Archive for July, 2013

Grab a Breath

July 27, 2013


Grab a breath
Let it out
Make some noise
Stomp and shout

Clickity-clack, snicker-snack, holly-jolly, sing song
Whickity-whack, pitter-pat, golly-molly, ding dong
Bippity-bap, sunny-snap, wimple-wumple, voodoo
Dippity-dap, bunny-tap, fimple-fample, hoo-doo

It’s your day
Don’t be shy
Act before
It passes by

Clickity-clack, snicker-snack, holly-jolly, sing song
Whickity-whack, pitter-pat, golly-molly, ding dong
Bippity-bap, sunny-snap, wimple-wumple, voodoo
Dippity-dap, bunny-tap, fimple-fample, hoo-doo

Now’s the time
Wait no more
Live your rhyme
Let it roar

Clickity-clack, snicker-snack, holly-jolly, sing song
Whickity-whack, pitter-pat, golly-molly, ding dong
Bippity-bap, sunny-snap, wimple-wumple, voodoo
Dippity-dap, bunny-tap, fimple-fample, hoo-doo

by Richard W. Bray


July 25, 2013


The thieves in charge
Just dangle some cash
And dirty politicians
Kiss a whole lotta ass

The game is rigged
In the USA
The American Dream’s
Been dealt away

Crooks and traitors
Keep getting paid
Send jobs overseas
And call it free trade

The game is rigged
In the USA
The American Dream’s
Been dealt away

Ain’t got no money
To fix our schools
We’re going down hard
Like a punch-drunk fool

The game is rigged
In the USA
The American Dream’s
Been dealt away

by Richard W. Bray

Scrambled Paragraph Lesson Plan

July 20, 2013

scrambled p

Here’s an activity which demonstrates how the sentences in a well-constructed paragraph should fit together like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. The following scrambled paragraph is a true story that happened to me when I was around ten years old.

____ Unfortunately, I also got my foot.

____ I got his shadow.

____ I will never forget the time I stuck an awl through my foot.

____ I pulled it out, ran into the house, and shouted, “Mom, Dad, I
        just stuck an awl through my foot.”

____ They did not believe me until they saw it.

____ The knife not only penetrated Andy’s shadow, it went through
        the top of my foot and came out the other side.

____ This happened one day when I was stabbing the awl from my
        dad’s pocket knife into my front lawn.

____ My neighbor Andy and I were playing a game in which I
        attempted to stab his shadow as he ran across the yard.


#1. Pass out this Scrambled Paragraph to students and have them number it.
#2. Show them the answers and let them correct their own papers.
#3. For homework, have the students write a first-person narrative paragraph between eight and eleven sentences long about something interesting or exciting that has happened to them. Then they should “scramble” their paragraphs like the example above. (Answers should go on the back of their papers.)
#4 Classroom activity: Students swap each other’s paragraphs and number them.

(Scrambled Paragraph answer: 5,4,1,7,8,6,2,3)

Richard W. Bray

A Lesson Plan on Complex Sentences

July 14, 2013


#1. Read the following paragraph to your students:

This morning I woke up. The time was 7:30 a.m. I went to the bathroom. I took a shower. I shaved. I brushed my teeth. Max barked at me. I took him for a walk. It was a glorious day. He was happy. I was happy. I felt famished. We both had breakfast. I went to work.

#2. Ask students how they liked your paragraph. They will probably tell you that it sounded “boring,” “weird,” “choppy,” and/or “monotonous.”

#3. Ask them why it sounds “boring,” “weird,” “choppy,” and/or “monotonous.” Someone will say because the sentences are too short. Or, if you have already taught this lesson, someone will say that they are all simple sentences. Bingo. Paste a metaphorical gold star on that student’s forehead.

#4. Explain: Simple sentences are elegent and beautiful, and you wouldn’t want to live in a world without them. They are great for headlines, epigrammatic song lyrics, and those occasions when you want to make a point cogently and directly. But a story or an essay made up entirely of simple sentences is apt to be “boring,” “weird,” “choppy,” and/or “monotonous.” (There are some exceptions to this observation, notably books by Dr. Seuss and James Elroy). Fortunately, there are various sentence patterns which, along with strategically-placed simple sentences, will give your writing rhythm and flair. Today we will be entering the wonderful world of complex sentences.

#5. Explain: A complex sentence contains two clauses: a main clause and a subordinate clause. It’s easy to spot the subordinate clause because it begins with a subordinator.

#6. Provide students with this list of subordinators.

while, after, though, because, as soon as, wherever, when, before, as,
so that, unless, since, although, if, until, even though, whether

#7. Explain: If anyone ever presents you with a complex sentence and asks you to identify the subordinate clause, you can say, “That’s easy; it’s the one that begins with a subordinator.”

