Archive for March, 2010

Resources for a Lesson Plan on Redundancy and An Amusing Teacher Story

March 30, 2010

George Carlin

Resources for a Lesson Plan on Redundancy

Use the list of redundancies from George Carlin’s wonderful book Braindroppings and The Redundant Little Short Story to teach a lesson on redundancies. Carlin’s list includes examples such as PIN number, safe haven, closed fist and linger on. (However, I would quibble with Carlin on the terms time clock and security guard. There’s a difference between a clock and a time clock just as there is a difference between a guard and a security guard.)

The Redundant Little Short Story

The two twins Ted and Ned lived in a teeny tiny little bungalow in the city of Chicago. The silly clown Fred Toolshed was Ted and Ned’s closest best friend. Fred lived in a small cottage near the University of UCLA. One day Ted, Ned, and Fred decided to go on a long journey in search of a famous celebrity or a royal queen. Ted said, “Fred, you would have to be a crazy maniac to travel through snowy blizzards and blustery tornadoes.”

“Ted,” said Ned, “only a stupid ignoramus or a cheap miser would pass up an opportunity to meet big giants, brilliant geniuses and dead mummies.”

So Ted, Ned and Fred had many exciting adventures in search of renowned luminaries and distinguished dignitaries. They also ate frozen popsicles with a young infant named Bed Wetter and an elderly octogenarian named Jed Sledder. The five of them met all kinds of living organisms, including a smelly skunk, a sleepy insomniac, a tiny microorganism, and a tall giraffe.

An Amusing Teacher Story

Sadly, due to the ill-conceived efforts of our current Education Secretary and his two immediate predecessors, frightened school administrators across the country are doing their best to eradicate all traces of art and humanity from the teaching profession (because, you know, teaching should only be about raising test scores).

But this sick, sad trend really has nothing to do with “accountability.” It’s just about power. (Accountability is a nice-sounding word, but in practice it means that schools are micromanaged by bureaucrats in Washington DC instead of being directly accountable to local school boards)

Back in the days before the federal government (a seven-percent stakeholder in education) made it so difficult for teachers to make even the smallest efforts to enrich the lives of their students, I used to show the kids gems like Donald O’Connor singing Make ‘em Laugh or the Nicholas Brother doing their thing in the movie Stormy Weather at the end of the day as we were preparing to go home.

Now, I’ve always been rather sympathetic to Freddy in My Fair Lady because I too find Audrey Hepburn to be irresistibly enchanting. So one day I was trying to explain why Freddy was so smitten with Eliza Doolittle before showing them the song On the Street Where You Live. I said that he had decided to sit in front of this woman’s house for days on end because he was in love with her but she was not in love with him.

One of my girls said, “I get it. He’s a stalker.”

I’m afraid she was right. (Kids really make you think sometimes.)

By Richard W. Bray

A Lesson Plan on Parts of Speech

March 27, 2010

Lewis Carroll

(A brief comment on parts of speech)

Individual words are not parts of speech. Instead, words are forms which act as parts of speech. But you don’t have to take my word for it.

According to Otto Jespersen, from the book The Philosophy of Grammar (1924):

Take the form round: this is a substantive in “a round of a ladder,” “he took his daily round,” an adjective in “a round table,” a verb in “he failed to round the lamp-post,” an adverb in “come round to-morrow,” and a preposition in “he walked round the house.” While similarly may be a substantive (he stayed here for a while), a verb (to while away time), and a conjunction (while he was away)….On the other hand, we have a great many words which can belong to one word-class only; admiration, society, life can only be substantives, polite only an adjective, was, comprehend only verbs, at only a preposition. (61)

A Lesson on Parts of Speech


White board and markers or Smartboard with Microsoft Word

Academic Area – Parts of Speech
This is a unit designed to enable students to identify four major parts of speech: nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs.

Goals and Objectives:
Identify nouns, adjectives, and action verbs adverbs in context

Instructor will: Implement a variety of whole class small groups and paired activities in order to instantiate the concept of parts of speech.

Students will: Generate lists of the four parts of speech covered as a whole class activity and in small groups.

Lesson 1–Nouns

a) Teacher will ask if anyone can define the word “noun” (Answer: person, place, thing, or idea)
b) Write “noun test” on the board:
The noun test is simply putting an article or a personal pronoun in front of a word
Example: My ____________.
The ____________.
A ______________
c) Students will generate a list of nouns which I write on the board.
d) Students will “pair and share” to create a longer list of nouns.

