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Preparing for the SAT English Sections: Part One

The SAT covers both “English” and “Math.” Of the “English” section, there are three parts: Reading; Writing and Language; and Essay. In this and the following post, we will primarily look at the Reading section and the Writing and Language section.

Though I help prepare students for the essay section, it is an optional section. Some students choose to complete the essay portion because they are confident they can do well; a high essay score could strengthen a college application. However, the main reason to take the essay portion is if the school applied for requires or recommends it.

Before looking at individual sections, let’s look at the test as a whole. The test covers skills most students have already learned in school: comma usage, subject-verb agreement, commonly confused words, pronouns, and so on. It is a good idea to review basic components of grammar to make sure they’re fresh.

Man, Men, Hand, Person, People, Male, Portrait, HumanAs for the questions, they all count the same number of points, whether they are difficult or easy. Also, the questions are not necessarily in order from easy to hard. Furthermore, there is no penalty for incorrect answers–so students should answer all of them. Leaving a question unanswered automatically forfeits points; it’s better to guess and have a chance at earning the points.

Regarding scores, the test is scored on a scale of 400-1600: 200-800 for Math; 200-800 for combined Reading and Writing/Language.

One useful tool for multiple choice is the process of elimination. First, the student should eliminate the distractors or obvious wrong ones. There are some answer choices that are just clearly wrong! Second, the student needs to eliminate the half-truths, the hyperboles, and incorrect assumptions. Just because it’s “kind of right” doesn’t mean it’s the best or correct answer. Finally, the student should determine which one is most accurate in answering the question.

A main component that slows students down is the actual reading of the passages that are questioned. It’s essential to make a conscious effort to read faster. The best way to do this is to practice. Taking practice tests allows the student to learn to read fast. It also gives the student a strong idea of what the time limit feels like; this will help with pacing.

Here are some other tips to help the student succeed:Book, Reading Book, Reading, Read, Information

  • Work to gain points in your strongest areas.
  • Don’t waste time on the toughest questions.
  • Make an intelligent guess on all questions to which you do not know the answer.
  • Careless errors can occur easily. Pay attention to detail.
  • Avoid “jumping” to conclusions. Pay attention to all parts of the questions.

In the next post, we look at how the sections are set up.

Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part Two

When teaching a work of literature in class or with your homeschooled child, it helps to have a work that is approachable in terms of length, plot, vocabulary, and sentence structure–a challenge is good, but it’s best not to scare away shy readers! As talked about in “Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part One,” Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea offers this sort of accessibility. But it also provides a clear approach to strong themes and meaningful symbols that illustrate those themes.

Themes

OldManandSeaReaders witness a harmony of the young and the old, a young boy who cares for an elderly man, and a mutual exchange of care and wisdom amongst the ages. The novel explores questions regarding wisdom versus knowledge, the role of humanity in nature, the risks associated with pride, and how to be a hero. The examples and glorification of perseverance teach young readers what it means to work hard for something noble. When Santiago faces extreme difficulty, he keeps pushing: “He rested sitting on the un-stepped mast and sail and tried not to think but only to endure.”

The novel pushes the reader to consider what it means to be “good”–a good person, a good neighbor, a good friend, a good teammate. Furthermore, the rich symbolism of the novel serves as clear support for themes that the young reader will be able to grasp.

Symbols

The Old Man and the Sea exemplifies the use of symbols beyond a mere treasure hunt for literary devices. Symbols are used to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense. Symbols grab the attention of the readers. They help communicate, give understanding, and illustrate ideas.

Symbols can take different forms. Generally, it is an object, person, situation, or action representing another to give it a different meaning that is much deeper and more significant. Works of literature can be interpreted in various ways with various themes, and the rich symbolism of The Old Man and the Sea promote meaningful discussions of these interpretations. 

Be ‘good’ not ‘bad’

Hemingway said, “About morals, I know only that what is moral is what you feel good after and what is immoral is what you feel bad after.” For Hemingway, the right thing is what makes you feel good afterwards. So, what is it that will make a person “feel good after”? To what does his novel point?