(One of the most common mistakes my students make is putting a comma in front of the subordinator. A complex sentence only requires a comma when the first clause is subordinate.)

#8. Provide students with these pairs of correctly-punctuated complex sentences. (If you love trees as much as I do, you can put them on the same piece of paper as the subordinators. Or, if you are a tree-worshipping Druid, you can post the information on Blackboard or some other Cloudy space.)

If I were a rich man, I wouldn’t be here.
I wouldn’t be here if I were a rich man.

I did not pass the Algebra exam even though I studied for over twelve minutes.
Even though I studied for over twelve minutes, I did not pass the Algebra exam.

Because you have a pool, you can be my friend.
You can be my friend because you have a pool.

#9. Activity
a) Group students into threes.
b) Number each group.
c) Instruct each group to create a complex sentence test with six problems like the two examples below.
d) Examine each test.
e) Have groups swap tests and answer each other’s tests on a single sheet of paper. (Students should not write on tests.)
f) When finished, the students should check their answers. (If they have any arguments with the answer key, they should not take matters into their own hands; they should call the teacher over.)
g) Continue to swap tests until every group has taken every test.
h) Students hand in all tests and answer sheets.

Examples Below

Create six problems. Place key on the back.

___a. If you love me you will take out the trash.
___b. If you love me, you will take out the trash.
___a I love you because you buy me things.
___b. I love you, because you buy me things.


Coming up: Spectacular lessons on compound sentences and conjunctive adverbs.

Richard W. Bray

The Bottom of the Bottle

July 12, 2013

Bottle of the Bottle

Left in a hurry
And I’m feeling kinda mean
My cleanest dirty shorts*
Ain’t none too clean
Stomach’s full of empty
My hair’s a disgrace
Didn’t even get a chance
To wash my face

Keep diving deeper
But I still ain’t hit
The bottom of the bottle
Is it time to quit?

Had to leave me a woman
Crazier than sin
Getting out was so much tougher
Than getting in
She took all I got
And tied me to her bed
It’s wonder to behold
That I ain’t dead

Keep diving deeper
But I still ain’t hit
The bottom of the bottle
Is it time to quit?

I’ve seen the seedy side
Of every bar and saloon
I drank in every dive
From here to the moon
Got a thousand sordid tales
That I could tell
Shared shots with the devil
In the pit of hell

Keep diving deeper
But I still ain’t hit
The bottom of the bottle
Is it time to quit?

*Sincerest apologies to Mr. Kristofferson

Richard W. Bray

Tender Places

July 10, 2013


shield your heart
from danger
your treasure
ain’t for strangers
your beauty and
your grace is
hid in your
tender places

don’t leave your
beauty ‘round
this life’ll break
you down
beware of
smiling faces
protect your
tender places

Richard W. Bray

Vanity: The Mother of all Noble and Vile Illusions

July 7, 2013
Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

It’s usually more fun to think about other people’s problems, but we can never get away from ourselves. And our fixations on others can teach us a lot about ourselves. For example, if you often hear yourself saying, “Dave is such a jerk for always talking about how much money he has,” you are probably more than a little bit jealous. Or, if you are constantly telling yourself, “It’s a good thing I don’t drink as much as Larry. He really has a problem,” well, you might just be an alcoholic.

I have found that a great opportunity for reflection is the moment after the flood of hostility and righteous indignation has passed. But first I have to remind myself that it’s not my task in life to figure out what’s wrong with everybody else.

But in order for human beings to function as social organisms, some level of interest in others is necessary. A perfectly solipsistic person who spends all his psychic energy focused upon his inner world would be incapable of social interaction in addition to being a tedious bore. (Think Sheldon Cooper minus the modicum of concern he has for the rest of humanity.)

Our view of the world is filtered through the prism of our thoughts and feelings; the trick is to maintain some level of sanity by achieving a workable harmony between our inner and outer worlds. People who are unable to reconcile the pain and frustrations of this world with their need to assert some level of dignity often resort to drastic solutions. As Joseph Conrad notes of the hapless, ragtag lot of would-be world-fixers in The Secret Agent:

in their own way the most ardent of revolutionaries are perhaps doing no more but seeking for peace in common with the rest of mankind—the peace of soothed vanity, of satisfied appetites, or perhaps of appeased conscience.

Broken on the inside but lacking the requisite courage and self-understanding to confront their pain, Conrad’s misbegotten idealists endeavor vainly to incite a revolution that will obliterate their woes.