Lesson 2–Adjectives

a) The teacher reviews nouns, using the “noun test” and ask students to give examples of nouns which he writes on the board, (Noun test: words that follow articles or possessive pronouns.)
b) Teacher will provide the definition of adjective, “a word that modifies a noun” Ask if anyone knows what modifies means. Explain how people sometimes modify their cars.
c) Using the list of nouns generated by the students, the teacher will have students give examples of words which would modify the meaning of these nouns.

d) Teacher will introduce the “adjective test”: My ____________house is ___________
or my __________________sister is _________. (it works with any noun)

e) Select five students to fill in the blank. For example, “My blue house is clean” Or, “My young sister is smart.”
f) Pair and Share: Give students five minutes to generate lists of adjectives individually and then share the lists with their seatmates.

Lesson 3–Verbs

a) Ask students to define both types of verbs (answer: state of being verbs and action verbs)

b) This lesson will focus on action verbs. Demonstrate the Verb Test:
Yesterday I _____________ed
Let’s ____________________
Tomorrow, I will ________________

c) Direct students to generate lists of action verbs in groups of four (at their tables)
d) Review lists with entire class.

Lesson 4–Adverbs

a) Review action verb definition from lesson three.
b) Explain that adverbs “modify” verbs. (Review the word modify from lesson two)
c) Write the “adverb test” on the board:

I ran __________________
Debbie ate _____________
Buffy talks ______________

(Teacher should sure to explain that adverbs do not always have to follow the verb directly and that they are not always “-ly” words. Also note how a part of speech depends upon context. For example, in the sentence “I ran home,” “home” is an adverb, although one would usually use it as a noun. Or, in the sentence “I ran fast,” fast is an adverb, but in the sentence “Hector is a fast runner” it would be an adjective. Also inform students that this is a working definition of adverbs because adverbs can also modify adjectives and other adverbs)

Evaluation (After also teaching prepositions, interjections, conjunctions, and onomatopoeia.)

1. Distribute copies of the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll to the entire class.
2. Have students take turns reading the poem aloud, one line at a time.
3. Play a version of the poem from Youtube or Librivox.
4. Group students and allow ten minutes for them to determine the parts of speech of the nonsense words.

“Twas Brillig (adj) and the slithy (adj) toves (noun)
Did gyre and gimble (verb) in the wabe (noun):

5. Review as a teacher-directed, whole-class activity.

by Richard W. Bray

Mikey and Robbie and Marinated Steak (by Brian)

March 27, 2010

Mikey and Robbie (Rescue Dogs)

Marinated Steak

(This recipe was passed down through the generations of my family, and it produces the finest steak in all the existential lands.)


Rib-Eye Steaks (or whatever is on sale)
One bottle or can of beer (Domestic if you love America as much as I do)
1/3 cup of Soy Sauce per pound
1 tablespoon Brown Sugar per pound (more or less to taste)
1/2 teaspoon of Garlic Powder per pound (more or less to taste)
A Pinch of Salt

You have many choices as to begin.


First, kill and butcher a cow or just go to Vons.

Second, throw a pot or just use one from the cupboard.

Third, brew some beer or just use the market brand of your choice–I recommend Miller Lite.

Fourth, pour the beer in the new or old pot and mix in some soy sauce, brown sugar, and garlic powder with a dash of salt.

Fifth, tenderize your meat (I think we all know how painful that can be), by pounding it with your hands or stabbing it with a fork several times.

Sixth, place the meat in the marinade and either completely submerge it or remember to turn it every 15 minutes. Leave it in the marinade for at least an hour.

When the steak is fully saturated with the marinade either hold it over an open fire or just place it on the grill and cook to your desired level of taste, texture, and pleasure.

Serving Suggestions:

Now either enjoy with your bare hands (I call this Barbarian Style) or set a table and use your finest silverware (I call this Victorian Style). Either way you have yourself a steak that even the most discriminating connoisseurs will enjoy. Hell, even the Vegans will eat this in the privacy of their own homes.

