January 23:  Docendo Discimus Day

Today’s date when written numerically follows is the basic sequence 1, 2, 3.  Therefore, today is a day for looking at basic process analysis: explaining step by step how something is done or how to do something.  When you explain the basic steps for how to do something — such as baking a chocolate cake or building a treehouse —  it’s called directive process analysis.  When you explain the basic steps for how something is done — such as how a bill becomes a law or how new words get into the dictionary — it’s called informative process analysis.

Writing a process analysis composition is a great writing-to-learn activity. The best way to truly solidify your understanding of a process is to teach it to someone else.  The act of putting it down in writing, step by step, helps you clarify and cement your own understanding of the process.  This is not a new concept; in fact, it dates back to the first century AD.  The Latin term for it was docendo discimus, or “by teaching, we learn.”

To craft your own process, follow the following three steps:

Step One:  Determine a “how to” topic using a strong verb, and use it as your title.  Think of a process that you know well enough to explain clearly to a novice, and think about whether it is a directive, hands-on process or a informative, explanatory process.  Use the examples below to help spark some ideas:

How to AVOID

-How to avoid procrastination

-How to avoid going into debt

How to BUILD

-How to build a sandcastle

-How to build a budget

How to MAKE

-How to make meatloaf

-How to make your mother happy


-How to succeed at studying

-How to succeed at breaking a bad habit


-How to survive an earthquake

-How to survive Spanish class

How to STOP

-How to stop forgetting birthdays

-How to stop eating too much

How to WRITE

-How to write a love note

-How to write a valedictory address

Step Two:  Break the large task into three vital steps from the beginning, through the middle, and to the end.  Think in threes:  What should be done first, second, and third?  Also, help your reader to see what might go wrong, by anticipating what should be avoided at each step.

Step Three:  Write your process out as at least one clear paragraph.  Begin by giving your audience a vision of what the process is and why this process is important to know.  As you write about each step, think about the process from your audience’s perspective, trying to remember what it was like when you did it for the first time.  Like giving driving directions to someone on how to get to your house, anticipate where they might take a wrong turn or where they might get lost.  

Today’s Challenge:  How to Write How To

What is a process that you know well enough to explain?  How would you divide the task into three key steps?  Use the three steps explained above and write a how to composition. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The three great essentials to achieve anything worthwhile are first, hard work; second, stick-to-itiveness; third, common sense. -Thomas Edison



December 30:  Subordinating Conjunction Day

Today is the birthday of Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936), England’s master storyteller and poet.  Kipling was British, but he lived many years in India where he was born.  Known especially for his short stories and popular work of fiction The Jungle Book (1894), Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1907 when he was just 42 years old.  He was the first English language writer to win the prize, and he was also the youngest ever to win the prize

Rudyard Kipling (portrait).jpgIn addition to his well known fiction, Kipling was also a poet.  In 1910, he published the poem “If,” which remains today one of the best known poems ever written in English.  

Written in the voice of a father giving advice to his son, the four-stanzas of the poem make up a single 283-word sentence.  More specifically, the single sentence is a complex sentence constructed in the form of a periodic sentence, a sentence that begins with subordinate phrases or clauses, and ends with the main clause.  In the case of Kipling’s poem “If,” he crafts twelve subordinate clauses, each beginning with the subordinating conjunction “if,” and ends with an independent clause.  Each of the “if” clauses provides conditions or prerequisites for manhood.  The speaker in the poem, the father, concludes with a statement, saying in effect, by making the choice to do these things, you will be a man and the world will be yours.

The structure of Kipling’s poem demonstrates the power of the periodic sentence.  Certainly no one is writing 200-word sentences these days; however, using a periodic structure that begins with a string of subordinate ideas is a nice technique for drawing your reader in and building dramatic tension.  The periodic structure also allows a writer to capitalize on the rhythm created by parallel structure and the anticipation created by compounding details (1).

Subordination is a fundamental aspect of writing that is used for more than just periodic sentences.  Subordination in syntax relates to a method of constructing sentences where some of the ideas in a sentence are dependent on other parts.

For example, take the following two sentences:

Bill loves to read.  Bill is always carrying a book.

To show a logical relationship between these two ideas and combine them into a single sentence, we can use a subordinating conjunction (because) to make one idea subordinate to the other:

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

Instead of two simple sentences, we now have a single complex sentence, a sentence with one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.  In the sentence about Bill, the clause “Because he loves to read” is dependent because it cannot stand alone; it needs the independent clause “Bill is always carrying a book” in order to form a complete thought.

Because subordination is such an effective method for logically combining ideas, it makes sense for writers to recognize subordinating conjunctions, the words that signal the logical connections between ideas.  Use the mnemonic “A WHITE BUS” to remember the major subordinate conjunctions:

A White Bus

After, although, as

WHen, which, who, where, while

If, in order that

That, though

Even though

Before, because

Until, unless

Since, so that

Subordinating conjunctions signal four basic logical relationships.  Read the examples below to see the different ways that subordinating conjunctions connect ideas:

-Cause and Effect (or Reasons): because, since, so that

Because he loves to read, Bill is always carrying a book.

-Contrast (or Concession): although, even though, though, while, whereas

Although he loves to write, Bill’s favorite pastime is reading.

-Time: before, after, as, once, since, while, when, whenever

After Bill gets home from school, he sits down and reads the newspaper.

-Condition:  if, once, unless

If Bill gets money for his birthday, he plans to buy some new books.

Today’s Challenge:  WIIFM

What is a specific skill you have or an activity you participate in that you would be willing to promote for the general public?  What makes this skill or activity so worthwhile?  Use subordination to write the introduction to a “how to” speech that provides direction on how to achieve something desirable.  Begin with “if” clauses that give your audience the WIIFM, or “What’s in it for me.”  Structure your subordinate clauses using parallel structure to give your sentence clarity and rhythm.  Crafting a periodic sentences using this structure will build your audience’s interest and anticipation to learn more about your topic.

Possible Topics:

-Join a specific organization or club

-Learn a specific skill or enhance a talent, such as singing, dancing, or barbecuing

-Take a specific class or course of study

-Participate in a new type of pastime, such as hang gliding, stamp collecting, or origami

-Achieve a lifelong goal, such as graduating college, climbing a mountain, or running a marathon

-Practice a good habit that will improve your life, such as avoiding procrastination, practicing meditation, or eating right

Notice how the 83-word sentence below uses parallelism and the “if-then” structure to build audience anticipation:

If you want to be the life of the party, if you want to impress strangers on the street and make money while you’re doing it, if you want to learn a life-long skill that will keep you active and provide you with mental stimulation, if you want to challenge your ability to persevere and improve your hand-eye coordination, and if you want a form of mediation that won’t allow you to fall asleep, then learning to juggle is the way to go.

(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  The trick of the periodic sentence is that, until you’ve got to the end, until you’ve found that clause or verb that completes the syntax, until you’ve finally got the period of the period, you can’t stop. -Mark Forsyth


1-Forsyth, Mark.  The Elements of Eloquence.  London:  Icon Books, 2013:  47.