Santiago is a man whose actions and words are rich with Christian imagery. After all, his name is Santiago, or James in English. James, the Disciple, was a fisherman (like Santiago of the novel) called to be a follower of Christ: “He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They too were in a boat mending their nets. Then he called them. So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.”

As the novel moves along, the reader see Santiago hold the fishing line in his fingers, The Old Man and the Sea Ernest Hemingwaymoving them like beads of a rosary as he kneels patiently in the boat. Santiago’s draped sack on his deeply cut back calls to mind the Passion of Christ: “They clothed him in purple and, weaving a crown of thorns, placed it on him. They began to salute him with, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’” The suffering and enduring continue throughout the novel, and the Christian imagery remains.

The story aligns Santiago not with Christ, but as a follower of Christ. He is to be seen as a person who is “good.” What is that he does that is “good,” then? It’s not in church attendance or Bible reading that Santiago’s goodness is found. Instead, his goodness is found in his actions: he endures. He respects the fish, yet he fights hard against it. He knows that he must try his hardest against his “brother” fish.

backIn the face of difficulty, Santiago does what he believes is right, or “good.” The imagery and themes of The Old Man and the Sea align Santiago and his actions with the likes of Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch, Homer’s Odysseus, and William Faulkner’s Dilsey. Like them, Santiago pushes, strives, and holds firm to what he knows he must do.

Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part One

Teaching a longer work of literature to teenagers comes with its challenges: avoiding spoilers, keeping students interested for weeks, and fearing that the students are running to the comfort of quick online summaries.Image result for the old man and the sea"

Experienced teachers and pedagogical experts have found ways around these issues, while other educators opt to stick with short stories and excerpts. One simple approach is to stick with shorter novels that are accessible yet packed with material for teaching. One novel I have had great success with is The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. From the accessibility of the text to the relatability of themes, I have used this novel with teenagers of different ages in various settings.

Accessibility

When picking up a hard copy of The Old Man and the Sea, I always find students to be surprised at how short it is. As a teacher, that’s a comforting reaction to see from reluctant novel-readers. The novel’s present time is only a few days and it takes place in Cuba and the sea nearby; but Santiago’s memories take the reader back to his childhood and young adulthood, to the coasts of Africa and Spain. It’s a vast setting full of ideas and themes as deep as the waters the great marlin swims in, yet the reader can access it in just a few readings.

The simplicity of vocabulary, sentence structure, and plot that Hemingway has become known for is a breath of fresh air for some students. Hemingway believed that “big emotions” do not need to come from big words. In The Old Man and the Sea, he holds to that simplicity. The simplicity also carries over to his short character list with main characters that are reduced to “the old man” and “the boy.”

Image result for the old man and the sea"Yet, the complexity of his ‘iceberg’ is apparent as the thoughts, dreams, and struggles of Santiago–”the old man”–fill the pages. Still further, the character list grows as Santiago speaks to and personifies those around him: the fish, birds, stars, and the sea. These become characters and take the reader deeper into a theme that explores the relationship between humans and nature.

Section-by-Section Approach Made Easy

The novel doesn’t have any chapters–its brevity doesn’t require them. But section breaks allow for daily readings, discussions, and writings that are more manageable for the young reader. The novel is easily broken up into about five sections. Paired with daily writings, it makes for a great Monday-Friday assignment.

A week spent reading the novel is a comfortable amount of days to spend, but the lesson could go further on both ends. Before starting the novel, the teacher or parent can take advantage of the 20th century Cuban setting to explore connected history, geography, weather, professions, and cultures. After reading the novel, the short plot and the intense climax will be fresh on the reader’s mind, and reflection writings, a detailed summary, and an essay can follow the reading.

In the next post, I look into the accessible and relatable themes and symbols of Hemingway’s classic novel: “Teaching The Old Man and the Sea: Part Two.”

Writing the College Essay

The essay is the college application piece where many students experience the most stress. College admission officers use your essay for evidence that you can write well and support ideas with logical arguments.

