Posts Tagged ‘Education’

Resources for a Lesson Plan on Tautologies and Circular Reasoning

January 9, 2015

A tautology is a grammatical construct; circular reasoning is a logical fallacy. The two phenomena are related but not identical.

A tautology is a sentence in which the conclusion is equivalent to its premise. In other words, in a tautology, the predicate can be surmised by reading the subject.

Here are some examples of tautologies:

My mother’s brother is my uncle.

Father Brown is a priest.

It is what it is.

A circular argument occurs when someone affirms her position simply by restating it in different terms. In other words, circular reasoning is an argument where the conclusion depends upon or is equivalent to its premise.

In a circular argument:

X is true because of Y.


Y is true because of X.

A circular argument is similar in structure to a tautology, but a circular argument includes causal reasoning (because, therefore, for this reason, etc.).

Here are some examples of circular reasoning:

My mom is terrific because she is wonderful.

People do what Dave tells; therefore, he is a great leader.

I slumbered beyond my assigned wakeup time; that’s why I overslept.

Lesson Evaluation: Explain why the following examples are tautologies, circular arguments, or neither.

Chris Rock is a hilarious comedian because he makes people laugh.

A bartender is a guy who listens to people talk all day.

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Anthony is extremely strong due to his ability to bench press three hundred pounds.

If aliens didn’t create the pyramids then how come pyramids are the product of technology that didn’t exist on earth at that time?

Allen hasn’t had a drink in twenty-three years, but he isn’t really sober because he doesn’t go to AA meetings and he isn’t working the steps.

A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

They are who we thought they were.

If I could tell you, I would let you know.

I stopped eating meat in 1987; that’s what makes me a vegetarian.

by Richard W. Bray

Discovering and Correcting Un-doable Subject-Verb Combinations

December 4, 2014

aaaaaaaa subject verb

These new disposable diapers work hard to keep babies dry.

I call sentences like the one above undoables. Undoables contain a subject which is incapable of performing its assigned action.

I tell my students to correct undoables by picturing the subject executing the action: Can you imagine a disposable diaper working hard?

Each sentence in the following paragraph contains an undoable. See if your students can spot them and explain why they are un-doable.

       One concern that restaurants bring up is the issue of hygiene. Cleaning products take steps to improve cleanliness. However, halfhearted activities will not prevail. Furthermore, the way that many restaurants are maintained does not keep in mind adequate procedures for maintaining a germ-free environment. Many restaurants claim to be clean, but how can we be sure this is true? Our current situation is wreaking havoc on the intestines of restaurant customers. Unhealthy food should force restaurants to have higher standards. Therefore, strict policies must win the battle of the dirty kitchen. That’s why new laws should enforce minimum standards of restaurant cleanliness. Only then will America’s stomachs earn a respite from unhealthy bacteria.

by Richard W. Bray

An Effective Title-Writing Strategy for Academic Papers

September 28, 2012


Here’s a fun and simple exercise to help students compose effective titles for academic papers.

1. Group students in threes.

2. Instruct each group to create a list of eight Type A or Type B titles (see below) for popular motion pictures.


Balloons: I’m not Leaving this House

Imaginary Friend: No Club for Wimps

Switcheroo: Freaky Mother/Daughter Situation

High Quality H2O: From the Bench to the Starting Lineup

He Nose Who’s Lying: A Man and his Puppet

3. Students turn in lists.

4. Instructor reads titles to entire class and has students guess which movies they refer to.

The title of an academic paper should inform the reader of the paper’s main argument.

Which of the following four titles best announces its paper’s argument?

Cars: Who Needs Them?

Automobiles: An Expensive Waste of Energy

Driving Down your Freeway

Why Automobiles are a Bad Investment

The first title, Cars: Who Needs Them?, tells us the what but not the why of the argument.

The third title, Driving Down your Freeway, might score a few points with old hippy teachers like me by cleverly referencing a Doors lyric, but it doesn’t provide any clues about the paper’s contents.

The fourth title, Why Automobiles are a Bad Investment, doesn’t reveal why cars are a bad investment.

Only the second title, Automobiles: An Expensive Waste of Energy, clearly expresses the paper’s topic and its main argument.

My two favorite strategies for wring a titles for academic papers are:

a) General Idea/Colon/Specific Topic (Argument)

b) Clever Quotation/Colon/Specific Topic (Argument)

Here are some type A titles from this blog:

Listening to the Whirlwind: Theodicy for Deists

The Perils of Bardolatry: Harold Bloom’s Limited Perception of Hamlet


Silent Murmurs: A Funny Teacher Story

Here’s one title where I did it backwards (oops):

An Amusing Teacher Story: Tammy’s Puppy

Here are three titles where I used a dash instead of a colon:

Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys—Some Thoughts on Courage and Freedom

What’s the Matter with Kids these Days?, Part 473—It’s all about the Music, Man

Holden Caulfield—Whimpering Little Phony

Here are some type B titles from this blog:

