How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?

But, how do I make my writing sophisticated? 

I hear these kinds of questions, especially from high school or university students.  They feel that their writing should now “sound” more intelligent, so they add all kinds of words, clauses, and phrases that tend to do quite the opposite!

Here are better ways to improve the quality of your writing:

Make your writing clear. light-bulb-clear-bayonet-fitting-725x544

Make your writing concise.

Make your writing understandable

Provide support, detail, explanations, anecdotes, and so forth to help the reader understand your argument, point of view, or opinion. Spend time to fully understand your own thoughts and connections to the material so that you can write about the ideas intelligently.

These are far more important than complicating the issue.

When students, or any writers for that matter, force their writing – the quality becomes worse.  Making something “sound” more complicated than it really is does not help the reader (or the teacher ) in any way.

Your ideas can be original and attractive, but they don’t heed to be mired in arcane language or complicated sentence structures that lead the reader nowhere.

I have read students’ essays that aim to impress, but the writing is so convoluted that the meaning is lost.  When I ask them to explain, they often say, “I’m really not sure what I meant, but doesn’t it sound good?” Their hope is that the teacher or professor will find something in that mess to admire.  This is a very poor method!Ernest Hemmingway

Some of the best writers, in fact, make a concerted effort to ensure that their writing is as uncomplicated as possible. That does not mean “dumbing-down” (as one of my students said to me recently).  It means that you are doing your job to help the reader comprehend your intentions.

It is the ideas and thoughts that are important.  You want the reader to be impressed, or at least persuaded, by your argument, opinion, or description.

If the reader does not understand your work, he or she will not be impressed.  (Although I have heard people say, “He must be a great writer, I couldn’t understand a word of it!”)

Work on sentence structure and grammar.  Make sure you follow the basic rules and conventions of writing.  Don’t think of the rules as restrictive. Recognize that they actually free the rest of your mind to be creative in thought, networking ideas, and expounding upon your take on a particular topic.

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Brush up on the basics and apply them well, and you will see higher grades.  Better yet, the quality of your writing will continue to improve.

Of course, as you become more proficient, you might notice that your sentences are longer and more “sophisticated,” but they retain the clarity of purpose as well.

Most of all – keep writing!

As with any skill, you get better with practice, especially if you pay attention to the weak spots.  Try to take on constructive advice and make the necessary adjustments to keep reading-86070_1920improving.

For more information, lessons, and programs check out the website.

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This week’s video:  “How Do I Make My Writing Sophisticated?”

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Run-on Sentences Ahhhh!

Run-on Sentences Ahhhh!  emotions-2167461_640

When you proofread and edit your work…

WHAT!

Yes, you should always proofread and edit your work. Do not be afraid of putting a little extra effort in.  It will pay off in the long run.

Let’s try that again, shall we?

When you proofread and edit your work, watch for run-on sentences, and make the necessary corrections.

A run-on sentence is basically two or more sentences written as if they were one.

” Once upon a time, there was an evil tutor named Ron he always asked us to proofread and edit our work even when we thought our sentences and spelling were perfect he is so mean.”

The sentence above should actually be three sentences instead of one.  Look for subjects and predicates and any connections.  (If you are not sure about subjects and predicates, check out my Basic English Writing course.)

For example, this sentence is a run-on:  “Susan loves to dance she loves the movementbalance-3223319_640 she is so graceful.”  (There are three separate subjects and predicates incorrectly joined.)

Here is a possible correction: “Susan loves to dance because she loves the movement, and she is so graceful.”

You can see that it is still one sentence. The subordinating word “because” and the coordinating conjunction “and” with a comma correct the problems in the first version.

Many students think that a run-on sentence is simply a long sentence.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Some very long sentences are not run-on sentences.  If the phrases and clauses are joined correctly and all well related, then there is no problem with being long.

Also, a short sentence can be a run-on sentence.

For example:  “He fell down he cried.”  This short sentence is a run-on.