According to the National Association for College Admission Counseling, grades, strength of curriculum, and admission test scores are the top factors in the college admission decision. However, a majority of schools view the essay with considerable importance in determining which students will attend their college or university. As College Board points out, “when all else is equal between competing applicants, a compelling essay can make the difference. A powerful, well-written essay can also tip the balance for a marginal applicant.”

student

 

To help you through this process, below are some suggestions and guidelines to keep in mind as you write your essay.

Through Lux Writing Center, you can also access individualized guidance through the process. As one parent said, “My child worked with Mr. Lux on her college application essays, and I’m glad we decided to have him take a look at her essays. She is a good writer and had a lot of material and experiences to draw on. However, she found herself unable to look at the essays from a third person point of view. Mr. Lux’s help with this was invaluable. Furthermore, Mr. Lux’s guidance made sure that the essays remained hers and had her voice.”

 

Types of Essay Prompts

  • Personal statement: “Tell us about yourself.”
  • Your favorite activity: “What’s your passion?”
  • How you fit in our school: “Why [insert school name]?”
  • Intellectual curiosity: “Reflect on an experience that has been important to your intellectual development.”

 

General Tips

  • Make it personal: This essay is about you. This is your chance to show the college or university who you are as a unique candidate.
  • Grab the reader’s attention early: Start out with something catchy. Avoid beginning with background information, long details, or anything else that will delay the interesting part of your essay.
  • Be unique–not big and fancy. Unique.
  • Be yourself. Be authentic. Use your “voice.”
  • Show rather than tell: Don’t say you were nervous; describe the feeling. Don’t say something was fun; show why it was fun.
  • Big words are overrated: You don’t need to impress the reader with your vocabulary. Use your voice.
  • Answer all the questions in the prompt: The questions are there for a reason–address them all. Do what the prompt asks!
  • Be concise, to the point
  • Proofread, proofread, and proofread. Read it outloud to “hear” the errors. Have a friend read it. Ask a teacher to read it.
  • 60% explanation; 40% story: Use a story to answer the prompt, but don’t stop there. Explain and connect the story.

 

What They Really Want to Know

  • Who are you?
  • Will you fit in on our campus?
  • Can you write well enough to be successful?

 

What They Do Not Want

  • Cliches
  • Sounding privileged
  • What you think they want (again, stick to the prompt)
  • Generic, dull, and overdone essays. Be unique.

 

Steps for Writing the Essay

1. Find your defining quality

2. Choose a moment that illustrates that quality (anecdote: a little story that grabs attention and makes a point); create a picture–40% of your essay

3. Explain/respond–60% of your essay

A. How did you handle the situation?

B. What did you learn?

4. Why does what you learned matter? Where have you applied that lesson? Where might you apply this lesson in the future?

 

“Do’s” Regarding Style

  • Vary sentence length and syntax
  • Don’t use 100 words when you could use 10–be concise
  • Use varied transitions
  • Have a conflict
  • Start at the peak of the action in the moment (like the Odyssey…in media res). Save the background for later.
  • If you use dialogue, make it short
  • Know your point

 

Please contact Lux Writing Center if you’d like more help with the essay writing process. You can also read a recent testimonial from the parent of a 12th grader:

“My child worked with Mr. Lux on her college application essays, and I’m glad we decided to have him take a look at her essays.

She is a good writer and had a lot of material and experiences to draw on. However, she found herself unable to look at the essays from a third person point of view. Mr. Lux’s help with this was invaluable. Furthermore, Mr. Lux’s guidance made sure that the essays remained hers and had her voice.

Mr. Lux was able to read her essays like the admission counselors will read — without knowing much about her experiences and background. Another major help was when she reused essays for slightly varying prompts. Some of the college prompts such as “How will you add to the diversity of College X?” and “Why College X?” can be challenging. My child says she found these the most challenging. She would send Mr. Lux a collection of thoughts and get his approval for the idea before spending more time on it.

Sometimes the feedback was a simple compliment on a great essay that made her day during the taxing college application process. At other times, his feedback helped her decide to completely redo an essay.