Better Than I Ever Dreamed

March 26, 2010


Better Than I Ever Dreamed

Well life is short
And death is long
And things can get so bleak
If you don’t have the right someone
To listen when you speak
Somehow I hit the jackpot
When I found this gal
She’s a lover and a confidant
And such a perfect pal

She’s saving her best undies
And other secret sundries
She’s saving her best undies
For me
I’m such a lucky feller
And every day I tell her
She’s just the girl I needed her
To be

Well I’ve searched every corner
Of this rock in space
And I’ve sampled all varieties
Of the human race
I ain’t been disappointed
By all the gals I knew
But this old world ain’t never seen
Love like I have
With you

She’s saving her best undies
And other secret sundries
She’s saving her best undies
For me
I’m such a lucky feller
And every day I tell her
Better than I ever dreamed a gal
Could be

by Richard W. Bray

Mailbag, a Beautiful Paragraph, and an Addendum

March 25, 2010

Ernest Hemingway


My old friend Jackie offers this addition to the post Island of the Abused and Misused Words

Enormity. It does not mean enormous or gigantic or overwhelming. It
means monstrously bad. No one seems to use it in the sense of it being a BAD thing.

Here’s an interesting discussion of it:

(Keep those emails coming, folks:

A Beautiful Paragraph

From Counterfeiting Conservatism by Patrick J. Deneen in the
April 1 edition of The American Conservative

Conservatism thus came to embody the opposite of Kirk’s conservative principles: custom became economic monoculture (i.e., globalization); variety became nationalism; prudence became Kantian jurisprudence; imperfectibility became a religion of secular redemption; community became mobility; and restraint of power became lust for power, particularly control of the national agenda. It lost its moorings by tracking its opponent, and with every victory only fueled the further evisceration of the folkways, traditions, and commitments that an originally conservative disposition arose politically to defend.


Addendum to Writers on Writing from Ernest Hemingway on Writing

Always stop while you are going good and don’t think about it or worry about it until you start to write the next day. That way your subconscious will work on it all the time. But if you think about it consciously or worry about it you will kill it and your brain will be tired before you start.(42)

by Richard W. Bray

My Top Ten Booklist (In no particular order)

March 23, 2010

Franz De Waal

My Top Ten Booklist (In no particular order)

#1 Ishi in Two Worlds: A Biography of the Last Wild Indian in North America by Theodora Kroeber

…so far as any record shows or any story relates, no member of the United States Army ever shot a single Yana Indian, whose multiple murder remained a home and civilian and strictly extralegal operation. (62) There’s a line in the song Sun City by Steven Van Zandt reminding us that Apartheid “ain’t that far away.” Episodes in Extermination, the fourth chapter of Ishi, written in a beautifully plain and sober tone, makes our own proximity to the horrors of genocide painfully clear.

#2 Primates and Philosophers by Franz De Waal

Chimpanzees think by feeling, just like we do:

In my own experience, chimpanzees pursue power as relentlessly as some in Washington and keep track of given and received services in a marketplace of exchange. Their feelings may range from gratitude for political support to outrage if one of them violates a social rule. All of this goes far beyond mere fear, pain, and anger: the emotional life of these animals is much closer to ours than once held possible. (76)

#3 War is a Force that Gives us Meaning by Chris Hedges

This indispensable book, which came out when our society was still very sick with war fever, tells us that war

Is peddled by mythmakers–historians, war correspondents, filmmakers, novelists and the state–all of whom endow it with qualities it often does possess: excitement, exoticism, power, chances to rise above our small stations in life, and a bizarre and fantastic universe that has grotesque and dark beauty. It dominates culture, distorts memory, corrupts language, and infects everything around it, even humor, which becomes preoccupied with the grim perversities of smut and death. Fundamental questions about the meaning, or meaninglessness, of our place on the planet are laid bare when we watch those around us sink to the lowest depths. War exposes the capacity for evil that lurks not far below the surface within all of us. And this is why for many war is so hard to discuss once it’s over (3)


#4 United States: Essays 1952-1992 by Gore Vidal

This collection of essays proves that in addition to being a damn fine novelist, Vidal is simply our finest living essayist. From his essay Theodore Roosevelt: An American Sissy:

Give a sissy a gun and he will shoot everything in sight….There is something strangely infantile in this obsession with dice-loaded physical courage when the only courage that matters in political or even “real” life is moral. Although TR was often reckless and always domineering in politics, he never showed much real courage, and despite some trust-busting, he never took on the great ring of corruption that ruled and rules in this republic. But then, he was born part of it. (733)

