May 27, 2010


I have been an English teacher for long enough that I can see why students make certain mistakes. Most of them are quite predictable, so I typically try to address the common problems before I see it too much. Usually the students are quite shocked to find that they are even making errors. Often my bilingual students are the worst because they do not understand that what we say is not what we write.

The evolution of cause (worse: cuz) is easy to explain to students.

Incorrect usage: My sister boyfriend is a tool cause he dropped out of school.
Of course, that sentence does not make sense because, technically, cause is the wrong word. It makes no sense in the context.

So, I show students: because --> 'cause --> cause --> cuz.

I don't need to give you the details; you know how this disaster happens. It has to do with how we speak. No big deal, right? Just use the real word in your writing. Are you imagining me in front of the classroom explaining this devolution? I always like those days because I see light bulbs going off all over the classroom along with a chorus of "Oh! I didn't know!" From juniors and seniors! Hilarious!

In the last few years, I have seen of joins the verb ranks, nearly putting poor have out of a job. This one is frustrating and harder to explain to students who simply want to use the language well enough to pass their proficiency writing exams and get a job. Even more, it's absolutely entertaining seeing students who know the difference interact with students who don't.

A conversation between two students in my creative writing class:

"'My brother should of given me some money.' This is suppose to be have not of."
"It's should HAVE, not should OF."
"Are you sure?"
"Uhm. Okay. I guess--Hey, Ms. HappyChyck, is it should have or should of?"

And then a series of eye rolls follow (between me and the students who know the answer to this easy question) as I calmly answer, "Yep, it's have."

It's during time like those that all the suffering I endure being a blasted English teacher is worth it.

As in tune as I am to these common writing issues in my classroom, so much that I hardly blink an eye over them, this week one of my students who just joined my class this quarter introduced me to a new crazy devolution of language.


As in, "Ama miss you next year." This is what the student wrote in a letter to a teacher she was thanking for helping her in her education. A letter, I need to add, that would be given to her teacher--not just a random writing assignment. A real letter on nice paper! Time to make a good impression!

I called her over to so I could help her revise, and I said, "What the heck is this?"
"You mean, 'I am going to,' right?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"You should change it. Nobody is going to know what you're saying. Use some real words, even if they are contractions."
"Oh no, Miss, she'll get it!"
"I doubt it."
"No, she will!" And then the girl went bouncing back to her seat like she had no worries in the world.

Does anyone have a gun? A needle? Please, shoot me now!

I just sat like the speechless, powerless fool I am.

Sometimes I hate being an English teacher.

May 22, 2010

Scrabble Time!

WordPlay 4/23/10

My high school students have fallen in love with Scrabble.

My high school students, although in a creative writing class, are reluctant writers. They are not lovers of language. Some of them could not spell their way through a ransom note. Yet, they beg to play Scrabble. It is the most amazing thing to me because last year when I tried to introduce Scrabble to students at this school, they just didn't get it.

It started as a Friday activity, when classes are only 30 minutes, and then we found ourselves to the time of the year when the students--they are seniors, afterall--are just DONE. And they just want to play Scrabble. And for some reason, I was okay with that. Honestly, I was okay because I'm tapped out in finding writing topics and projects for this fickle bunch.


Call it word play. Vocabulary development. A cop out. Whatever. I can spin it so we can do it.

They didn't just play regular Scrabble during out little word play unit. I taught them some variations on the game, and they found some of them rather challenging.

Theme Scrabble was the first one we tried. I told students to play the game just as they normally would but to try to build words that were school-related. That night I gave extra credit to students each time they built a word related to the theme. The students were excited to earn extra credit, so that was a big motivator.

Proper Scrabble should have quenched their desires to always use proper nouns, as that's ALL they could use when playing this version. Of course, it proved to be difficult, but that's the point. Think, little darlings, think!

Anagrams or Clabbers was a bit hard for them to catch onto at first. Actually, they didn't use true anagrams when coming up with their plays. They were able to simply put down the word in any order that they wanted. This made them think about strategy a bit because they were able to put down high-point tiles on the bonus spaces.

Tonica was interesting because all the tiles were divided up at the beginning of the game, and those were the tiles they had to work with during the whole game. I told students that they could still get the "bingo" for having words with 7 or more letters, so of course, the scores were high for the game. I was interested in seeing the various strategies. One group just played as usual, but another team spent most of their time with their noses in dictionaries trying to come up with the longest words possible. Nose in a dictionary? Seriously. Wow.

After a few days of this, of course, the most natural thing for me to do was to ask each team to make up their own variation of the Scrabble game and then give it to another team to play. The day we played the student-made variations, I only had students enough for 2 teams, so I am not sure what all the game variation ended up being, but here are some of their ideas:
  • all tiles passed out, and the person who has a word with a z ready to play starts the game
  • players have enough tiles to fill the tray at all times
  • all words put down can only be animals or colors
  • all words can only be placed backwards on the board
  • drink theme--drink names get 50 extra points (I was fearful of this risky topic, but surprisingly, they did not pervert the game at all.)
  • bonus point squares are only good if the word is a drink, otherwise, points are normal
  • a player can trade hands (or rack of tiles) with another player at any time if an agreement is reached
All in all, I thought their games were rather creative, and they thought the other groups' game instructions were fairly easy to understand and the variation were definitely fun to play.

I know I don't have much time to play such games in my regular English classes, so this is really only a wacky kind of thing I could have some leeway with in creative writing. I've just been in awe how attentive my students have been--not to mention how much thinking they've actually been doing in the name of playing games.

May 6, 2010


You know how small children often get that burst of energy just before they have to go to bed? They get super hyper, running around, acting crazy, being loud, and in general, driving their parents a little loony at the time of day when they are the most tired?

Well, I believe my 8th graders are having a burst of immaturity in the last few weeks before they move onto high school.

Work independently and silently?
Foreign, incomprehensible concept.

Walk into a classroom, sit down, and be ready to work?
Seriously, children, do I need to model that for you in May?

Listen while others, especially the teacher, are talking?
Do you lose your home training, too?

Do your work and turn it in.
What am I giving you time for during class? It's not to talk to your friends.
What's so hard? Do. Your. &%*$. Work!

It's not just in the classroom that they are a mess, either. In the hallways, they congregate like they are on a 15 minute coffee break when they only have 3 minutes to get to class. After school isn't much better, as they mill around the hallways cackling and goofing off. Go home, already! For students who are so disconnected from their academics, they are awfully bound to campus at the end of the day.

Yes, I know, it's about seeing their friends. I got that. Thank you. Still irritating.

Of course, part of this is my problem because at this point in the school year, my patience level is virtually nonexistent.

We're are in such a pickle.

May 2, 2010

Back to Normal Life

I finished my master's program this week, and I am not knee-deep in papers to grade this weekend. I'm a little lost. Really? There's nothing pressing that I must do? So this is how the other people live. Interesting.