Mr. Lux is good at helping high schoolers work on their college essays. He provides the right amount of suggestion, encouragement, and often ends his comments with a “What do you think?” This is very important when working with 17 or 18 year olds.

Additionally, the five-times-a-week feedback works better than less frequent feedback from most other sources. If you have any questions, my child or I would be very happy to answer those via email. I welcome you to send Mr. Lux an email at LuxWritingCenter@gmail.com and he will put you in touch with me.”

Why Read Fiction?

Reading, Bookworm, Man, Books, Learning, LiteratureDifferent readers have different reasons for reading. Some people cannot go a day without reading. Others only read because their teacher assigned it for class.

After reading through studies, articles, and ideas about reading fiction, I’ve put together a quick list of reasons to read fiction:

 

1. Fictions expands creativity

2. Fiction influences empathy

3. Reading makes you a better writer

4. Fiction shows us different cultures and values

5. Reading reduces stress

6. Reading helps you sleep

7. Reading fiction improves relationships

8. Reading improves memory

 

For more details, you can check out a few of my sources:

“Five Reasons to Read Fiction”

“The Importance of Reading Fiction”

“The Surprising Power of Reading Fiction”

View at Medium.com

ACT Reading Section

The Reading section of the ACT has four passages. You will be asked 40 questions to be answered in 35 minutes. There are various types of questions that will be asked:

  1. Main Idea questions that ask about the passage as a whole.
  2. Inference and writer’s view questions that ask you to understand something that isn’t directly stated in the passage.
  3. Detail questions that ask about specific parts of the passage.
  4. Vocabulary-in-context questions that ask about a word as it is used in the passage.
  5. Function questions that ask about the purpose of a specific part of the passage.

To tackle all of this, you just need to be quick and methodical. Below are some tips to help you approach this section of the ACT.books-2337525_1920

1. Read the questions first: This sounds counterproductive because you might feel you’re losing time by reading the questions twice. Consider it an investment, though. Reading the questions first will allow you to know what you should be looking for in the passage. Though you will be reading the entire passage, it’s good to know what to focus on.

2. Don’t be scared of unfamiliar subjects: The readings cover four topics—natural science, humanities, social science, and prose fiction. The purpose of this section is to test your reading, not your knowledge of these subjects. The writing will be on your level, so don’t be intimidated if the subject is neuroscience!

3. Always read the full passage: Because you read the questions first, you know what to focus on in the reading. That doesn’t mean you should skim the passage, though. Read all of it.

4. Use process of elimination: You might not be able to eliminate all of the incorrect choices, but there will likely be some answers you can eliminate right away.

5. Read the part the question asks about: You might remember the part of the passage that the question is referring to, but you should still read the part being asked about to be certain you remember it correctly.

6. Choose the best answer: Don’t choose the answer that sounds the smartest; choose the answer that has textual evidence to support it.

7. Know the scoring: You won’t lose points for a wrong answer, so answer every question—even if you just have to guess.

8. Take notes: When you read the passage, write short notes next to each paragraph. These notes can cover the purpose of the passage, mention of different people, and different opinions.

9. Predict the answer: Before you read the answer choices and have the opportunity to be misled by incorrect choices, predict what the answer will be.

Be sure to check out tips for taking the English section of the ACT. For individualized instruction on the ACT Writing section, send an email to LuxWritingCenter@gmail.com.

The ACT English Section

On the ACT, there are three ‘English-related’ sections: English, Reading and Writing. As you prepare for the test, you should keep a few things in mind that will help you get a higher score.library

Let’s look at the English section today. This section involves a lot of passage correction. There are five passages, each accompanied by a sequence of multiple choice questions. You’ll have 45 minutes to address the 75 questions. That means you have to move fast!

The types of questions can be broken down into three categories.

  1. Punctuation: These questions test your knowledge of internal and end punctuation, with focus on the relationship of punctuation to meaning.
  2. Grammar and Usage: These test your understanding of subject and verb agreement, pronoun and antecedent relationships, and relationships between modifiers and the word modified. They also test your knowledge of verb formation and formation of comparative and superlative adjectives and adverbs.
  3. Sentence Structure: These are concerned with relationships between and among clauses, placement of modifiers, and shifts in construction.

