October 29: Rules for Correspondence Day

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On this day in 1890, Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), English writer and mathematician, published an essay entitled “Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing.” Best known for his works Alice in Wonderland and “Jabberwocky,” Lewis Carroll’s essay on letter writing was included as a booklet in the “Wonderland” Postage-Stamp-Case, a product designed to help letter writers organize their postage and correspondence.

In his essay, Carroll, whose real name was Charles Dodgson, offered tips on opening a letter, closing a letter, and keeping a registry of correspondence.  The main focus of the essay, however, is the section entitled “How to Go on With a Letter” in which he provides his key considerations for the body of a letter.  The nine rules are summarized below:

Rule 1:  Write legibly.

Rule 2:  Begin with remarks about your reader or your reader’s last letter rather than about yourself or about your apologies for not having written sooner.

Rule 3:  Don’t repeat yourself.

Rule 4:  If you think your letter might irritate your friend, set it aside for a day and re-read it again.  Then, re-write the letter, if necessary, to make it less offensive.  Also, keep a copy of the letter so that you’ll have a record of what you actually said.

Rule 5:  If your friend makes a severe remark in his or her letter, either ignore it or respond in a less severe way.

Rule 6:  Don’t try to have the last word.

Rule 7:  Watch out for sarcasm and humor.  If you write in jest, make sure that it is obvious.

Rule 8:  If you write in your letter that you have enclosed something, stop writing for a moment and get the item for enclosure and put it into the envelope immediately.

Rule 9:  If you get to the end of the note-sheet and you have more to say, take out another piece of paper instead of cross-writing. (Cross writing was a paper-saving practice of writing vertically over the horizontal lines of your letter) (1).

What seems to unify Carroll’s rules is the consideration for the reader.  Carroll reminds writers to avoid egocentricity and to craft every sentence with the reader in mind.  Even though letter writing today is certainly less popular than in Carroll’s time, his emphasis on this universal writing principle — “Put the reader first” — makes his rules applicable to just about any form of writing.

American humorist Will Rogers stated the rule using an apt metaphor: “When you go fishing you bait the hook, not with what you like, but with what the fish likes.”

Today’s Challenge:  Rules for Email

What are your rules for crafting an effective email?  Brainstorm some rules that effective writers and communicators should consider when writing an email, either for personal or professional purposes.  State at least three rules, and follow each rule with an explanation and rationale, using specific examples where appropriate. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Carroll, Lewis. Eight or Nine Wise Words About Letter Writing. 1890. Public Domain Project Gutenberg. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38065/38065-h/38065-h.htm.

October 27:  The Federalist Papers Day

On this day in 1787, Federalist Paper 1 was published in the Independent Journal of New York.

Today Americans take the Constitutional form of government for granted.  But in 1787, shortly after the young, ragtag nation had thrown off the British monarchy and won its independence, a constitution was not a given.  The questions at that time were — would there be a central federal government at all, and if there were, what would be its powers?  The original basis for the united thirteen states was the Articles of Confederation, but this gave the federal government little power:  no power to levy taxes, to regulate trade, or to enforce laws.  The Constitution, which offered a plan for a federal government based on checks and balances, was drafted in September of 1787, but it still needed to be ratified by at least nine states.

In October 1787, therefore, the federalists began their debate with the anti-federalists.  One of the chief proponents of the Constitution was Alexander Hamilton, the chief aide to George Washington during the Revolutionary War and an elected representative from New York state to the Congress of the Confederation.  Hamilton knew that New York would be a key swing state in the debate, so he hatched a plan to write essays that would be published in New York newspapers to promote and explain the new Constitution.  To help him, Hamilton enlisted James Madison, who had served in the Continental Congress, and John Jay, a lawyer and diplomat.

Between October 1787 and May 1788, the trio wrote a total of 85 essays, totaling more than 175,000 words.  Each essay was published anonymously under the pen name “Publius,” an allusion to Publius Valerius Publicola, a supporter of the Roman Republic.

The Federalist Papers served as a kind of user’s guide to the Constitution, explaining how the people, not a king, would govern and how a federal government was needed to increase efficiency and to prevent the risk of another monarchy.  The papers also explained the separation of powers between the branches of government, and how government should operate to maintain individual liberty without anarchy.

In the end, the federalists won.  All thirteen states ratified the U.S. Constitution.

Today we have all 85 Federalist Papers intact as testimony to the work of Hamilton, Madison, and Jay.  Reading them, however, is not easy. They are written in dense 18th century prose.  With careful focus and attention, however, they can be understood.