Here are four solutions:  “He fell down.  He cried.”cry-2764843_640

“He fell down, and he cried.”

“He fell down and cried.”

“He fell down; he cried.”

(Most teachers don’t like joining independent clauses with a semicolon, so I recommend avoiding this method, although it is technically correct if the clauses are very short and closely related.)

Note that my sentence within parenthesis is fairly long, but it is not a run-on!

A full sentence should be one complete thought.  Of course, you can have many adjectives, adverbs, and even clauses and phrases that add interest to your sentence. They must, however, be incorporated correctly.

When proofreading your work, watch for run-on sentences, and use one of these methods to edit:

  1. Separate the independent clauses (sentences) with end punctuation.
  2. Use a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so) to join them.
  3. Use a conjunctive adverb such as “however” or “therefore” to join them.
  4. Use a subordinating word such as “although’ or “because” to make one of the clauses dependent.
  5. Rewrite the sentence so that one independent clause (sentence) is turned into a phrase, adjective, or adverb.  (Note example above could become:  “He fell down crying.”)

Need more help?

Contact me to set up some personal programs for you or your child.

Don’t forget the Basic English Writing course.  Register, and you will receive discounts for several of my other courses, too! Tutoring Central blog

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This week’s video:  Run-on Sentences

How Can I Help My Child Succeed? Don’t Be Too Helpful!

Yes, there is such a thing as being too helpful.

Don’t be too helpful!

When you are sitting with your children and helping with homework, try to be more Socratic.philosophy-2603284_640

Ask questions.

Wait for answers.  Sometimes, you might need to wait for a long time – but that’s okay.

Lead them to the right path if possible with questions or suggestions or comments, but let them explore and discover more. Yes, you will need to watch or listen to them going in the wrong direction sometimes, but let that run itself out for a while to see if they capture some of the essence.

Of course, there are times when you need to “walk them” all the way through and maybe even show them the final answer – or an example of a suitable final answer.  Most of the time, however, you will want them to arrive at the answers through their own explorations.

Discovering how to find appropriate answers by making mistakes, falling down, getting up (metaphorically at least), and trying again helps learners remember the procedures -if for no other reason than they don’t want to have to go through all the missteps again.)

If you give them the answer all of the time or show them the steps for every question, then they will never remember for long.

Anecdote warning! stop sign

Here is an example.  Theo’s mom came to me and exclaimed that her son knew how to complete the fractions questions perfectly when doing them at home; however, he always scored terribly on the quizzes at school.  She was convinced that he had some sort of block when it came to tests or quizzes.  Now, this is a possibility, but I have found that the “block” is usually caused by a lack of knowledge.

Once I started working with Theo, it was clear that he had no idea which steps to use in each case.  At home, mom was constantly providing reminders, “Now multiply the numerator by the same number.”  “Add the numerators.”  “Oh, no, no – don’t add the denominators – only the numerators.”  Etc.

The poor boy had never managed to get all the way through one question on his own!

If your child can’t do a few questions from step 1 to step 10 on his or her own, then he or she does not know the material.  This applies to any subject.

If mom or dad or a poorly informed tutor is providing hints or answers when preparing for a science test or history exam, then the learner does not fully know the information yet.

Of course, using hints and leading questions as mentioned before can be helpful during the learning process. Just make sure that your child can complete questions independently at the end of this process. gold_question_mark

This is also a teacher’s job and a tutor’s job.  It is NOT to give answers.  It is to teach learners how to get answers!

Everyone wants to be helpful, but the truth is you are not being helpful if you don’t let your children struggle to make their own discoveries.  They need to do the work to get the best reward.

As a parent (or teacher or tutor) is it difficult to watch your children squirm and struggle?

Yes!

Parenting is a difficult task; however, by being tough and helping only when needed, you will be giving your children the very best assistance.