With so much ground to cover, where do you begin? Below are ten areas that you can focus on to be prepared for the English section of the ACT.

1. The concise choice is the “best” choice: There are often questions in which multiple options seem correct. If there are no new grammar errors introduced, the shortest answer choice is often the correct choice. Although an answer might not be grammatically incorrect, it might be redundant or wordy. For example, if something is said to be “happy and joyful”, it’s redundant and not the best choice. The writing should be simple and to the point.

2. Semicolons: A semicolon can be used to join two independent clauses when the second clause restates the first or when the two clauses are of equal emphasis.

I don’t know if I studied enough; I should review more.

They can also be used to join two independent clauses when the second clause begins with a conjunctive adverb (however, therefore, etc.) or a transition (in fact, for example, etc.).

I know I am ready for this test; in fact, I could take it right now!

3. Commas: There are many uses for commas, but let’s just look at the main ones. First, they’re used to separate words and word groups in a simple series of three or more items.

We ate pasta, bread, and cheese.

Commas are used to separate two adjectives when the adjectives are interchangeable.

The small, black car is affordable.

Use a comma when starting a sentence with a dependent clause (a clause that cannot stand on its own).

When I arrived, the dinner was ready.

Use commas to set off nonessential parts of the sentence.

The dog, wanting to find his bone, went outside.

4. Subject and object pronouns: When a noun is used in relation to a verb, it can be either a subject or an object. Subjects “do” verbs and objects have verbs “done” to them. For example, “The car hit me.” Who is doing the hitting? The car. So the car is the subject. Who is receiving the hit? Me. So “me” is the object.

When we replace the object or the subject with a pronoun, it’s important to know if it’s a subject or object—this will determine what type of pronoun we use. The below chart tells you which to choose depending on what type of noun is being “replaced” by a pronoun:

Subject Pronouns Object Pronouns
I

you

he

she

it

we

they

me

you

him

her

it

us

them

One problem is that some of us have been incorrectly told, for example, that “John and I” is correct; we may have been told that we shouldn’t say “John and me.” Of course, this is not true! It depends on the relationship of the nouns to the verb. For example, let’s look at this:

Ella gave the cookies to John and me.

Ella did not give them to “John and I”. After all, we would never say, “Ella gave the cookies to I.” Right? That’s because the pronoun is receiving the action of being given cookies. On the other hand, let’s look at this example:

John and I gave her the cookies.

In this situation, “John and I” are the subjects so it’s “I” instead of “me”. The object is now Ella, so we use the object pronoun “her”. Ella is receiving the action–she is now the object of the verb.

This also applies to the use of “who” and “whom”. When we have a question about the subject, we use “who”:

Who hit me?

amusement-park-1840626_1920The “who” is doing the verb, hitting. Now, let’s say I did the hitting but I don’t know who I hit:

Whom did I hit?

Remember that the “M pronouns”—including “whom”—are objects that receive the action: Me, hiM, theM, whoM. Remember that the pronouns with “M” are objects, and you’ll ace it!

5. Verb tense: There are six basic verb tenses, two for each time period:

Simple Present: They sing.

Present Perfect: They have sung.

Simple Past: They sang.

Past Perfect: They had sung.

Future: They will sing.

Future Perfect: They will have sung.

The choice with the consistent tense use is the correct choice. If we’re talking about the past, stay in the past:

I told him that I had been there before.

If we’re talking about the future, stay in the future:

I will notify them that they will be in that room.

6. Number agreement: The English section often includes long sentences in which the main subject and the verb are separated by lots of words or clauses. If you identify the subject of each sentence and make sure the verb matches it, you will do well.

Nouns and verbs are both parts of speech with number. We write them differently if they refer to just one thing or multiple things. For example, “One cat climbs fast” but “Two cats climb fast.”

cat-1140349_1920

Number agreement simply means that the noun and the verb have the same number (singular or plural). Be on the lookout for modifiers and words in between the subject and the verb that might throw you off:

The writing in those poems is wonderful.

