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LinguaPhile, July 2006

An e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.

We welcome new subscribers from the IAHE, MPE, and CHAP conferences!


You Can Still Order Grannie Annie, Vol. 1

Stories in Grannie Annie, Vol. I were written by students in grades four through eight based on their interviews with their family storykeepers. The stories include humor, adventure, hardship, and triumph. They deal with a wide range of topics -- for example, a childhood prank involving homemade root beer, the longest attack of hiccups on record (68 years), a tornado that blew Grandpa out of the potato cellar and carried the family horse to a neighboring farm, and the attack on Pearl Harbor from the viewpoint of a seven-year-old who was shot at in the sugar cane fields.

The 81-page book includes 24 stories and 9 illustrations. You can read the stories online or "sneak a peek" at the layout of the book at

Grannie Annie, Vol. I brings history to life and is likely to spark more stories. It would make a great gift for teachers, families, your local retirement home, and your local library. In addition, it would be a wonderful resource for young people who may wish to submit their stories to The Grannie Annie next year. The submission deadline is February 14, 2007.

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Back to School

Which use of Hands-On English would best suit your needs?

• A resource for teachers at all levels

• A handbook for students fourth grade and older

• A language arts curriculum for students fourth grade and older

• A curriculum for homeschoolers fourth grade and older

• A home reference for the entire family

• A reference for the office

Near the bottom of Web pages for Hands-On English and the Activity Book you'll find links to a complete table of contents and a few sample pages for each book.

Many people have said that Hands-On English is the clearest English book they've found, and it makes grammar visual with symbols to represent parts of speech. When grammar is concrete, it is much easier to understand.

Practice pages, a card game, and visual aids facilitate mastery of the concepts presented in the handbook.

Substantial discounts are available on volume purchases. Buying damaged copies or original-edition copies can reduce the price even further.

You can order by phone, fax, snail mail, or on the Internet. MasterCard and Visa are accepted, and purchase orders are accepted from institutions.

If you have questions, or call (toll free) 1-888-641-5353. This number will also accept fax orders.

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Quote of the Month: Reading

The more you read, the more you know.
The more you know, the smarter you grow.
The smarter you grow, the stronger your voice
When speaking your mind or making your choice.

--Author Unknown. Used on a National Library Week poster

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Sharpen Your Vocabulary:  penultimate

Many people seem to think that penultimate means something like the "ultimate ultimate." However, that is not the case. Penultimate actually means "next to last":
is the penultimate letter of the alphabet.

Hands-On English includes more than 200 morphemes, along with their meanings and examples. Knowing the meanings of morphemes can help you unlock hundreds of words the first time you encounter them. Reviewers of Hands-On English have said that the vocabulary section alone is worth the book's modest purchase price. Learn more -- and place your order -- at

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Q and A:  Evaluating Student Writing

Question: What guidance can you give me in evaluating children's writing?

Answer: Although this question came from a homeschooler, I hope the answer will be helpful to classroom teachers as well. The following discussion suggests several different ways to view children's writing.

The Reader's Mindset

Approach a piece of child's writing the same way you as a reader would approach any other piece of writing: First get the message. Determine what the young writer is trying to communicate.

On a second reading you might approach the piece more objectively. You are still reading to get the message, but try to divest yourself of all prior knowledge of the writer and the topic -- rely solely on the written words.

Try to provide authentic writing experiences -- opportunities for young people to write for genuine readers rather than simply for a teacher or a parent who views the writing as an exercise or an assignment. Examples of authentic writing are letters, information to be shared with a local newspaper or community organization, and stories written for a specific audience (such as younger children, family members, or The Grannie Annie).

Respond First to Content

Too often we tend to zero in on mechanical errors such as those involving spelling or punctuation. Mechanical issues are objective; most of them have a clear right and wrong; they can be dealt with quickly and conclusively. Content issues, on the other hand, are more subjective; they have nuances; they beget additional issues and often seem to defy resolution.

Nevertheless, it is vital to address content issues first, to respond to the writer's message. If you were reading a love letter or a suicide note, would you suggest mechanical corrections before you responded to content? Although young writers will almost certainly have topics other than these, they ought to be writing about things that are important to them. Take time to state the message that you got from the piece of writing: For example, "I can tell that your grandmother's kitchen is a very special place to you."

A good next step is to be more specific about what made the content effective: For example, "You've described the sights and sounds -- and smells! -- so vividly that I felt I was there myself."

From here, it's easy to identify other techniques that made the content effective -- and perhaps mention one or two things that could have made it even more effective. Don't mention everything here. The writer won't remember it all and will instead be discouraged by how far short of perfection the writing has fallen. Select one or two things that the writer seems "ready" to incorporate into his or her writing.

Four Broad Categories

Responsibility for a child's writing instruction is often accompanied by an obligation to evaluate the child's writing. Such evaluation can be a daunting task. An easy way to begin is to place a piece of writing into one of the following four categories:

Incomprehensible: Due to serious problems with content and/or mechanics, the message simply cannot be understood.

