Category Archives: daily activities

How to write smartly with outlines

Welcome to the computer lab. Be nice to the sub.

Your work for the day consists of creating three complete outlines, each of which could be expanded into a complete essay.


Because I order you to do it, by the authority vested in me by the administration, your parents, and the state, and you must comply.

Also, If you are able to write a well-structured essay, even if many of the other aspects of your writing are very poor, you will still probably pass the test. Having gone through many of these tests, and examined the grading procedures, there’s nothing that will earn you more points than a strong structure and well-developed ideas.

So what are we supposed to do?


  • Open up this word processing document: Outline practice worksheet. It contains three questions and outline “skeletons” ready for you to fill in the blanks.
  • Put your name on the top
  • The first two questions, you can answer from knowledge and experience you already have. Make up evidence and examples if you want to.
  • On the last question, you’ll need to read this article first (link), gather information and evidence, and then outline your answer to the question. We practiced this in class with the article about Nine Inch Nails. If you paid attention, it should be pretty easy.
  • REMINDER: When you fill in the blanks in the outline, just include brief notes, not whole sentences or paragraphs. You just need enough information to remember what you wanted to say.
  • In the evidence/example space, be very specific. Think of a story or fact to support your point. Don’t restate what you write under “premise.”

That’s it! Finish it, print it, hand it in on Friday in class for big points. If you finish early, please be respectful of the others in the class still working.



Outline practice worksheet



writing assignment #2: crappy draft

This week we started talking about logic, and how and why people should argue. Here are some slides about that:

How and Why to Argue

We’ve also started reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. As we read we’re trying to see if our ideas about logic and reasoning help us understand what the hell(ck) Charles Dodgson was thinking when he wrote this. I really hope they do because I haven’t read this book since I was 10, so I’m not really sure if there’s anything in it of actual educational value. But people say there is, and I definitely trust people!

So today we’re going to try applying all this to writing. Here’s the assignment:

Writing Assignment #2: A persuasive argument

Think of something you need or want and a person or organization that can get you that thing. Write a business-type letter (or email) to that person or organization laying out a formal argument why they should do this thing for you.

  • Brainstorm a list of all the stuff you want/need and all the people that could get it for you. Here are some reminders about brainstorming: Argument brainstorm
  • Outline your argument by writing down your basic premises and conclusion. (The conclusion to your paper is easy: “Therefore, you should give me X.”) Make sure that the argument follows logically from one premise to the next, and think about how you can convince the reader that each premise is true.

Show your premises and conclusion to Matt before you proceed.

  • Each premise you wrote down on your argument outline will need its own paragraph to support the premise and provide convincing evidence that each of your premises is true. This “evidence” can take the form of examples, hypotheticals, logical reasoning, etc. Include whatever evidence your particular audience will find most convincing.
  • Write your letter in the standard format for business letters. Write it using a word processing program, even if you’re going to eventually email it. A portion of your grade depends on how closely you follow the exact format of this document: sample business letter
  • Your rough draft is due Monday, April 21.



How and Why to Argue

Argument brainstorm

sample business letter


Today, you have a special purpose: To revise, improve, and polish your written love stories in preparation for handing in the final draft on TUESDAY, by 3:45pm. (The deadline changed because of our fieldtrip).

If you handed in a rough draft, I’ve now given it back to you and you probably have some specific comments to work with. In general, here’s what I’ve noticed most of you need to focus on:

  • Conflict: Choose a main conflict around which to focus your story, and pump it up. Explain why the problem was happening, whom it affected, and exactly how. Be thoughtful about it, and surprise us!
  • Climax: Build up the main conflict to a climax where a crucial decision or action is taken. Make it obvious that it’s the climax by using exciting language and by describing what happened in vivid detail
  • Work in a quote from Romeo and Juliet. Maybe something like this: In that moment, I felt just like Juliet when she said to Romeo, “blahBLAH blahBLAH blahBLAH blahBLAH blahBLAH” (act#.scene#).
  • When you think you’re done, read the whole story through to yourself, in a quiet voice. Fix awkward and run-on sentences. Spell check, then check it again yourself. Have someone else read through it if you have time. Your final grade will depend, in part, on how polished you make this final draft.

Speaking of final grades, here’s how this paper will be graded:

  • 15 points: You followed the structure of a narrative, as defined in class: Intro characters and setting; problem; attempted solution; bigger problem; another attempted solution; climax; denouement.
  • 5 points: Your story recounts some experience you’ve had with “love” (aka, luuv) and sheds some light on the mysterious reasons people fall in and out of love.
  • 5 points: You incorporate a quote from Romeo and Juliet in an effective way in your story that shows you understand the quote. You properly cite the quote with act and scene numbers.
  • 10 points: Grammar, spelling, punctuation, sentence structure, and formatting are all correct.

That’s all you have to do.

Revise, friends. Go deep!