It is this kind of careful close reading that the College Board had in mind when it redesigned its Scholastic Aptitude Test, which took effect in 2016.  One specific area of emphasis in the redesign of the SAT reading test is U.S. founding documents, which includes the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Federalist Papers (2).

Today’s Challenge:  Federalist Paper in a Nutshell

What are the keys to writing a good summary?  Read Federalist Paper 1, or one of the other papers, and write a one-paragraph summary.  Read and re-read the passage until you understand its main ideas.  Before you write your summary, consider the following “Six Summary Secrets”:

  1. Open with a topic sentence that identifies the author and title of the work being summarized.
  2. Make sure your summary is clear to someone who has not read the original.
  3. Focus on the main points rather than the details.
  4. Paraphrase by using your own words without quoting words directly from the original passage.
  5. Be objective, by reporting the ideas in the passage without stating your own opinions or ideas regarding the passage or its author.
  6. Use concise, clear language.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Beck, Glenn with Joshua Charles.  The Original Argument:  The Federalists’ Case for the Constitution, Adapted for the 21st Century.   New York:  Threshold Editions, 2011:  xxi-xxxi.

2- The College Board.  The Redesigned SAT  “Founding Documents and the Great Global Conversation.”

https://www.collegeboard.org/sites/default/files/founding_documents_and_the_great_global_conversation.pdf.

 

October 21:  Nobel Day

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On this day in 1833, Alfred Nobel was born in Stockholm, Sweden. When he was nine years old, he moved with his family to St. Petersburg, Russia, where his father worked as an engineer, manufacturing explosives.  In Russia, Nobel studied chemistry and became fluent in English, French, German, and Russian.  Later the family moved back to Sweden, and Alfred worked for his father in his factory experimenting with explosives.

Tragedy struck in 1864 when an explosion in the Nobel factory killed five people, including Alfred’s younger brother Emil. Resolved to invent a safer explosive, Nobel went to work and in 1867 he patented his invention which he called “Nobel’s Safety Powder.”  The new explosive was indeed safer, combining nitroglycerin and an absorbent sand, but it needed a catchier name.  To solve this problem, Nobel turned to a Greek root for “power” and coined the word dynamite. Dynamite did, in fact, make the work of miners safer; however, its use in warfare also made killing more efficient.

In 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published an obituary of Alfred, stating, “The merchant of death is dead.” Although the reports of his death were greatly exaggerated, the obituary still caused Alfred to reflect on his legacy.  He immediately changed his will, setting aside his fortune to establish the Nobel Prizes, awarded each year in Sweden for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, medicine, literature, and for contributions towards peace.  A prize for economics was added in 1968 (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Dynamite Inventions

What would you argue is the greatest single invention of all time? What do you know about its inventor and how it was invented? Brainstorm a list of inventions.  Then, select the one that you think is deserving of being recognized for its genius. Write an explanation of why you think the invention is so special.  Include some details from research on its inventor and where, when, and how the invention came to be. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Biography.com. Alfred Nobel Biography. http://www.biography.com/people/alfred-nobel-9424195#an-invention-and-a-legacy.

October 16:  Dictionary Day

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Noah Webster was born on this day in 1758 in Hartford, Connecticut. He went on to graduate from Yale and to work as a lawyer. His most noteworthy work, however, came as a school teacher. Unhappy with the curriculum materials he was given to teach, he created his own uniquely American curriculum: A three-part Grammatical Institute of the English Language. It included a spelling book, a grammar book, and a reader.

Webster served in the student militia at Yale during the Revolutionary War. He never saw combat, but while he never fought in the literal battle for independence from Britain, he was a key player in the battle to make American English independent from British English.

His spelling book, known as the “Blue-Backed Speller,” became one of the most popular and influential works in American history. Only the Bible sold more copies.  According to Bill Bryson in his book The Mother Tongue, Noah’s spelling book went through at least 300 editions and sold more than sixty million copies. Because of the wide use of his spelling book and his dictionary published in 1828, Webster had a significant impact on the spelling and pronunciation of American English. His dictionary contained more than 70,000 words, and it was the most complete dictionary of its time (1).

Many of the distinctive differences in spelling and pronunciation of British words versus American English words can be traced back to Webster. For example:

Change of -our to –or as in colour and color, honour and honor, labour and labor.

Change of –re to er as in centre and center, metre and meter, theatre and theater

Change of –ce to se as in defence and defense, licence and license, offence and offense

The change of the British double-L in travelled and traveller to the American traveled, traveler (2).