So, pull back once in a while.  Remember the Learning Space?  Perhaps leave that space to your child sometimes. See if Johnny or Ingrid can complete the task on his or her own.  Let them fail occasionally, and use that failure as a lesson moving forward.  What went wrong?  How can the approach be improved?  What was missing from the final answer?

We learn so much from our mistakes as long as we keep working to change the path.

I know you can do it.  I have faith in you and your children.

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Video:  Don’t Be Too Helpful!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

Topic Sentences – Location, Location, Location!

At the beginning.

In blogs, videos, and my courses, I have often mentioned that the topic sentence of a sunrise-1756274_640paragraph should be at the beginning of the paragraph – often the first sentence.

While this is true in many cases, it does not HAVE to be the first sentence of a paragraph.  When writing essays for grade school or secondary school, teachers generally expect the topic sentence of body paragraphs to come at the beginning. The concluding paragraph has a restated or modified thesis statement at the beginning, and this serves as its topic sentence. Of course, the introductory paragraph is a bit of an exception.  It often starts with a “grabber” and/or focus statement, and the thesis statement (serving as the overarching topic sentence) comes at the end of the paragraph.

Discount coupon for Essay Writing Course.

For most stand-alone paragraph writing exercises in school, the expectation is for a topic sentence at or near the very beginning of the paragraph as well.

Whew!

Having said all that, topic sentences can come at any point within a paragraph – even in academic writing at times.

At the end.

You can place the central idea at the end after several supporting sentences that have end-812226_640made the case for your argument or point of view. This can be especially useful in argument paragraphs because it leads the reader to your conclusion drawing them in with your amazing proofs and supports.

You knew you were amazing, right?  Of course.

Placing the topic sentence at the end of your paragraph can be effective in expository paragraphs as well. Leaving the central idea until the end can have a dramatic effect that attracts the reader to keep reading.

Of course, even if your topic sentence or central idea is withheld until the end of the paragraph, you still need to ensure that you have unity and coherence.  All the supports that come before the topic sentence need to be relevant and transition from one to another in order for the whole package to have the desired impact on the reader.  Remember that you have to “lead” them to your central idea and convince them with your message.

Nowhere – and everywhere.

Even more bizarre!

Some paragraphs don’t have the central idea explicitly stated at all! nowhere

This is often the case with narrative writing (relating a sequence of events) and sometimes descriptive writing.  This is especially true in fiction writing where many academic rules are “stretched” or broken.  You can imply the central idea with descriptions, action, dialogue, and so on. This is not to say that you never use topic sentences in fiction, but one topic sentence might serve several paragraphs rather than just one.  The continuity is important and, frankly, trying to generate a new topic sentence in the midst of a “flow” of description does not always make sense.

There you have it.  Topic sentences are not as stable as you thought.  They can move around from place to place.  Sometimes there are a couple of introductory sentences before a topic sentence as well.  Generally, I wouldn’t say the topic sentence comes in the middle of a paragraph, but it can be within it.

Still, for most academic writing, I recommend sticking to having the topic sentence at the beginning of most paragraphs.  It will serve you well.

When writing fiction, you have more freedom – but keep in mind that you still need to help the reader find your central idea using whatever techniques you choose.

Do you want to write more?  Do you want to improve your writing? Contact me, and I will set up a personal program for you. reading-86070_1920

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Steps to Working Out a Math Problem – or Steps to Loving Math!

Remember that you do not need to hate math! 

Taking a proactive approach, you can conquer any math question. shield-108065_640

Below are several steps to get you on the right path. 