Writing Assignment #1: East Hollywood Luuuv Stories

This week you’re writing a first draft of a personal narrative (a story about yourself that is true, or at least “truthy”) about one of your experiences falling in or out of luuuv. In two weeks, we’ll prepare these stories for filmed interviews and tell them on-camera for the school’s Documentary and Editing classes to play with. Don’t forget that what you write will have a real-world audience made up of your peers, parents, teachers, and anyone who logs on to YouTube. They all want to laugh (at or with you) and cry and care about what’s happening on-screen, so let’s make this good! The main way to make it good is to be honest–brutally honest. Don’t worry–it’s not like you have to reveal your deepest darkest secrets. You just have to be yourself and try to help the audience understand how you really felt.


Earlier this week, we started brainstorming some ideas for writing, and we also collected quotes from Romeo and Juliet to tie into our stories and make ourselves sound intelligent and all. As you sit down to write, you should have both of those items handy and use them as you’re getting started.

Discovery Draft

The draft you’re writing today is a Discovery Draft–you don’t know exactly what you want to say yet, or why. Hopefully, you have a couple of interesting ideas on your brainstorm or quotes sheets to start with. Start broad, but as soon as you find a story or a detail that interests you, make your writing more specific and focused.


The main thing to pay attention to is your storytelling. Get your audience interested from the beginning with interesting and unique details and unexpected events and observations. Reveal the facts of the situation gradually as the story moves along so they keep asking questions. Make sure your story has some sort of main conflict–all stories are about “trouble,” really. Make the conflict rise to a climax, where there’s a crucial decision or event that determines the outcome. In your climax, be funny, or tragic, or both.

Keep it short and simple, but give the audience enough detail to really care about the people in the story, i.e., YOU.


The assignment requires you to include a quote from Romeo and Juliet somewhere in your story. You could work the quote in as a description of a situation or character. You could also use the quote to comment on what happened, to introduce your story, or as a conclusion. Here’s an example of how I might use it in the beginning of my story:

What good is love, really? Shakespeare, who knew some things about love, said that love is nothing more than “a smoke raised with the fume of sighs…a madness most discreet” (1.1). He knew what he was talking about. Love has never brought me anything but a nervous tic in my right eyebrow and a severe pain in my butt…

Notice the reference (that 1.1 in parentheses). That’s the act and scene number. Since we’re all writing about Romeo and Juliet, that’s all you need for a reference.

Assignment Details

  • Tell an interesting story about an experience you’ve had with love, including getting a crush, first physical contact (hand-holding, a pat on the head, getting accidentally clobbered by your true love’s backpack, etc.), lovers squabbles, a painful (-ly funny) break up, or even the proverbial “rebound.” (After all, Juliet is probably the most famous “rebound” in history!) Choose any phase of “love” you have something to say about.
  • Include a quote from Romeo and Juliet and the proper citation (act#.scene#)
  • Write 1-2 pages, double spaced, following the standard MLA format we used all last semester on our response papers. (Check out this sample document to see exactly how it should be formatted.)

That’s all I’ve got for you. Get writing. Your rough draft is due Monday. No credit for late drafts!


review your book

I just got back in from the wilderness, which was strange and wonderful. However, I could not enjoy any of it, knowing that I had failed to place on the blog the oft-promised description of the book review assignment due next Tuesday. Hopefully, you’ve all been busily reading your books. Hopefully, less than 98% of you have read Twilight. Not that it’s a bad book or anything, in fact I hear it’s quite good. I hear it over, and over, over. Let’s all just read it and be done with it, shall we?

Anyway, here’s the assignment:

Book Review

Write a 1-page book review about the book you’ve just read. Your review must include the following:

  • A brief SUMMARY of the book, describing major characters, events, and themes. This should be no more than one smallish paragraph.
  • Two-to-three paragraphs that ANALYZE specific features of the book. For example, if I were writing about The Catcher in the Rye, I might discuss “voice” in one paragraph (maybe include some sample “Holdenisms”); in another paragraph, I would describe Holden’s character a little more specifically and analyze whether he is a typical “adolescent;” and in one more paragraph I would talk about the plot structure of the book, how it’s kind of an anti-hero’s quest, and whether I liked that or not.
  • The last required element is a CONCLUSION in which you express your overall OPINION of the book. Generally, if your summary and analysis were favorable (giving the reader the impression that the book is worth reading) your overall opinion should be positive. If you didn’t find much to analyze, or didn’t like the stuff you were analyzing, you should express all that in your opinion, too. The point of this assignment is to let other students know if the book you read is worth reading.

That’s it. Keep it short and simple. Don’t forget to read it through to yourself out loud before printing it and handing it in, and if you want to get really fancy, have another smart person read it and correct the little grammar problems before I have to.

If you still have any questions, post them as comments to this page and I’ll respond as soon as I can. Your questions and my answers will probably help others out.


Best activity of the year

so so happyEvery year, I call one activity the “most important” of the year. I usually have a big ceremony commemorating the important activity where I present it with a statuette and it stands on a stage in front of an audience of its most prestigious peers and tearfully thanks its mother and the academy and its agent and god.