Not all of Webster’s spelling changes stuck, however. David Grambs, in his book Death by Spelling, lists the following as examples of words that were retracted in later editions of Webster’s Dictionary: iz, relm, mashine, yeer, bilt, tung, breth, helth, beleeve, and wimmen (3).

After Webster’s death in 1843, the rights to his dictionaries were purchased by Charles and George Merriam. The first volume of their dictionary, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary was published in 1847.

After purchasing the rights for use of the Webster name, the Merriam brothers lost a legal battle to use the name exclusively. As a result, today other dictionaries use the name Webster even though they have no connection to Webster or his original work. Because of this, Merriam-Webster includes the following assurance of quality for its dictionaries:

Not just Webster. Merriam-Webster.™

Other publishers may use the name Webster, but only Merriam-Webster products are backed by 150 years of accumulated knowledge and experience. The Merriam-Webster name is your assurance that a reference work carries the quality and authority of a company that has been publishing since 1831 (4).

Today’s Challenge: Dictionary Day Decalogue

What is your favorite word in the English language?  What kind of information can you find in a dictionary besides just the correct spellings and definitions of words?  Dictionaries tell us much more than just spelling and definitions. To celebrate Dictionary Day brainstorm a list of your favorite words.  Then, grab a good dictionary, and make a list of at least “Ten Things You Can Find in a Dictionary Besides Spelling and Definitions.” (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Bryson, Bill. The Mother Tongue. New York: Perennial, 1990.

2 –Reader’s Digest Success with Words: A Guide to the American Language. New York: Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., 1983.

3 – Grambs, David. Death by Spelling: A Compendium of Tests, Super Tests, and Killer Bees. New York: Harper & Row, 1989: 27.

4-Merriam-Webster. About Us – Noah Webster and America’s First Dictionary. https://www.merriam-webster.com/about-us/americas-first-dictionary.

 

October 15:  National Poetry Day

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Today is National Poetry Day founded in 1994 by British philanthropist and publisher William Sieghart.  Although this “National” day is celebrated primarily in Britain, there is a definite case for making it a global celebration:  It’s the birthday in 70 B.C. of the Roman poet Virgil, author of Rome’s national epic, the Aeneid.  Virgil influenced the great Latin poet Ovid, as well as Dante, the major Italian poet of the Middle Ages.  In Dante’s epic poem the Divine Comedy, Dante employs Virgil as his guide on his travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven.

Depiction of VirgilIn his own epic, the Aeneid, Virgil traces the travels of the mythical hero Aeneas, a Trojan prince, who becomes Rome’s great hero and father.  Before his death in 19 B.C., Virgil supposedly left instructions for the Aeneid to be burned. Emperor Augustus, however, wouldn’t allow it to be destroyed; instead, he ordered two of Virgil’s friends to edit it, and two years later it was published (1).

The purpose of National Poetry Day is the reading, writing, publishing, listening, and teaching of poetry; it’s also a nice day to plan ahead for spring when Poetry Month is celebrated. Each year organizers select a theme to kick off inspiration.  The theme is not meant to be prescriptive, but it can help spark one’s memory of poems from the past as well as ignite imagination for creating new poems.

Here is a list of some of the themes from past years:

Song Lyrics, Fresh Voices, Journeys, Celebration, Britain, Food, The Future, Identity, Dreams, Work, Heroes and Heroines, Home, Games, Stars, Water, Remember, Light, Change (2)

One excellent way to celebrate National Poetry Day is by putting together a thematic anthology of poetry or poetic prose.  The word anthology in the original Greek meant to gather flowers:  anthos “a flower” + logia “collecting.”  Today we use the word metaphorically, the flowers being samples of the best verse by various writers gathered into one beautiful bouquet of a book.

Today’s Challenge:  Beautiful Words Bound

What are some themes that you might select if you were putting together an anthology of prose or poetry?  Brainstorm a list of possible themes.  Then, select the one theme you like the best. Using word association on your theme, generate a list of words and phrases you associate with your theme.  Use this list to identify some titles of published works you might include in an anthology or to generate some ideas for new works you might create for your anthology.  Finally, write an introduction to your anthology, explaining why you picked your theme, why your theme is relevant and important, and what kinds of works you plan to put in your anthology. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Williams, Robert Deryck. Virgil. Encyclopedia Britannica.com. http://www.britannica.com/biography/Virgil.

2- National Poetry Day. What is National Poetry Day? https://nationalpoetryday.co.uk/about-npd/.