All the Suffering the World Can Feel: The Pain and the Glory of Graham Greene’s Catholicism

Genius Knows Itself: The Wonderful Words of Emily Dickinson

Not Only by Private Fraud but by Public Law: Thomas More’s Utopia and the Imperfectability of Human Nature

Ghosts of all my Lovely Sins: Some Thoughts on the Complete Poems of Dorothy Parker

The “Oriental Mind”: E. M. Forster’s Fatuous Caricatures of Indians in A Passage to India

Innocence: A Famed American Virtue Demolished in a Wicked Novella by Herman Melville

Faith Might be Stupid, but it Gets us Through: The Syncretic Collision in Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich


Of course, this is a blog, so I don’t always feel compelled to devise titles which are suitable for academia.

Here are some titles which include a clever quotation but no specific topic:

The Steaming Complaint of the Resting Beast

Natural if not Normal

This Business of Saving Souls

We Think by Feeling

Take it Decently

The Hemingway Defense

Famed American Virtue

For All They Care

Here are some clever titles that don’t inform the reader specifically what the paper is about:

Application #2

Hundred Dollar Rip-Off

In Praise of Clever

William Faulkner and the English Language

Men and Sports

Application #6

The Three Types of Irony and an Amusing Teacher Story

Celebrating the Violent Death of a Wicked Man

New Yorker Magazine Buries the Lede in Puff Piece on Education Secretary Duncan

nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH, nuh-NUH

The Island of Misused and Abused Words

What’s a War Junkie? Che v Zapata

Why am I so Goofy for Burn Notice?

I Wanna Hear

Me and Michael Medved

Confessions of a not-so-Old Curmudgeon

Negatory on the Neg

Poets at the Microphone

Teacher Knows Best–Not

Fantasy Christians

Seinfeld and Gilligan’s Island

Some Friendly Advice for Young Teachers in a World Poisoned by Power-Mad Bureaucrats and Clueless Billionaires

And my Thoughts on articles are book reports and other musings which do not necessarily contain thesis statements and thus do not require academic titles:

Some Thoughts on Joseph Sugarman’s Adweek Copywriting Handbook

Some Thoughts on Lyrics on Several Occasions

Some Thoughts on Where I Was From

Some Thoughts on The Spooky Art

Some Thoughts on Alfred Kazin’s America

Some Thoughts on Slaughterhouse-Five

Some Thoughts on Washington Rules

Some Thoughts on The Glass House

Some Thoughts on Primates and Philosophers

Some Thoughts on American on Purpose

Some Thoughts on The New American Militarism

Some Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System

More Thoughts on The Death and Life of the Great American School System

Some Thoughts on On Writing

Some Thoughts on the Efficacy of DARE-Type Programs and a Funny Teacher Story

Some Thoughts on The God Delusion

Some Thoughts on Streetball

On Redundancy, Oxymorons, and Grammatical Correctness

by Richard W. Bray

A Lesson Plan on Strong Verbs

September 15, 2012

Which statement is more likely to infuriate Dad?

Sorry Dad, but I wrecked your car.


Sorry Dad, but I demolished your car.

Which declaration evinces greater passion?

I enjoy fish tacos.


I crave fish tacos.

Which complaint expresses stronger indignation?

That slimy salesman confused me.


That slimy salesman bamboozled me.

In each of the above the examples, of course, the second sentence contains the stronger verb. But why?

Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous observation about pornography, I don’t have a concise definition for what constitutes a strong verb, but I know one when I see it. Strong verbs can contain one or more syllable. Strong verbs can be Latin, Greek, Germanic, French, etc. in origin. There is no particular phonology for strong verbs—they can sound rugged or mellifluous.

An imprecise working definition of strong verbs is words that arouse a vivid image and/or a visceral emotional response.

A note on word choice

Effective writing is largely a matter of choosing cogent nouns and verbs. It is important to remember that adjectives and adverbs are weak instruments, not suitable for heavy lifting. Or, to switch metaphors, think of adjectives and adverbs respectively as spice and garnish added to improve flavor and presentation rather than to provide essential nourishment.

When you select ideal nouns, you can sprinkle on adjectives as necessary. (This rule does not apply to William Faulkner.)

Adverbs should be allocated even less frequently than adjectives. Strong verbs obviate the extensive utilization of adverbs. Stephen King admonishes: “The adverb is not your friend” because adverbs “seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind” (On Writing 124).

An exercise for recognizing strong verbs

1. Present the three examples of sentences with strong and weak verbs from this blog post to students.
2. Discuss the importance of strong verbs and the distinction between strong and weak verbs with the entire class.
3. Group students in threes.
4. Provide each group with a different nonfiction article between 500 and 750 words long.
5. Instruct each group to:
a) List all the verbs from the essay. (There should be at least one in     every sentence.)
b) Select by consensus the ten strongest verbs from the essay.
6. Each group shares their list of ten strong verbs with the whole class.

by Richard W. Bray

Some Friendly Advice for Young Teachers in a World Poisoned by Power-Mad Bureaucrats and Clueless Billionaires

July 29, 2012

After I transferred from a junior high school to an elementary school, my former colleague Dave* asked how I liked working with my new colleague Walter*. (Both Dave and Walter were veteran teachers with decades of experience.) I reported how impressed I was by Walter’s remarkable patience and equanimity in response to a roomful of unruly kids. Dave smiled and said, “He wasn’t always that way.”

