Too Much Water in the Kool-Aid

Too Much Water in the Kool-Aid

Clear-Out-the-Dead-Wood-Thats-Holding-You-BackToday’s lesson on writing in 10th grade ELA was on eliminating unnecessary words and phrases.  My favorite high school teacher called it “eliminating the deadwood,” and in today’s class, my standard, “Don’t waste your reader’s attention span on words they don’t need to read” was not explanation enough for one of my students.

At issue was my admonition: Don’t say “I think.”  Don’t say “I believe.”  Say what you want to say like it is fact, and people will take your argument more seriously.  Z. kept insisting that there had to be more to it, a better reason.  And I couldn’t think of another reason or another way to explain it.  Then M. piped up.

“Do you ever make Kool-Aid?”kool aid.1

That got my attention.  “Yes ma’am. What does this have to do with writing  a paragraph?”

“Well, it’s like when you’re making Kool-Aid, if you put too much water in it, it loses its flavor.  You don’t want your paragraph to lose its flavor by cramming it with too many extra words.”

Best metaphor on revising ever. Good thinking, M.

Extra credit for you!

 

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They aren’t as grown as you might think

They aren’t as grown as you might think

Today’s topic: research.

My goal was to get them to see that research plays a part in just about any kind of writing, whether it is non-fiction or fiction, and the difference between cited and uncited research. We also discussed the importance of making sure our sources were reliable, and how to do that.

I used this meme to start the conversation.

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Several kids rolled their eyes, and gave me looks that screamed, “I am not falling for this, lady.”  That’s not what surprised me.

The surprise was in the number of students who didn’t make the connection that Lincoln did not have the internet.  One student even said, “That makes no sense.  Why’d he have such a hard time winning the civil war if he had the internet? I can’t believe no one told me about that!”   He was not being sarcastic.

In another block, the surprise response was, “Hey, that is true. They can’t put it on the internet if it’s not true.”  I shook my head.  I was so surprised at their naivete.

In another class, a student was shocked to find out that there was an “actual Titanic” that sank, but that Rose and Jack were fictional.  I am not making this up.

These are sophomores.  I love them, and sometimes, there are holes in their knowledge of what I consider “basic facts everyone should know.”  Where do those holes come from?  Shifting curricula? Working parents? Too many video games?

Who knows.  

However, to improve their ability to question what they’re reading, it might be time to bring out the Flying Spaghetti Monster again. Several years ago, leading up to a short unit on satire, I spent about two weeks slowly trying to convince my students that I was, in fact, a Pastafarian.  A few, who knew me outside of school, knew it was a hoax. But I think by the time I told them what was going on, about half of them had started to believe me.  My students think I’m odd enough that it sounded normal to a few.
But after today, and their gullibility and reluctance to question anything has me thinking that it might be time to break out my colander again.

In another part of discussion today, we talked about the difference between a search engine and the sources a search engine finds.  Some were surprised to hear that Google was not a source.  They were also surprised to learn that Google knows lots about them.

So we took a little bird-walk down Google lane to talk about data mining, the dangers of free wifi, and why Wikipedia is still not something they can cite in a research paper.

They really don’t get the permanence that is posting on-line.  In one class I shared with them the story of researchers who were able to track down specific, real, live people based on the data kept on them.  This article talks about one such situation.

“That’s more than a little creepy,” said one student.  Lightbulb!

My kids are writing research-based persuasive papers on the current crop of presidential candidates, and they rolled a 20-sided die to determine who they were persuading each other to vote for.  No one, and I mean NO ONE, was happy with the outcome. Yay! That means I nailed it!

And then this.

Today, one girl raised her hand and told me that her mother said she’s not allowed to write her paper on her topic because it’s against her religion.  I couldn’t stop my response from tumbling out of my mouth. “Sweetie, if you can prove to me that candidate X is against your religion, I won’t make you write this paper.”

I’m pretty sure I need to call her mom.