Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Having been born in the Chinese Year of the Horse, I plan to take January 31, 2014 big. This link gives ideas for a delightful party. Thank you, fizzyparty.com and Happy New Year everyone!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Tools for Writing an Essay

Cubing a Topic - a guest post by Nikolas Baron
(Nikolas works for GRAMMARLY, a commercial site offering interesting tools for writers. He's developing guest blogs and is fun to correspond with.)

Coming up with a topic is usually the easy part of writing any essay. We all have a pretty good idea of what interests us and what we want to write about. Of course, when we sit down to actually write the essay, we hit a wall. After all, what do we need to know about our topic? Where do we even begin learning what we need to know about our topic? Blech. Even looking at those questions overwhelms us. In my work for Grammarly, I study the tools people use to become better writers, and I think there are a number of underused techniques for tackling a topic, which any writer would be well-suited to add to his or her toolbelt. One such technique is “cubing” a topic, which involves the writer looking at his or her topic from six sides (like a cube), the culmination of which is an extremely informed perspective on whatever the writer has chosen to write about.
If you're an educator, cubing is an extremely valuable tool for your students, especially when they haven't given as much thought to their topic as they should before they start writing about it. Traditionally, to cube, students were given a blank cube and asked to write their response quickly on each side. Personally, I think cubing works best when you have your students take each “side” of the cube in order, giving them ample time to consider their topic from that angle and write about it. For best results, I would recommend spending ten to fifteen minutes on each side. While this take on cubing may lose some of the flair of the original shape, it does give writers of all skill levels an easy technique for them to deeply examine their topic.
Let's get started.
Side 1Description: For this side, have your students describe their topic the best as they can, using everyday words and descriptions.
Side 2 – Compare: Then, ask your students to compare their topic to something similar. What are the two topics' similarities or differences?
Side 3 – Associate: Ask your students what else their topic makes them think of. What do they associate with their topic?
Side 4 – Analyze: At this point, your students will be getting into the real meat of the topic. This side requires them to break their topic into specific components, describing causality, relationships, and effects.
Side 5 Application: How important is the topic to the real world? Is it functional? Abstract? What sort of relationship does it have to people? Environment? Culture? Ask your students: if they were to remove the topic from existence, would anything happen?
Side 6 – Argument: This final side is the most difficult: asking students to argue for or against their topic. How important is it? Do they agree with it? Do they disagree with it? Within this side, they must also start to develop their argument with supporting facts. Why do they agree with it? Why do they disagree with it?
You might have noticed that in the above list, Side 1 is a relatively simple request, while Side 6 requires  much more information and attention. The idea behind cubing is a gradual progression from the beginning of a topic (the surface, physical description) to the inner depths (value judgment), so that by the end of the exercise, the writer will have a firm enough grasp on his or her topic that he or she will be able to begin writing a piece with the confidence that comes only from time and deep thought about a particular subject.
Of course, once your students have a great, well-developed topic, their essay will really start to shine. If you want them to really polish it, however, they'll want to be sure that it looks good on a technical level, and that's where tools like Grammarly.com come in. Over at Grammarly, we offer an extremely sophisticated grammar check that examines a piece for over 250 common grammatical errors. By combining a well-thought-out topic with a strong technical foundation, the end result is an excellent essay that would make any teacher proud.