There are two types of revolutionaries in The Secret Agent: The fanatics (The Professor and Karl Yundt) and the ineffectual justice-seekers (Michaelis, Comrade Ossipan, and Stevie.) (Verloc, the paid informant of an unidentified foreign power, is, of course, no sort of revolutionary at all.) Conrad sums up theses two sects:

the majority of revolutionists are the enemies of discipline and fatigue mostly. There are natures too, to whose sense of justice the price exacted looms up monstrously enormous, odious, oppressive, worrying, humiliating, extortionate, intolerable. Those are the fanatics. The remaining portion of social rebels is accounted for by vanity, the mother of all noble and vile illusions, the companion of poets, reformers, charlatans, prophets, and incendiaries.

For the two fanatics in The Secret Agent, this monstrously enormous sense of justice is crammed inside their feeble little egos. The ghoulish Karl Yundt (The Terrorist) is obsessed with manly violence and self-glorifying violence. In his twisted, misanthropic mind, destruction is the highest form of benevolence:

I have always dreamed,” he mouthed, fiercely, “of a band of men absolute in their resolve to discard all scruples in the choice of means, strong enough to give themselves frankly the name of destroyers, and free from the taint of that resigned pessimism which rots the world. No pity for anything on earth, including themselves, and death enlisted for good and all in the service of humanity–that’s what I would have liked to see.”

In striking contrast to Yundt, the Professor doesn’t require any followers. This man actually is an island. He lives, works, and plots his destruction alone. As he brags to Ossipan: “I’ve the grit to work alone, quite alone, absolutely alone. I’ve worked alone for years.” The professor’s gargantuan vanity feeds his acute need for isolation. It’s not his fault that humanity refuses to bow in obeisance to his manifest greatness.

His struggles, his privations, his hard work to raise himself in the social scale, had filled him with such an exalted conviction of his merits that it was extremely difficult for the world to treat him with justice— the standard of that notion depending so much upon the patience of the individual. The Professor had genius, but lacked the great social virtue of resignation.

And no one, not even the Professor, deserves to live in a world where the Professor is not adequately appreciated: “What happens to us as individuals is not of the least consequence,” he tells Ossipon.

The Professor is ready to blow himself up at any moment as a means of “affirming his superiority over all the multitude of mankind.” Like the petulant child who constantly threatens to take his ball and go home, the Professor is perpetually prepared to obliterate himself in order to prevent anyone from ever getting the best of him.

In order to preserve this illusion of strength, the Professor has convinced himself that his utter fear of humanity is a mark of virtue: “There are very few people in the world whose character is as well established as mine.”

Too vain, too pure, and too weak to scrutinize his inability to engage in the quotidian give-and-take of human interaction, the Professor’s fear of intimacy manifests itself as a twisted death wish which is only heroic in his own mind.

They depend on life, which, in this connection, is a historical fact surrounded by all sorts of restraints and considerations, a complex organised fact to attack at every point; whereas I depend on death, which knows no restraint and cannot be attacked. My superiority is evident.

Conrad notes that an appetite for intrigue and action is a prerequisite for the constable as well as the revolutionary: “The terrorist and the policeman both come form the same basket.” In contrast to the would-be revolutionists in The Secret Agent, however, Chief Inspector Heat and the Assisstant Commissioner possess sufficient self-awareness to maintain their sanity. (This is no small achievement. As Joseph Wambaugh notes, police work involves “a daily drop of corrosion.”) The Assistant Commissioner finds police work messy and unpleasant, but an honest self-appraisal allows him to keep his psyche intact.

No man engaged in a work he does not like can preserve many saving illusions about himself. The distaste, the absence of glamour, extend from the occupation to the personality. It is only when our appointed activities seem by a lucky accident to obey the particular earnestness of our temperament that we can taste the comfort of complete self-deception

Idealists have brought us, among other things, the abolition of slavery, child labor laws, and universal suffrage. The world is a better place for their efforts. But Joseph Conrad reminds us that “the way of even the most justifiable revolutions is prepared by personal impulses disguised into creeds.”

Richard W. Bray

The Misanthrope’s Prayer

July 4, 2013


People are a waste of time
With all their petty wants and needs
Alone I’ll get along just fine

This putrid planet is not kind
It spawned a dirty wanton breed
People are a waste of time

Humans beings: a horde of slime
A mass of filthy carnal deeds
Alone I’ll get along just fine

Creation is a wretched crime
A dirty lot it grows and feeds
People are a waste of time

If someone would just cut the vine
And scatter all the human seeds
Alone I’ll get along just fine

I curse the careless cold Divine
His ghastly garden full of weeds
People are a waste of time
Alone I’ll get along just fine

Richard W. Bray