Notice that it’s “is” because the subject is “writing” not “poems”.

7. Logical flow and strategy: The English section will ask you to determine the order and focus of sentences or paragraphs. You will also be asked about adding, revising, or deleting sentences as well as how a sentence aligns with the purpose and focus of a paragraph or the passage as a whole.

8. Commonly confused words:

  • There, their, they’re
  • Through, thorough, threw
  • Have vs. of (could’ve = could have)
  • Accept vs except
  • Affect vs effect
  • Eminent vs imminent
  • Hole vs whole
  • Then, than
  • Already, all ready
  • Beside, besides
  • Further, farther
  • Who, whom, whose, who’s

9. Fragments: A complete sentence needs a subject and a verb in a complete main clause. This is NOT a complete sentence:

Good movie.

This is a complete sentence:

That was a good movie.

If it lacks a verb, it’s a fragment.

10. Parallel structure: In parallel construction, the phrases or items must be in the same form. This can be tested with a few parts of speech: nouns, verbs, prepositions, etc.

For example, we should have “I like eating, sleeping, and reading.” It would be incorrect to write, “I like eating, to sleep, and reading.” The “to sleep” is not parallel to the verb format of the other two items.

 

Those ten areas are among the “favorites” for the ACT English section—you’re likely to see them on the test. Now, here are some final tips to leave you with:

  • Everything not underlined is taken as fact. Everything underlined is under question.
  • Don’t worry about looking for errors in the passage; focus on the parts being questioned.
  • Read the questions, and then look over surrounding sentences for context.
  • Ask yourself:
    • Does this sentence contribute to the topic? Is it new information or is it merely rephrasing the same information?
    • Is the style and tone consistent with the rest of the passage?
    • Do the paragraphs transition well and are they consistent with the others?

Stay tuned for tips on the Reading section of the test! Also, for individualized instruction, contact Lux Writing Center.

Writing in nature

On a clear day last month, I took a group of young writers outside. With paper and pen in hand, we spread out to write—one went into a small wooded area, a few sat in the grass, another climbed up a large oak, and a couple of them sat at tables under trees. They were tasked to simply describe something they saw. Later, we reconvened to share descriptions of ants, trees, Spanish moss, and cold air. These descriptions later evolved into wonderful creative writings.

The activity proved to be fruitful, and I attribute this to the depth and beauty the natural world offers us. When we, our students, or our children are facing writer’s block, boredom with the usual prompts, or simallgau-63427_1280-1ply a tiredness of being at the desk, outside is a good place to be.

Connecting our lives to the natural world around us is not a new concept. It is for good reason that we plant trees in street medians, spend Saturday afternoons at parks, stare out at the vastness of the ocean, and can’t help but be overwhelmed when we look up at a clear starry night.

It’s an ancient connection that gets to our core of being. I see this connection in the readings I teach—creation stories, the Psalms, Indian animal fables, Jesus’ parables, and poetry from all over the world.

Thomas Merton, a writer and monk who lived in a hermitage in the woods of Kentucky, believed that creation must be experienced and observed. He began many of his journal entries by writing what he was observing in the forest around him. He wrote descriptions
like this one:

Mists of damp heat rise up out of the fields around the sleeping abbey.  The whole valley is flooded with moonlight and I count the southern hills, and almost number the trees of the forest to the north.  Now the huge chorus of living beings rise up out of the world beneath my feet: life singing in the watercourses, throbbing in the creeks and the fields and the trees, choirs of millions of jumping and flying and creeping things.  And far above me the cool sky opens upon the frozen distance of the stars.

He did this as if he had to—as if these things had such an influence on his contemplative life and writing that he had to acknowledge them first.

