Friday, October 7, 2016

Help for High School/College Students (Handbook for Writers review)

Writing and assessing writing are sometimes difficult subjects for both instructors and students. I am always interested in resources to assist in both of these endeavors, and Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers published by Everyday Education, LLC is one such tool.

I will quickly note that this review is for the digital version of this product, which has its own benefits and drawbacks when compared to a physical version. While I generally prefer a book in the hand (particularly a reference book), a nice advantage is the ability to search the ebook for a specific topic which can make it fairly easy to browse and locate the information that you need.

The Handbook for Writers is split into two sections. The first part details construction of arguments and essays, while the second covers the mechanics of writing. To give you a idea of the depth and breadth of the material covered here is the basic Table of Contents.

Part 1
  1. Introduction to Essays and Arguments
  2. Arguments: Some Simple first Principles
  3. Setting up the Argument: Definition
  4. Definition: Defining Key Terms
  5. Deduction and Induction
  6. Organizing the Main Body of an Argument (I)
  7. Organizing the Main Body of an Argument (II)
  8. Paragraph Structure
  9. Paragraph Functions
  10. Reading Arguments
  • Sample Outlines for Essays and Research Papers
  • Critical Approaches to Shakespeare: Some Initial Observations
  • Some Criteria for Making Literary Evaluations
Part 2: Introduction to Usage and Style
  1. Phrases, Clauses, Sentences
  2. Words
  3. Basic Punctuation
  4. Pronouns
  5. Parallelism or Parallel Structure
  6. Modifiers, Gerunds, Infinitives
  7. Clarity, Logic, and Structure
  8. References and Bibliographies
  9. Basic Format for Essays and Research Papers
  • Keyhole Essay Graphic
  • The Six Sections of an Approach Paper
  • 11 Things a Paragraph Can Do
  • Rubric for Writing Evaluation
In addition to "reference" material there are numerous examples and exercises to help the student see exactly what is being taught and the opportunity to try the work themselves. 
In the page below you can see a portion of one example on the importance of defining a thesis, the explanation of the example, and following the beginning of an exercise in recognizing potentially useful thesis statements. 

Here is a page from section 2 of Part 2 dealing with the use of words in writing. This particular section is talking about colloquialisms, names, and appropriate tone. There are definite "Do's" and "Don'ts" included for each portion. I find the "Word" section to be filled with information on avoiding the improper use of words, which is one of the most common mistakes made in writing today, in my opinion.

It is suggested on the Everyday Education, LLC website that instructors use this as a tool for correction. When there is a specific error in a piece of writing, rather than just marking it wrong (Which doesn't really help a student fix their errors), there is a good chance that the topic is covered in this handbook and you can note the pertinent section by number (see the 2.6 in the image above), and have your student visit (or revisit) the instruction on their own. This gives them the chance to see a correctly modeled sample and explanation before they rewrite their own work.

Not So Nutty Nitty Gritty 
In final analysis, I believe that this is going to be a very useful tool for both my high-schooler and my soon-to-be college student as they sharpen their writing skills.
I think it will also be a helpful reference tool for me, as I assess their writing.
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