kitchen table math, the sequel: eureka

Sunday, July 15, 2007


I think I've got it!

I think I've got the answer, or an answer at any rate, to short, sweet writing lessons an afterschooling parent can use to teach writing, rewriting, and revision.

We need editing exercises: we need the equivalent of the copy-editing books Evan-Moor publishes, only for editing proper.

If you can practice punctuation and usage copy editing other people's paragraphs (answer key), why can't you practice writing and rewriting by revising other people's essays?

I think you can.

This idea came to me sometime yesterday, but I was stumped over where to come up with short texts I could have C. edit down from 500 words to 50, mostly because I don't have the stamina to force C. to produce his own short texts.

Then today, talking to Ed about the state ELA test (one word: arrghh) I remembered Walter Pauk's reading comprehension books (you may need to hit refresh a couple of times). I bought a copy of Six-Way Paragraphs: Middle Level last summer. It's a dandy book, but I stopped using it after the first 19 exercises because C. didn't need it.

I hadn't thought about Pauk in a year until Ed said something that sparked a Eureka moment: Pauk's books are a superb source of short, well-written essays that can be revised and rewritten to be even shorter and better written than they already are.

Which is almost always a good thing to do, as Joanne Jacobs, Woodrow Wilson, British writing instructors, and possibly all professional and/or scholarly writers know.

bonus points

Rewriting Pauk's essays on a daily or near-daily basis might produce something like fluency in the rewriting/revision process.

Whether or not fluency results, this is certainly an exercise in analysis and summary. Summarizing is an extraordinarily difficult "skill" that is almost never taught directly as far as I can tell, and yet is so central to nonfiction writing you could make an argument that summarizing is nonfiction writing. (Well, someone could make that argument. Not me. Not today.)

Tomorrow I'm going to have C. cut 50 words from Pauk's essay on stunt people while preserving every essential point.

Then another 25 words the next day.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Stunt People

They are daredevils. They are in great physical shape. They are not movie stars, but they make a lot of money. These brave folks -- stunt people -- are the hidden heroes of many movies.

Stunt people were around long before films. Even Shakespeare probably used them in fight scenes. To be good, a fight scene has to look real. Punches must land on enemies’ jaws. Sword fights must be fought with sharp swords. Several actors are usually in a fight scene. Their moves must be set up so that no one gets hurt. It is almost like planning a dance performance.

If a movie scene is dangerous, stunt people usually fill in for the stars. You may think you see Tom Cruise running along the top of a train. But it is probably his stunt double. Stunt people must resemble the stars they stand in for. Their height and build should be about the same. But when close-ups are needed, the film focuses on the star.

Some stunt people specialize in certain kinds of scenes. For instance, a stunt woman named Jan Davis does all kinds of jumps. She has leapt from plans and even off the top of a waterfall. Each jump required careful planning and expert timing.

Yakima Canutt was a famous cowboy stunt man. Among other stunts, he could jump from a second story window onto a horse’s back. He invented the famous trick of sliding under a moving stagecoach. (Maybe you’ve seen this stunt in TV westerns.) Canutt also figured out a new way to make a punch look real. He was the only stunt man ever to get an Oscar.

277 words
Six-Way Paragraphs: Middle Level
by Walter Pauk
p 30
ISBN-10: 0844221198
ISBN-13: 978-0844221199

Pauk's books

Six-Way Paragraphs: Introductory
ISBN-10: 0809203715
ISBN-13: 978-0809203710

Six-Way Paragraphs: Middle
ISBN-10: 0844221198
ISBN-13: 978-0844221199

Six-Way Paragraphs: Advanced
ISBN-10: 0844221236
ISBN-13: 978-0844221236

Six-Way Paragraphs in the Content Areas: Introductory
ISBN-10: 0809203715
ISBN-13: 978-0809203710

Six-Way Paragraphs in the Content Areas: Middle Level
ISBN-10: 0809203723
ISBN-13: 978-0809203727

Six-Way Paragraphs in the Content Areas: Advanced Level
ISBN-10: 0809203731
ISBN-13: 978-0809203734

I ordered a copy of Six-Way Paragraphs in the Content Areas: Advanced Levels.

Jamestown Education at Glencoe
results with Jamestown (marketing paper)
Six-Way Paragraphs at Jamestown/Glencoe
Six-Way Paragraphs in the Content Areas at Jamestown/Glencoe Skillswise

expert advice on teaching writing from Joanne Jacobs
more from Joanne Jacobs
doctor pion on writing a precis and critical reading
home writing program in place, for now

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