 

October 9:  Imaginary Places Day

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On this day in 1899, L. Frank Baum (1856-1918) finished the manuscript of his finest work called The Emerald City, a work that would later bear a more familiar title: The Wonderful World of Oz.  To commemorate the occasion, Baum framed his pencil with the following note:  “With this pencil I wrote the manuscript of The Emerald City.”

For the name of his imaginary setting, Baum claimed his inspiration came from the label on the third drawer of his filing cabinet which read O-Z.   Other inspiration came from his boyhood home of Peerskill, New York, which had roads paved with bright yellow bricks imported from Holland.

Unfortunately, Baum’s book was not the Harry Potter of its day, and although he wrote 13 sequels, he never earned a lot of money.  When he died of heart disease in 1918, he left just $1,072.96 in his will.

Even the film version of the book, The Wizard of Oz, lost money when it was released in 1939, 21 years after Baum’s death. The film did not begin its journey to becoming an iconic classic until the 1950s when it was shown on television.  Forty-five million people watched it the first time is was broadcasted on November 3, 1956 (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Go to Your Imaginary Happy Place

What imaginary place would you rate as the greatest of all, either from books, television, or movies?  What makes this place so special?  Brainstorm a list of all the imaginary places you can think of.  If you’re having trouble remembering, use the list of imaginary places below to get you started.  Then, select one and explain what makes it your top fictional setting.

Camelot, Xanadu, Vanity Fair, El Dorado, Atlantis, Utopia, Shangri-La, Valhalla, Gotham City, Springfield, Hogwarts, Wonderland  (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-The Telegram. L. Frank Baum: The Real Wizard of Oz. 6 May 2016. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/5949617/L-Frank-Baum-the-real-Wizard-of-Oz.html

October 2:  Thirteen Ways Day

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Today is the birthday of American poet Wallace Stevens (1879-1955).  Wallace won the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 even though he never worked as a full-time poet.  His day job was as an executive for an insurance company in Hartford, Connecticut.

One of Stevens’ best-known poems is “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” published in 1917.  The poem captures the essence of poetry, a form of writing that challenges both the writer and the reader to “look” at the world from different perspectives and to see it in new ways.  In the tradition of Imagism, a poetic movement that emphasizes precise imagery and clear, concrete diction, Stevens presents thirteen numbered stanzas, each featuring a different way of seeing the ordinary blackbird (1).

Wallace Stevens.jpgToday’s Challenge:  Ways of Looking – the Seven “Sees”

What are ways you can see the world in a new way and from different perspectives even on an ordinary day in an ordinary place?  Writing itself, in its various forms, is an excellent way of looking at the world from different perspectives.  The different modes of writing described below mirror the various ways our brain organizes and processes information.  Select one topic — a  person, place, object, or idea to examine; then, explore that one idea in at least 7 of the 13 ways listed below:

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Subject

  1. Description:  Create a picture in words of what it looks like, sounds like, feels like, smells like, and/or tastes like.
  2. Comparison and Contrast:  Explain what is it like and what it is not like.
  3. Cause and Effect:  Explain where it came from and how it impacts the world.
  4. Definition:  Explain exactly what is it called, what it means, and what makes it distinctive from other things.
  5. Narrative:  Tell a true story related to it that involves real people in conflict.
  6. Exemplification:  Make a generalization about it; then, support the generalization by giving specific examples that illustrate and explain it.
  7. Argumentation:  State a claim related to it, and provide reasoning and evidence to prove your claim is valid.
  8. Problem and Solution:  Explain conflicts that arise because of it, and how those conflicts can or might be resolved.
  9. Process:  Explain how something happens related to it by giving a step by step sequence.
  10. Division and Classification: Identify its different parts and its different types.
  11. Poetry: Explore ideas related to it in verse, using imagery and figurative language.
  12. Fiction:  Create a story about it that has a narrative point of view, characters, conflict, climax, resolution, and theme.
  13. Drama:  Create a dramatic situation around it, with character, conflict, dialogue, and theme.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-Poetry Foundation. Wallace Stevens.

 

October 1:  A Book Can Save a Life Day

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On this day in 1901, Rudyard Kipling’s novel Kim was published.  The novel is an adventure story set in 19th century India, a time of British colonial rule.  The adventure in the book, however, pales when compared to the adventure surrounding what happened when a soldier in the French Foreign Legion acquired a French edition of the novel.