Steps to Working Out a Math Problem

  1.  What does the question ask me to do? 
  2. Are there any further directions for the question? (Look above, to the left, to the right)
  3. Are there any practice examples that show the steps?
  4. Do I have notes about this particular section? 
  5. What do I already know about this math section? (Take the time to re-learn the parts you have forgotten.  For example, if you need to divide fractions for part of the question, and you have forgotten how to do this, go back and re-teach yourself.) 
  6. Try different methods to solve the problem – don’t be afraid to turn the problem around and look at it from different angles. 
  7. Break the problem down into separate units. (I.e., What do I need to do first – second – etc.?) 
  8. If you are using a calculator, record the steps as you go.  (It is very frustrating to start back at step 1 when something goes wrong with step 5!) 
  9. Check to see if your answer “makes sense.” (Is the number reasonable or is it too large or too small?  Does your answer meet the requirements of the problem?) 

In step 8, I mentioned a calculator, and using one is fine (if you are permitted to), but trycalculator-2391810_640 to keep doing a few questions long-hand as well.  It uses the brain differently for basic skills.  You will gain a much stronger understanding of “how” the math works.  Of course there are complex calculations for which the calculator is required. 

Always “think” about the math.  Often people see math as strictly numbers and forget that those symbols and operations have a purpose in real life! 

You might simply need a total for a grocery list. 

You might need to calculate whether or not you can afford a new car or how long it will take to pay off the mortgage under various scenarios. 

Of course, if you are an engineer or architect – or want to be – there are all kinds of mathematical calculations that will determine outcomes for your next bridge or building. 

Math is used in so many careers and so many “real-life” situations that it should not be seen as mere numbers. 

Do not fear math any more.  Jump in, follow the steps above, and keep at it.  

I know you can master the skills you need. 

As always, if you need help, I am available. 

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This week’s video:  Steps to Loving Math!

Make the Most of Your Homework Time & Reduce the Pain.

I get a lot of questions from my in-person students and on Quora about how to make the most of homework time and how to reduce the pain!

Some students are interested in getting better grades and are willing to do almost anything to get them.

Others are interested in reducing the pain and want something easy to make that happen.

These two goals are not as disparate as they might seem at first glance.

If you use good study skills and develop habits that will serve you well, then the pain is mitigated and the learning can truly begin.  magic

Sometimes, students are not happy with my answers because there is no magic.  In other words, there is  not a secret “trick” that you can do that will suddenly make homework as fun as pony rides (assuming you have no morbid fear of ponies) and that will insert you with the intelligence quotient of an Einstein.

No.

The tips are basic.  Most of them have been known for thousands of years!  What!  Even when the Internet didn’t exist – or smart phones – or apps – or herbs and vitamins to boost the brain?  YES!

Simple is often still the best route.  Some of the additional benefits of technology can help (or hurt) and maybe (big maybe) some vitamins and herbs can boost your brain – but you still need the foundation.

The tips are basic.

They work!

BE QUIET!       emoticon-25532_640

Sorry, I got carried away there.  But really, find a quiet location, if possible.  It is much easier to focus when distractions are reduced.  Turn off the T.V. – no smartphone (no dumb phone either) – no music* – no internet chat – no Sloppy Joes over your textbook / keyboard –  etc. Focus on one task.

                        * Music can be used to block out other annoying sounds, but is should be at a level that does not interfere with your focus – preferably without lyrics so that you don’t start singing along!

Read.  Read, and read, and read ….  I cannot stress enough how important it is to read as much as you can, and re-read for more comprehension.  You never capture everything on the first read of a substantial text.  You need to look over it several times. Read supplemental material as well.  Go beyond the minimum!

Write.  Write out notes.  Draw diagrams, create charts, pictures, graphs – anything that will help you remember.  Write on flashcards – especially useful for terms & definitions, but they can be used for all kinds of study.  Write a journal. Really?  Yes, writing down your thoughts can help you review your day and your network of knowledge.  so keep on writing, preferably handwriting.  Writing or printing by hand engages different parts of your brain.  People – and yes even young people – retain more information when they have physically written out notes compared to typing them.

