Posts Tagged ‘tone’

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The Good, The Bad, and Paula Abdul

posted: 11.12.09 by archived

Many of us assign “evaluation” essays in our writing classes.  These can be smaller assignments in which students are asked to evaluate a text or event, or they could be longer more sustained evaluations; we might assign movie reviews, or collaborative policy evaluations.  But even if we don’t assign “evaluations” explicitly, the skills of summarizing, assessing, and critiquing are important for all writers, and so there is usually some form of evaluative writing in any composition class if we look hard enough.  For this post, I want to suggest a research strategy, a teaching tip, and an in-class activity that I have used in the past to introduce and practice evaluation.

Research Strategy: Find The Worst Evaluation

Obviously, students have access to hundreds of evaluations online, just as they have access to hundreds of texts for evaluation.  These resources can be beneficially used in the writing classroom, so long as students don’t feel overwhelmed by the amount of opinion that can be found online.  One activity that can reinforce students’ authority to speak, and can help them understand what a good evaluation is, is to ask students to find the worst evaluations that they can online (hint: YouTube video reviews are great place to start).  It is shocking how many online evaluations—found on blogs, but even on reputable sites devoted to reviewing cultural texts—offer very little practical information to the reader.  A great in-class discussion can revolve around enumerating the ways an evaluation can be “bad”—lack of specificity, readily-apparent personal bias, and so on.  These “bad” evaluative qualities can then be contrasted with a list of goals for writing good evaluations.

Teaching Tip: Video Evaluations

As mentioned above, for every YouTube video online, there are several (to several hundred) video responses.  Generally, these aren’t good examples of reasoned, intelligent criticism. But these responses exist because it is increasingly easy to create them.  Any computer with a camera prepares the user to create a quick response and post it.  If you have the technology, you can do so in your classes.  This could be a pre-writing activity, to record a student’s initial, off-the-cuff ideas about a product or text, as YouTube users do (though hopefully with a bit more thought).  Or, the final product of this assignment could be a carefully organized, composed, revised, and polished video evaluation.  This could even be posted to YouTube.

Activity: American Idol Evaluations

One of the reasons that the television show American Idol is so popular (and also, perhaps, one of the reasons it is also disliked) is that the judges on the show fall into predictable roles.  One judge is mean and terse, one judge is generous and emotional, and one judge offers real, constructive, musical feedback.  (Of course, I am referring here to the pre-Kara DioGaurdi Idol judges; it has yet to be seen how the new roles will shake out now that Paula is leaving and Ellen is joining.  You can rest assured that your students will have their own theories about the new roles, and this is good—they can help with this activity, then.)  The three (or four) roles work well together, because they seem to balance one another out.  When pre-writing for an evaluation, students might be asked to write, or deliver an evaluation orally, from each of these three perspectives.  This activity allows students to recognize a range of possible views and values.  It also can help students begin to write when they feel they haven’t yet found an evaluative voice.

Also, consider that of the original three American Idol judges, one speaks with a British accent and a snotty, elevated tone, one speaks in clichés, and one speaks in slang. These could be seen as exaggerated “high,” “middle,” and “low” styles.  Students could experiment with writing reviews in these three different styles as well, before they finally decide on which is best for them, based on their focus and the audience they want to reach.

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Categories: How to Write Anything, Jay Dolmage
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Say What You Mean

posted: 10.22.07 by Barclay Barrios

I’ve found that syntax problems in student writing often result from their attempts to sound academic or to express a complex and exciting idea in too compressed a space. I tell students “Say what you mean” and encourage them to do that by reviewing material in the handbook on tone, conciseness, and jargon or, just as usefully, but having them reflect on the writing styles of the essays we read, which often use plain language to express very complex ideas.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Drafting, Grammar & Style, Revising
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Audience and Argument

posted: 3.7.07 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the materials in the handbook on voice, tone, and argument. Have them summarize the argument of their current draft or the current reading and then reword that argument to be sent as a text message on a cell phone, as an instant message online, as a blog posting online, and as a note to their parents. How does medium change message?

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Categories: Argument, Assignment Idea, Document Design, Drafting, Grammar & Style, Rhetorical Situation, Teaching with Technology, Thesis Statement
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Handbook Letters

posted: 2.5.07 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the material in the handbook on writing letters, then have them write a letter to the author of the handbook. After a brief introductory paragraph, the students should write about what they find useful in the handbook and what they wish the handbook had or how it could be improved. Review what the handbook has to say about tone and discuss how these letters should sound. Consider giving the finished product to your local textbook rep.

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Categories: Document Design, Handbooks
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Slanging the Essay

posted: 12.18.06 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the section of the handbook on diction or tone. In groups, ask them to identify a key passage from the essay you’re currently discussing and revise it using more informal or slang diction. Use this to prompt a discussion of the ideas of the essay and the reasons for using one kind of diction over another.

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Categories: Collaboration, Drafting, Grammar & Style, Revising
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Thesaurus Distortion

posted: 11.6.06 by Barclay Barrios

Have students review the section of the handbook on choosing words and/or tone. Then, either in a computer classroom or at home, have them choose a key sentence from their drafts and use a thesaurus (book or electronic form) to replace every significant word in the sentence (perhaps even multiple times). Bring these altered sentences in for a discussion of how/if they still work. Use the handbook to begin a discussion on how word choice impacts tone and meaning, and then continue that discussion by looking at the word choices in the current reading.

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Categories: Assignment Idea, Critical Reading, Grammar & Style, Revising, Teaching with Technology
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