Nature is a good place for a writer—young or experienced—to begin.  To get you started on your outdoor writing adventure, here are some ideas:

  1. Keep a nature journal.
  2. Sit outside away from people and do nothing. Write anything that comes to mind.
  3. Describe the smallest thing you can see outside. Do it with great detail.pen-1342655_1920
  4. While on a hike, imagine a story that might take place in that setting.
  5. Personify an aspect of nature that you see.
  6. Spend 15 minutes outside observing the world around you. Write about what you notice most.
  7. Go out on a very cold or very hot day. You might be uncomfortable. Try to find the good in what you feel and experience.
  8. When you are outside, which of your senses are you most thankful to have?
  9. If you don’t like to be outside, write while you are outside and tell what you don’t like about it.
  10. Write about the element of nature that speaks to you most.
  11. Write a story or poem about a leaf falling.
  12. Describe what a bird might see.
  13. Read outside. Remember, the key to being good writer is to read.
  14. While inside, read about nature and look at pictures of nature. Let these images and readings inspire your writing. For example, browse through the bird images of Alexander Wilson, American Ornithologist. Tell what you see. Describe how the birds might feel if you touched them. Think of any movement the pictures might suggest.

The options are plentiful and nature is ready for you to experience it—so get outside and write!

 

 

 

Why Writing Is Important

Writing well is an important skill when your English essay is due. It’s also important if you wish to pursue a career in journalism, editing, or content writing. However, writing well has many benefits, and a list from Marquette University tells us what makes writing so important.

  • Writing is the primary basis upon which your work, your learning, and your intellect will be judged—in college, in the workplace, and in the community.
  • Writing expresses who you are as a person.
  • Writing is portable and permanent. It makes your thinking visible.
  • Writing helps you move easily among facts, inferences, and opinions without getting confused—and without confusing your reader.
  • Writing promotes your ability to pose worthwhile questions.
  • Writing fosters your ability to explain a complex position to readers, and to yourself.
  • Writing helps others give you feedback.
  • Writing helps you refine your ideas when you give others feedback.
  • Writing requires that you anticipate your readers’ needs. Your ability to do so demonstrates your intellectual flexibility and maturity.
  • Writing ideas down preserves them so that you can reflect upon them later.
  • Writing out your ideas permits you to evaluate the adequacy of your argument.
  • Writing stimulates you to extend a line of thought beyond your first impressions or gut responses.
  • Writing helps you understand how truth is established in a given discipline.
  • Writing equips you with the communication and thinking skills you need to participate effectively in democracy.
  • Writing is an essential job skill.

 

[This list was composed and posted by Marquette University]

 

 

 

How an environmental education program is changing a Peruvian community

The community of Huari, Peru is largely made up of farmers, whose lives revolve around the natural environment. The community also relies on the environment for tourism, making their livelihoods doubly dependent on forces both within and beyond their control.

In an effort to care for and protect the environment it so heavily relies on, the municipality of Huari recently created a new position, Director of Environmental Initiatives. It was filled by former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, Carlos García.

“The goal of my job,” Carlos says, “is to help a community that is heavily dependent on its environment but don’t understand what or why things are happening around them. One of the projects I have launched in my community is a free education program by way of environmental videos and lectures, where I coordinate the screening of science documentaries.”picture1

Each week there is a guest lecturer speaking speaking in conjunction with the videos, explaining how the subject is important to Huari and to Peru. The line-up of speakers includes scientists from the Smithsonian Museum, NASA, Hudson Riverkeeper, RUNA Foundation, NRDC, Conservation International, National Cave and Karst Research Institute, and past TEDTalk speakers.

“The programs are exciting for Huarinos. For some, it’s a family affair and for others it’s a place to meet up with friends,” says Garcia. “The audience is varied and we have kids from three-years-old to adults in their 70s. One of my main goals in creating this program was to peak people’s interests in the environment and have people start asking questions.”

A major component of the initiative is to help set an example of female leadership in science. “I specifically wanted to reach out to women leaders in science to speak at our series,” Carlos says. He and the community are reaching out to women and girls who have been limited in their science education due to the emphasis of traditional gender roles.