#5 Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich

A much underappreciated masterpiece. An earlier post demonstrated that Erdrich is a master of the simile. Some more examples:

Then the vest plunged down against her, so slick and plush that it was like being rubbed by an enormous tongue. (5)

My mother held out a heavy tin one (spoon) from the drawer and screwed her lips up like a coin purse to kiss me. (12)

On the much traveled, evil Sister Leopolda: Perhaps she was just sent around to test her Sisters’ faith, like a spot checker in a factory.(45)

She thought of everything so hard that her mind felt warped and sodden as a door that swells up in spring. (107)

Dot was a diligent producer of milk, however. Her breasts, like overfilled inner tubes, strained at her nylon blouses. (210)

#6 Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

The greatest and most important American novel published during the second half of the twentieth century. So it goes.

#7 The Quiet American by Graham Greene

Here’s Greene on innocence, which, as Arnold Rampersad wryly noted, is a famed American virtue:

Innocence always calls mutely for protection when it would be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm.(29)

#8 The Collected Poems of W. H Auden

The only artists who have made a comparable impression on my consciousness are Vonnegut, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. And I shall continue to revere Auden until the day when I surrender my smidge of nitrogen to the World Fund. (690) (btw, the collected poems are not the complete poems because Auden left out many with which he later became unsatisfied. A notable omission is September 1, 1939 which was excised because Auden eventually decided that the line We must love one another or die constitutes a false alternative.)

#9 The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

Perhaps foolishly, in the spirit of Ernest Hemingway’s notoriously silly aspiration to knock Mr. Shakespeare on his ass, I would argue that Dickinson is the first, and quite possibly the only, American poet capable of going toe-to-toe with the Bard.

#10 The Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker

I recoil somewhat at the realization that there exists a profound kindred empathy in the deepest recesses of my psyche for this sad, sad, angry, witty woman.


by Richard W. Bray

Teacher Knows Best–Not

March 22, 2010

Teacher Knows Best–Not

Teachers should feel privileged that they have been entrusted to administer education to, and oversee the wellbeing of, other people’s children for a limited period of time. Nothing has ever moved me more than seeing parents reluctantly parting with their children before school, a cogent reminder of the love and aspirations people have for their children. This is why teaching is such a monumental task and an almost overwhelming charge to keep.

Teachers are part of the Social Persistence Team, along with pastors, social workers, community organizers, various types of volunteers, police officers and other first responders, and everyone who works in the criminal justice system and the healthcare industry. But teaching is not group therapy. And it isn’t social engineering, either. Teachers who enter the profession hoping to become microcosmic gods who will erase injustice from the planet and fix the world one child at a time are destined for disappointment.

Teachers often try to fix other people’s families, which is a horrible mistake. It’s crucial for teachers to realize that they were not hired to tell parents how to raise their children. It is a teacher’s primary responsibility to work with parents in order to come up with the best strategies for facilitating learning, not to berate or belittle parents. That’s why it is so important not too come off like “Teacher Knows Best,” particularly when the teacher comes from a different socioeconomic background than his students.

Here’s one small example of what I’m talking about: Like many people, I am appalled when I see parents bringing their small children to gory, R-rated movies. And it makes my job difficult when children want to talk about these movies in class. This can be particularly irksome when, during a discussion of a particular literary trope such as the use of flashbacks, several of my elementary school students remark that there is a really good flashback scene in the movie Killer Mutant Zombies from Outer Space. Because I don’t want to get a call from my principal asking me what in the world I’m teaching these kids, I say, “That’s not an appropriate movie to be talking about at school.” But then I hear a whole chorus of, “My mom lets me see those movies.” That’s when I quickly change the subject.

I knew a teacher who not only tells her students that she would “never” let her own children watch violent movies, but she goes on to inform them that she thinks it’s terrible that their parents aren’t as enlightened as she is. Of course, it’s okay for a teacher to tell her students what she would or would not allow her own kids to do. But condemning parents in front of their children is really not helping matters. If these kids go home and tell their parents that their teacher thinks they are raising their children improperly, it is unlikely that the parents will respond favorably. They certainly aren’t going to think, “The Great White Teacher believes we’re uncivilized. Oh, no. We better go buy some books on parenting.”

by Richard W. Bray


March 18, 2010

Your smiling, or the hope, the thought of it,
Makes in my mind such pause and abrupt ease
As when the highway bridgegates fall