Today, you will learn how to create your very own personalized, high-interest reading lists. If you master this activity, you’ll never be alone again. Think of all the times you find yourself sitting on a bus, or in the school lobby, or locked in a dark closet with cockroaches skittering across your toes and a broken pipe in the ceiling drip-dripping onto the top of your head, with nothing to do. What wouldn’t you give to avoid that feeling of creeping boredom, and the terrible feeling that the clocks are not just slowing, but have actually stopped? How far would you go? Would you consider actually completing a homework assignment?

Because this assignment solves all that: Books are portable, harmless, thoughtful, don’t eat much, and are easy to clean up after (a simple wipe-down with a disinfecting cleanser, and you’re on your way!).

To make your own reading list, open this worksheet: (reading list worksheet), go through the 5 steps described below, and write your answers on the worksheet. Don’t skip any steps! If you skip steps, I’ll skip you!! And your little dog, too!!! Print the document and hand it in by Friday for precious, precious points.

Personal Reading List

1. Your interests

To make a list of interesting books, you have to know what your interests are.

  • On the worksheet you have open, make a list of at least 10 topics, events, activities, people, places, etc., that you are interested in finding out more about.

2. A book you like

Think back through your whole reading life and the list of interests you just made and come up with one book you have happy memories of–any non-picture book will do. If you don’t remember one, ask me for help.

  • Write the title and the author of the book you liked on your worksheet.

3. Misuse tools of capitalist oppression (

This next technique is devious. We’re going to use Amazon to find books, but then we’re NOT going to buy them. Bwa ha ha. Ha.

  • On, find the book you listed under activity #2.
  • Scroll down below the details of the book to the section of the page labeled “Customers Who Bought This Book Also Bought
    • On your document, write the title of one additional book that looks interesting from that list. Click on it and read about it on its own Amazon page before writing it down. (Feel free to write down any other good books you find here on the LIST part of your worksheet.)
  • Read a few of the editorial reviews that show up on the main Amazon page for one of the books you’re researching. These reviews tell you what it’s about, and whether it’s worth reading.
  • Scroll almost all the way to the bottom of your book’s Amazon page and click on at least one of the LISTMANIA links. These are lists made by nerds who like the same books you do.
    • On your document, write the title of one additional book that looks interesting from a Listmania list. (Feel free to write down any other good books you find here on the LIST part of your worksheet.)

4. Get more help from nerds

Plug some of the terms from your “interest” list into Google, in a search like this: “best books about <yourinterest>.” For instance, if you’re interested in squirrels, you might search for “best books about flying squirrels.” If that doesn’t work, make it more general, like “best books about small animals.”

  • On your own document, write down the URL for the webpage of at least one helpful list of books a friendly nerd made. (Feel free to write down any other good books you find here on the LIST part of your worksheet.)

5. The list

  • On your own document, make a reading list of at least 15 books appropriate to your grade level that you think you’d like to read. Use all of the techniques you just practiced to come up with a high interest list.

That’s it. Print your list and hand it in for points by Friday.


Downloads: reading list worksheet

next step: summarize!

Now that most of you have achieved levels of genius never before attained, locating precise and reliable information in the giant pile of dung known as the Information SuperWebnet Highway, you are ready to take the fruits of your labors, your precious articles, and prepare them for presenting to the class.

When you summarize, the point is to take the most important and interesting information and leave all the other nice connective stuff behind.

But first…we need a reference. If you want to use information or quotes from these articles in any piece of your own writing, and you don’t want to be arrested and imprisoned and/or  beaten with a rubber hose for plagiarism, you’ll need to cite the source (give the author’s name and the page number), and then, somewhere in your paper, provide complete information about the source, also known as the reference.

At the top of each article summary, provide a complete reference for the article. Here’s how to do it (substitute the specific info for your article–and don’t forget the periods, commas, and colons–they’re important!):

Magazine Article

Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Magazine Title PublicationDate: page#-page#.

Journal Article

Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Journal Title Vol. #(Year): page#-page#.


Last Name, First Name. “Article Title.” Newspaper Name [City]Date: Section & page.


Last Name, First Name. “Page Title.” Site Title. PublicationDate. Organization. Date accessed <URL>.

NOTE: You may not have all of the information required for your reference. Be resourceful–you may have to click around a site to find out about the author, publisher, and date. Do your best with what you have!

Okay, now it’s time to summarize. An article summary should be no more than 1-2 paragraphs, and it must have the following elements. As long as you have these elements, you can write the summary in any style or voice that you prefer:

  • In your first sentence, summarize the big idea of the article–this big idea is usually found in the article’s introduction. Be sure to restate it in your own words
  • Summarize each major point in the article in a separate sentence. Give a brief description of a few of the examples the author uses to illustrate the main points. Choose examples you think would be most interesting for your fellow students to hear about.
  • If you want to be really smart, take a sentence or two to connect the article to the ideas in one of the other articles you’re summarizing. Explain how they work together to give you a better understanding of your topic.

That’s it! When you summarize, everyone knows that you are borrowing someone else’s ideas, and you’ve got the reference up at the top so no one will think you’re plagiarizing, but please do make sure that everything you write is in your own words. If you must quote the article, include “quotation marks.”

Here’s a sample document to show you how to set up yours:  summary sample