“I wanted to let the women and girls of Huari know that their end goal could be more than being wife or being in traditional ‘women jobs’. They could study sciences and math as well,” Carlos explains. “One of the most rewarding moments in my career and life was last week when a university student came up to me after the video lecture and told me that she realized she could understand ‘tough’ scientific concepts that were explained in the videos and by the lecturers, and it made her decide to change her studies from tourism to environmental engineering. Something that she was always told was a ‘man’s job’ and that she would never understand.”

He added: “By simply showing some videos and hearng amazing professionals talk, we’ve now changed this girl’s future, hopefully for the better. If during my time on this earth I can change just one person’s life for the better, I know I will have left this world a better place than when I came into it. That’s my ultimate goal.”

picCarlos, in fact, has a led a life dedicated to leaving the world a better place. Before serving in the Peace Corps, he worked in New York City for a personal injury law firm, working exclusively with 9/11 victims. He was the litigation science adviser, combining his desire to help others with his love for science.

“The very first time I worked in a science capacity was at the age of 13 when I was awarded an internship at the American Museum of Natural History, Aeronautic and Space division,” he recalls.

Soon after that, in high school, Carlos did humanitarian work in Costa Rica helping locals with solid waste management issues. It was after high school, though, that he realized a deep passion for humanitarian work.

“I would say the biggest life-changing experience I had when I was younger was in between high school and college, when I decided to go to Africa to work,” he said. “I had already traveled all around Europe and I wanted to go somewhere I had never been and help people who really needed it. So, by myself, I lived and worked with locals in Uganda for two months at orphanages and schools in slums, and I did the same in Kenya for three months. I repeatedly got sick and got a bad case of malaria, but it was worth it. Seeing that I could actually make a change had a huge impact on me and changed the course of my studies and future work.”

During his college career, Carlos worked in Barcelona, Spain at a renewable energy consultation firm and the next summer he worked at an environmental NGO in Colorado. The next summer and school year he worked at a law firm in Baltimore. After college he moved to New York to work for the Hudson Riverkeeper.

In Huari, Carlos can now focus his passion on helping people and the environment, incorporating his science background. “When I got to Huari, I knew I wanted to promote environmental education in some way, and after thinking about it, I came to the realization that ‘Why couldn’t the people of Huari have the same level of educational exposure as I had?’”

“The population is mainly made up of farmers,” he says. “Most are under-educated but are motivated to learn, as well as be extremely sincere and welcoming.” Their lives are grounded in traditional beliefs that Carlos hopes to bridge with a more expansive knowledge of their environment.

“Traditional beliefs are passed on generation through generation. Too often, they don’t ask questions or research the topic themselves, they take what they are told as fact. One of the most concerning beliefs that I’ve encountered, which helped spur the program, was that ‘paper comes from plastic bottles’ and that we need to use as much plastic as possible to help create more paper. obviously, some of these beliefs can be damaging to the environment, as well as the population in general.”

“Climate change is one of the most evident things happening around the people of Huari,” Carlos says. “They don’t really understand it. They don’t understand why seasons are changing out of pattern, why animals that used to live near Huari aren’t here anymore, and why their crops are not growing as efficiently as they used to. This week Andrea Becerra of the National Resource Defense Council gave a great introductory lecture on the greenhouse effect and the community was astonished. They had no idea that driving cars attributed to climate change. It’s these kinds of concepts that, when the community learns about them, give them the ability to make informed decisions about how they want their and their community’s future to turn out.”

But the videos and lectures are just the tip of the iceberg, Carlos says.

His current workload consists of a native tree reforestation program, the international lecture and video series, an international exchange program for the schools in the area with the aim of creating environmental initiatives, and creating and redoing all of the municipality’s websites.

The reforestation program, Monti-Muru, is the municipality’s first reforestation program. It focuses on planting native tree species and educating the public on the pros of native species versus the cons of non-native species. The community plans to plant 15,000 trees by March of next year.

“I am a huge on the concept of sustainable development so in creating this program I involved as many local ‘players’ as possible,” Carlos says. “SERNANP, the Government of Peru’s national service of natural areas, the local university, and the municipality are all a part of the program. What I would love is to return a few years after I leave and find that the program is still running and is even more effective than when I left it. Ultimately, I want this to be their program, not mine.”