The soldier’s name was Maurice Hamonneau, and his decision to take Kipling’s book into combat during World War I saved his life.  Shot in battle near Verdun, Hamonneu lay unconscious for hours.  When he regained consciousness, he realized that the book which he was carrying in his breast pocket had shielded him from the bullet. Piercing the book, the bullet left a hole that stopped 330 pages into the book, leaving only 20 intact pages between the bullet and Hamonneu’s heart.

KimKipling.jpgIn gratitude, Hamonneu sent the bullet-pierced book to Kipling along with the medal he had been awarded in the battle. Kipling was moved by the gesture, but later when he learned that Hamonneu had become a father, he returned the book and the medal with a note to Hamonneu’s son, advising him to always carry a book of at least 350 pages in his breast pocket.

Today the book and Hamonneu’s medal are preserved in the rare book section of the United States Library of Congress (1).

Today’s Challenge:  Books Not Bullets

What one book is so good that it’s worth taking into battle — a book that everyone should read as if his or her life depended on it?  What makes the book so special, so inspirational?  Explain your choice, and assume you are writing to an audience who has not read the book. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-History.com. The Book That Saved a Life.

September 30:  Mnemonic Device Day

On this last day of September, we focus on not forgetting one of the more famous mnemonic rhymes in English:

Thirty days hath September,

April, June, and November.

All the rest have 31,

Except for February all alone,

It has 28 each year,

but 29 each leap year.

This verse is attributed to Mother Goose, but it’s only one of many versions of the poem.  One website, for example, lists an astonishing 90 variations of what has come to be called The Month Poem (1).

Mnemonic rhymes are just one type of mnemonic device. No, you can’t buy them in stores. A mnemonic device is a method of remembering something that is difficult to remember by remembering something that is easy to remember.

The word mnemonic is an eponym (See May 28 – Eponym Day), originating from the Greek goddess of memory and mother of the Muses, Mnemosyne.

To make things easy to remember, mnemonic devices employ different methods, such as rhyme, acrostics, or acronyms. Another method is the nonsense sentence made up from the initial letters of what it is you are trying to remember. Here’s an example of a sentence that is crafted to help us remember Roman numerals:

In Various Xmas Legends Christ Delivers Miracles.

Notice how the letters that begin each word correspond, in order, to Roman numerals:

I=1, V=5, X=10, L=50, C=100, D=500, M=1,000

You might also us an acronym. For example, CREED is a mnemonic device that helps us remember the essential elements of an argument:

C = Claim

R = Reasoning

E = Evidence

E = Explanation

D = Documentation

Another acronym ASK PEW is a mnemonic for remembering the essential elements of the rhetorical situation:

Audience, Subject, Kairos, Point/Purpose, Exigence, and Writer

Generations of school children have used the rhyme from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere” (1861) to remember the start date of the American Revolution:

Listen my children and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.

Today’s Challenge:  Remember, Remember the Mnemonics of September

What are some examples of important information that needs to be committed to memory?  Think of something you need to remember, or something that everyone should remember, and create your own original mnemonic device.  Use rhyme, acrostics, acronyms, and/or nonsense sentences to package your device in a handy, easy-to-remember format. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1 – Leap Year Day.com. Days of the Month Poem. 1904 Public Domain. http://leapyearday.com/content/days-month-poem.

 

September 25:  Convocation Day

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On this day in 1991, Professor Jacob Neusner, a historian of religion, delivered the convocation address to students at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.  Unlike a commencement speech, which is presented at a graduation ceremony at the end of a school term, a convocation is a speech to incoming students at the beginning of a school term.

The purpose of a convocation, therefore, is to call a student body together and to spark the students’ quest for knowledge as they stand poised at the beginning of a new school year. Neusner clearly is qualified to speak about acquiring knowledge, having played a part in the publication of over 1,000 books, either as an author, editor, or translator.  In his convocation, Neusner evoked examples of history’s great teachers, teachers who helped their students to discover truth for themselves.  First, he held up Socrates as an example, saying his primary method was to walk the streets and to stop people to ask them irritating questions.  His second example was Jesus, whose Sermon on the Mount was anything but a long, boring lecture (1).

Today’s Challenge:  School’s Cool! You’d Be a Fool to Miss a Single Day of School

What is the purpose of education?  What would you say to welcome, motivate, and inspire students to make the most of their learning in the coming year?  Write the text of your convocation speech, giving your audience the best advice you can about how not to take their education for granted. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Safire, William.  Lend Me Your Ears:  Great Speeches in History.  New York:  W.W. Norton & Company, 1997.