Richard Wilbur, A Simile for Her Smile


sitting in a bookstore
waiting on your call
wondrin’ where we’re headed
if this thing will work at all
phone is in my lap
book in my right hand
in a town where i’m a stranger
it’s more than I can stand
feel someone approaching
out the corner of my eye
look up and see you coming
and i’m such a happy guy

ain’t nothin’ in this big old world
to help me ease mind
like thinking of the moment
when I knew that you were mine
never thought i’d know such comfort
happiness and ease
like the feeling of contentment
wrapped up in a summer breeze

by Richard W. Bray

Ginger Crinkles and Poe (by Tim)

March 17, 2010


(Here is one for one of my favorite cookies of all time that my parents used to make and now I do. They kick ASS!)



2 1/4 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon (more or less to taste)
1 tsp ground ginger (more or less to taste)
1 tsp ground cloves (more or less to taste)
3/4 cup soft shortening (I prefer using non-hydrogenated shortening…more expensive than Crisco, but your heart will thank you)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/4 cup light or dark molasses
granulated sugar for rolling dough balls in


1. Sift flour together with baking soda, salt, and spices and set aside.
2. Beat shortening, brown sugar, and egg together until light and fluffy. A mixer makes this easier, but do it by hand if you’ve got endurance!
3. Add molasses to the shortening, brown sugar, and egg mix, and beat further until smooth.
4. Gradually add flour mixture and mix until well combined.
5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap or foil and chill for at least one hour.
6. Once dough is thoroughly chilled, heat oven to 350 degrees, lightly grease cookie sheets.
7. Roll dough into 1 1/2″ to 2″ balls, and roll the balls in the granulated sugar.
8. Place dough balls on cookie sheets about 4″ apart, and bake for 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown.
9. Cool cookies on wire racks and devour.

Best. Cookies. Ever.

The Island of Misused and Abused Words

March 16, 2010

Alan Sokal

Burl Ives

Misused Words–Dastardly, Dilemma, Prodigal, Abominable

Dastardly (it means cowardly, not detestable)

I think we all know who the culprit is on this one: Daffy Duck has been alternating this term of disparagement with the word despicable for phonetic effect for years, confusing generations of American youngsters.

Dilemma (it means a situation requiring a decision between two equally undesirable alternatives, not merely a situation requiring a painful resolution)

As with so many other ills that afflict our society, I blame Dr. Laura for this one. The McTherapy Maven and her callers abuse this word on a daily basis.

Prodigal (it means profligate, not reckless or rebellious)

We tend to think of the biblical Prodigal Son in terms of his wayward foolishness rather than his extravagance, which is probably why the word is often incorrectly used to describe a rogue rather than a spendthrift.

Abominable (it means loathsome or disagreeable, not monstrous)

We can trace this common linguistic blunder to an unlikely perpetrator, the avuncular actor and folksinger Burl Ives. That’s right, his masterful annual narration of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer conditioned millions of Americans to forever link the words abominable and snowman.

Abused Words–Heuristic, Ontological, Semiotic

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Alan Sokal, Katha Pollitt, Stephen Katz and other brave souls, the Emperor’s Clothes are now visible and the literary abomination know as postmodernism (or post-structuralism) is finally being driven from the halls of academia. But I’m afraid that the many casualties of this wretched interregnum include three undeserving victims: Heuristic (serving to point out, stimulating further investigation), Ontological (relating to the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence or being as such) and semiotic (pertaining to signs/symbols).

Sadly, these three fine words have been reduced to mere markers indicating oncoming highfalutin literary gibberish like this absurd sentence by Roy Bhaskar that Stephen Katz discovered:

Indeed dialectical critical realism may be seen under the aspect of Foucauldian strategic reversal—of the unholy trinity of Parmenidean/Platonic/Aristotelean provenance; of the Cartesian-Lockean-Humean-Kantian paradigm, of foundationalisms (in practice, fideisticfoundationalisms) and irrationalisms (in practice, capricious exercises of will-to-power or some other ideologically and/or psychosomatically buried source) new and old alike; of the primordial failing of western philosophy, ontological monovalence, and its close ally, the epistemic fallacywithin its ontic dual; of the analytic….

Katz humorously points out that, “The sentence contains 55 more words, but is harder to follow after this point.”

by Richard W. Bray