Understandable: Although the message may contain many errors of various kinds, the basic point seems clear. This is a good start for any writer.

Favorable: In addition to having a message that seems clear, the writing gives a favorable impression. Content is probably well organized and well supported; mechanical errors are probably few. All writers should strive to reach this level.

Eloquent/Profound: Not only does the clear message create a favorable impression, something about the content, word choice, sentence structure, figurative language, etc. moves the reader to "Wow!" Mechanical correctness alone cannot carry a piece of writing to this level.

Distribution of student writing into these four categories is likely to produce a bell curve. Most pieces of writing will fit into one of the two middle groups; few will be in the top or bottom group.

Questions to Help You Evaluate Content

The four categories above are quite broad. The following specific questions will help parents or teachers guide students toward the "Favorable" level. Approach the questions in the mindset of the objective reader who has divested himself or herself of privileged knowledge about the writer and topic.

Does the composition effectively capture interest?

Does the composition make sense?

Is the composition clear? Are any parts confusing?

Is the composition organized logically? Does it maintain interest? Are ideas supported and developed? Are transition words used to help readers see how ideas are related?

Can you identify a main idea that pervades the composition? (You might check with the author to see if the idea you detected was the same one the author was trying to communicate.)

Does everything in the composition contribute to this main idea? Should anything be deleted because it is irrelevant? Does the ending of the composition leave the reader with a final impression that reinforces this main idea?

Does the composition use concrete images that bring the composition to life? This can be effective for non-fiction as well as fiction.

Does the composition use precise vocabulary? Is the student correctly using words that stretch beyond his or her everyday vocabulary?

If there was a specific assignment (regarding length, topic, etc.), does the composition fulfill all of the requirements?

Does the composition "flow" when read aloud? Do the sentences have effective variety?

Does the piece have an appropriate title that generates interest?

Questions to Help You Evaluate Mechanics

Are sentences complete? Does each sentence begin with a capital letter and end with the appropriate punctuation mark?

Are paragraph breaks effective?

Do subjects and verbs agree in number (both singular or both plural)?

Are other verbs, pronouns, and modifiers used in the correct form?

Is capitalization used appropriately?

Are commas and other punctuation marks used correctly?

Does the paper have adequate margins?

Has appropriate credit been given for ideas that are not original?

Hands-On English will provide quick access to information that will help you answer these questions and will help your children achieve correctness in their writing.

Standardized Writing Assessments

Standardized writing assessments, such as the ERB (Educational Records Bureau), the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Test), or state writing assessments, often evaluate compositions on the following six criteria:
Topic Development
Sentence Structure
Word Choice

The ERB and SAT evaluate compositions on a 6-point scale. The ERB evaluates each criterion individually. The SAT, however, uses holistic scoring, all of the criteria being considered in one number. Regardless of whether the criteria are evaluated individually or holistically, assessors are provided with descriptions of student writing and anchor papers that exemplify each score. Assessors might consider, for example, whether they would put a paper in the upper half or the lower half (to distinguish between a 3 and a 4) or whether they would put the paper in the upper third or the middle third (to distinguish between a 4 and a 5).

Standardized writing assessments rely on a rubric, which describes the criteria on which the paper will be evaluated. A rubric can be presented to the student when the assignment is made, thus delineating expectations. When the writing is completed, the rubric can guide the teacher in evaluation -- and can even provide a tool for the student to evaluate his or her own writing. A number of rubrics -- and sites for helping you develop your own rubrics -- are available on the Internet. This one has a variety of good examples:

Hands-On English will put a wealth of information at your fingertips so that you can quickly find what you need to know about grammar, usage, capitalization, punctuation, spelling, and more. Get details -- and place your order -- at

We invite your questions for this feature:

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FREE Online Writing Class

Did you know that Fran has prepared a free online writing class called "Make Your Voice Heard: Express Your Ideas Effectively"? The class consists of seven lessons that guide a person through the writing process -- from planning to "publication" (presenting the piece of writing to its intended audience). Each lesson includes explanation, a quiz, answers, and an assignment. The class is appropriate for people ranging from middle school students to adults. Some of the techniques of the class could easily be adapted for younger students.

The class encourages writers to find a partner to give them feedback on their writing. The partner could be a parent, a peer, or someone else. The lessons give pointers for responding to writing and for eliciting feedback from partners. The "Questions to Help You Evaluate Content" in the article above would be appropriate for such a writing conference or, for the experienced writer, for "a writing conference with yourself."

To register, visit "Make Your Voice Heard" is a "previous course" and is near the bottom of the page. Watch for the dark blue Hands-On English cover at the left-hand side of your screen.

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Review: Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim

Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference by Joanne Oppenheim is the remarkable story of one woman who "fought injustice through the power of words and small, but constant, acts of kindness."

