passage as the questions demand. Probably the most widely advocated strategy is to split the difference, and to read the passage first, favoring speed over retention of ...
Tips for writing an exam essay in 80 minutes
We've all been there. The teacher is at the front of the classroom with a pile of blue books. She begins handing them out. You scrawl the name and date on the front and wait for her to start the timer. As you open the first page, an overwhelming white page stares back at you. And you panic. Luckily, there are ways to prepare for essay exams that ...
The importance of keeping it simple: clear and concise writing
When I was a high school AP Biology student, my teacher used to walk by my desk during multiple choice exams and whisper, “You didn’t really mean to circle B there, did you? Keep it simple.” He knew I was an overthinker. Instead of circling the simplest and most obvious answer—which I often knew to be the right one—I would overthink the question, ...
3 ways to better analyze poetry
“Cikgu Tess!” “Pagi.” “Miss. Look lah.” “Alyaa—why?” “Girl’s bathroom,” she says. “Cikgu, you touch?” Our state has the highest concentration of venomous snakes in the region. “Is it poisonous?” I mime the action of being bitten (by my hand) and then dying. “Mm, don’t know.” In 2017, I taught ESL, literature, and political science at a rural ...
A quick list of ACT literary devices
Welcome back to my SAT/ACT reading section blog. The topic for today: literary devices. These terms come up infrequently but often enough that it’s worth giving them a look over before the test to be sure that you have them down. If they come up, you can get another question right, and if they don’t, you can save what you learned for a future SAT ...
Speech is silver, silence is golden: how pausing transforms communication
Many people probably recognize the second part of that proverb -- "Silence is Golden" –– as an oft-quoted adage to dictate the importance of quiet in our busy, noisy lives. The full version, as written above, originates in English thanks to Thomas Carlyle, who translated it from part of a larger German work in 1831. The translated passage begins, ...
ACT testing tip: how to identify main and subordinate clauses
For the ACT English exam, it is essential that you can identify and, if necessary, fix problems with main and subordinate clauses. Why? Because many grammar and punctuation rules require you to recognize your main subject and main verb.
A guide to your teacher's feedback: common abbreviations defined
If you are a student, you have probably seen a fair share of markings on your papers to indicate errors or ideas for improvement. If you are a teacher, you have made many of these markings and know how important it is to streamline the correcting process. While individual teachers or editors may have their own systems of signaling suggestions in ...
Why does English borrow so many words from other languages?
The Canadian blogger and free-lance reviewer James Nicoll created the following epigram on the English language: "English doesn't borrow from other languages. English follows other languages down dark alleys, knocks them over and goes through their pockets for loose grammar."
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