Study.  I don’t mean look over your notes once, or three times, or one-hundred times.  I mean study.  Close the book, look away from the screen, stop listening to the lecture recording, and ask yourself if you can answer questions without looking or listening.  If you don’t know the answers without reading them in front of you, then you don’t know the material!  Self-testing (or you can use a buddy) is one of the best methods (not to mention the most overlooked and underused method) to prepare yourself.  Don’t cheat yourself by thinking that you know something without ever testing this hypothesis.

Be kind to yourself.  Reward yourself when you have done a good job.  Recognize the value of working hard but also the value in working smart.  Make sure you get a good night’s sleep.cup-1010909_640  Catnaps are good, too, if they are brief.  (Catnaps might be a misnomer.  Don’t sleep like your cat for sixteen hours a day!)  Make sure you eat healthy meals – small and numerous is best to keep your body (brain is included) performing at a steady rate.  Don’t let yourself off the hook!  Wait – I thought you said to be kind to yourself?  Yes, sometimes kindness = toughness.  You need to be honest with yourself – no cheating – no lapsing on scheduled homework time – no excuses.  The reward you get later is the kindness component.

Making the most of homework time:

If you are focused and using solid study strategies during your homework time, you will retain far more information; gain more knowledge; and do better on quizzes, tests, and exams.  You will be working smart which is at least as important as working hard.

Reducing the pain:

If you are focused and using solid study strategies during your homework time, you will begin to find the material is learned faster and better.  You might even be studying for less time and getting more out of it – reducing the “pain.”   You know the value of your efforts, so the pain factor starts to become less noticeable even during the sessions.

These are very broad strokes on how to make the most of homework time AND reduce the pain.

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Of course, for a more personal touch – check out the website, and contact me.  I can set up personalized programs that will help you, or your child, reach your goals. Boy books

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You Be the Teacher – You Be the Student!

You Be the Teacher – You Be the Student!

Yes.

You can be both a teacher and a learner at any age, and you can do so at the same time.

What do I mean by this?

When you are trying to learn something, put yourself into the teacher’s role.  Pretend that you are teaching yourself.  Alternatively, you can pretend that you are teaching an learn-1996845_640imaginary classmate.  (Suggestion – pick someone you like!)

Use this method during your homework sessions to help you remember information.

This method is not only good for retaining information, but it will also help you learn how to explain concepts, plots for stories, themes, terms, etc.  When the test or exam, or even a pop quiz, arrives, you will have already had practice explaining in your own words – and you will remember!

Teaching others – even imaginary others – is a great gift to you.

You have probably already had this experience.

Have you ever taught a child, parent, sibling, or friend how to ride a bike, play a board game or video game, read, dance, play a sport and so on.  child-558798_640

I bet you have.

Remember that teaching (or learning) is not all about academic subjects.  In fact, you have many learning experiences long before you ever get to school.  Parents, grandparents, siblings, and other family members are your first “teachers.”  They help to get you sitting up, to turn babbling into single words, to stand, and to walk.  Many of the things you learned before you went to school were also learned – at least in part – with you being your own teacher.  Practice, practice, correction, practice, practice, tweaking a bit, practice, practice – mastery!  (Of course, the practice, corrections, and tweaking usually go on much longer.) There is a lot of trial and error learning going on right from the very beginning of your life.

You have probably taught yourself many things since then, particularly anything that you are very interested in doing.

The fact that you might not be completely enthralled with learning algebra, or history, or science, does not negate the fact that you can be your own teacher during practice sessions. Giving yourself permission to take over both roles will enhance the learning experience, make it much more interesting, help you remember, and may even make you a little more understanding and empathetic toward the classroom teacher who is trying to help you gain the knowledge.

So, give it a try during your next homework session.  Be the one to answer the questions as always, but try being the one who asks the questions as well.  Practice being the one who encourages you to learn, who directs you to the right pages, who points out the important bits, even the one who is stern when you go astray.

Wow!

I know you will be increasing your learning by a substantial amount!

If you need more encouragement or direction, I am always willing to help.julia-raasch-143428

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This weeks Video: You Be the Teacher – You Be the Student