In 1942 Clara Breed was the first children's librarian at the San Diego Public Library. She loved children, and she loved books. Most of all, she loved connecting the two.

On April 1, 1942, Americans of Japanese ancestry, considered a threat to the security of the United States, were given one week to prepare for evacuation to an unknown site. They could take with them only what they could carry. They had to store, sell, or abandon the rest of their possessions.

As Miss Breed said good-bye to her young patrons at the railroad station, she gave them stamped postcards addressed to herself so that they could write her when they reached their new home. Thus began correspondences that would see families through their short-term "home" (horse stalls at the Santa Anita racetrack) and their home for several years (the relocation camp in Poston, Arizona). Over the years Miss Breed sent the children books, Christmas and birthday gifts, treats, and requested items. Even more important, she showed the children and their families that she cared for them. She wrote articles about their treatment for Library Journal and Horn Book Magazine, awakening teachers and other librarians to their plight.

Dear Miss Breed contains excerpts from the 200+ letters that Miss Breed received from the children between 1942 and 1945. Sadly, only one of the letters she had written could be found. However, the content of her letters can often be inferred from the children's letters.

Oppenheim introduces the children with photographs and brief biographies. Then she begins an account that is basically chronological. Through primary sources such as drawings, cartoons, official notices, articles, and letters to the editor, she reveals the attitudes of that time. Through their letters the children present first-hand accounts of their experiences in the detention camps. The families inspire us with the optimism they demonstrate in the face of oppression. Excerpts from Oppenheim’s interviews with the correspondents decades later and excerpts from testimony during CWRIC (Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians) hearings held in cities across the United States in 1981 provide the perspective that is possible only after time has elapsed.

Dear Miss Breed is masterfully told. The story is especially important as we find ourselves in the midst of another war when questions of detention and freedom are again an issue.

Recommended for sixth grade and older, including adults.

Published by Scholastic, 2006, 288 pages.

Available from Dear Miss Breed: True Stories of the Japanese American Incarceration During World War II and a Librarian Who Made a Difference

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Some Thoughts About Letter Writing

I recently had occasion to read some old letters. Some were letters that my mother had received when her parents had died, more than sixty years ago. I was grateful that dozens of people had taken the time to put their thoughts and memories on paper. These notes provided precious glimpses of grandparents who died before I was born.

The second batch of letters I had received from my fourth-grade classmates when I was absent from school due to a minor illness. I was impressed with the quality of the writing: Everyone -- even the students not known for their academic strengths -- had something to say and presented ideas in an organized fashion. Most letters were at least three-fourths of a page long. Nearly every sentence was complete; few words were misspelled.

Similar situations today probably would not produce the same results. First of all, rather than expressing our own thoughts, we would probably rely on a ready-made greeting card to speak for us. If we did choose to express our own ideas, would we state them as effectively? Would our mechanics be as accurate?

Do your part to revive the dying art of letter writing. Send a letter in place of a greeting card, an e-mail message, or a phone call. The recipient of your message will probably be delighted!

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Could You Have Passed the 8th Grade in 1895?

This is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 from Salina, Kansas. It was taken from the original document on file at the Smoky Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, Kansas, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, Kansas -- 1895

Grammar (Time: one hour)
1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza, and paragraph.
4. What are the principal parts of a verb?
5. Give principal parts of do, lie, lay, and run.
6. Define case; illustrate each case.
7. What is punctuation?
8. Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
9. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

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Puzzler: Say What You See

Placement of words, letters, and symbols can be very important. Simply say what you see here to "read" these common phrases. For example,

     side  side
would be "side by side."

 1. head
 2. day  day  [2 possibilities]

 3. e
 4. stood
 5. sec ond
 6. fi$$st  
 7. job  in  job

8. .that's


10. I + T < WHOLE

Answers will appear in the next issue.

Answers to March Puzzler:
Find the word that completes the compound begun by the first word in each item and begins the compound completed by the last word of the item. (Take a moment to absorb those directions.) Some of the compounds are two words rather than one.

 1. key _____ walk [board (keyboard, boardwalk)]
 2. blue _____ cake [cheese]
 3. card _____ knee [trick]
 4. bull _____ tired [dog]
 5. side _____ hop [car]
 6. iron _____ tender [bar]
 7. snow _____ power [man]
 8. book _____ study [case]
 9. wheel _____ person [chair]
10. tooth _____ pocket [pick]

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Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. Those receiving this forwarded message can subscribe at . People who have e-mail but do not have Internet access can subscribe by clicking on this link and requesting to subscribe: .

We welcome your comments and suggestions:

The index to LinguaPhile, which is updated regularly, is now available on the GrammarAndMore website.
This makes the information from previous issues readily accessible. You are encouraged to print the index for your convenience or to share it with friends. Why not send them the URL?

LinguaPhile is a gift you can give, yet still have for yourself!

2006 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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