Years ago I heard former United States Secretary of Education (and raging hypocrite) Bill Bennett on CSPAN saying that the the best way to ensure quality schools in this country is to “hire good principals and allow them to do their job.” Oddly, Bennett and several other self–identified conservatives support intrusive (and blatantly unconstitutional) laws like Race to the Top and No Child Left Behind (NCLB) which inject the blunt, debilitating power of the federal government into the quotidian workings of local public schools across the county.

Before NCLB, for example, wise principals would often place a few of the more emotionally needy students at a particular grade level in the classroom of a more capable veteran teacher like Walter. (This practice is particularly advisable when one or more of Walter’s grade–level colleagues are newbies.) Such sagacious principals would constantly praise teachers like Walter for taking on this extra burden, and they would also grant Walter a little extra leeway as far as end–of–the–year test scores were concerned.

Today, however, thanks to an ill-conceived reform movement forced down our throats by ignorant billionaires and power-mad federal bureaucrats, principals no longer have such discretionary latitude. And experienced teachers like Walter who hope to hang onto their jobs would say this to a principal who wants to overload their classrooms with “challenging” students: “I’d like to help you, but the Secretary of Education wants to publish my students’ test scores in the paper and then punish me if those numbers don’t go up every year from now until the end of my career.” This is just one of many unintended consequences which result when education policy is devised by people like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan who don’t know shit from shinola about teaching.

Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden toiled at his craft for several years before suddenly winning ten championships during his final twelve seasons. When somebody asked him what happened he said, “I finally learned how to relax.”

It took me a while to figure out how to relax in the classroom. Watching teachers like Walter helped me learn that getting upset and raising my voice in response to unruly students only increases the rancor. It is actually more effective for a teacher to stop talking in mid-sentence and wait for the students to lower their voices than it is for him to try to overpower an entire classroom with displays of stentorian prowess.

The best advice I can give to young teachers is to relax, take your time, and learn from your mistakes. And don’t get into power struggles with your students. Never go to work in the morning full of vengeance over something that occurred the previous day thinking, “I’m gonna get that kid.” (Let it go, and never forget who the grownup is.) Endeavor always to treat all your students with kindness and respect under all circumstances knowing full well that this is a superhuman ideal, impossible to live up to.

A little respect goes a long way. I learned a lot on the occasions when I substitute taught at a “camp” school—camp is a euphemism for prison. Once when a student remained standing as I was preparing to start a lesson, I said in a firm but friendly voice, “Sir, would you please sit down.” He melted into his seat and turned to the kid next to him and said in a tone of bemused disbelief, “He called me sir.”

And as much as possible, try not to be too grumpy. It’s not always easy, but do your best. (And for all of you out there who would like to have a positive impact on America and her future, here’s something you can do to reduce teacher grumpiness—invite a teacher to bed some time. The world will be a better place for your kind work.)

* Not their real names

by Richard W. Bray

Rough Draft Peer Review WorkSheet and an Amusing Teacher Story

December 9, 2011


I have students bring two copies of their rough drafts. While the students are doing their peer reviews, I scan the other copy, looking at the structure of the essays rather than proofreading them. The students are free to proofread one another’s essays.


1. Turn in one copy of paper to instructor.
2. Take two Peer Review Worksheets.
3. Get into groups of 3-4 Students.
4. Take turns reading papers ALOUD to group.
5. Pass paper clockwise (or counterclockwise if you’re feeling rebellious).
6. Silently read another student’s paper and fill out worksheet.
7. Repeat steps 5 & 6.

Rough Draft Peer Review Sheet

Author: __________________________________________________


Paper Title:_______________________________________________

This paper is ______pages long (excluding Works Cited page)

This paper includes a Works Cited page in MLA format: Yes No

Thesis statement is in paragraph # _____

Copy thesis statement verbatim.

Two enlightening quotations from sources that the author utilized are:


Two notable sentences that the author composed are:


What is the paper’s strongest feature?

An Amusing Teacher Story

During a discussion about ESP, a student informed the class that he possessed a “sixth scent.” Miraculously, I resisted the temptation to say, “You’re telling me, buddy.” (Life rarely provides such a perfect straight line.)

by Richard W. Bray

On Redundancy, Oxymora, and Grammatical Correctness

November 19, 2011

It would be redundant to say that Dave was “completely devastated” when his hamster died because there cannot be degrees of devastation. I can be extremely scared by radio reports of zombies in my neighborhood, but it would be inexact to say that I am extremely terrified. Conversely, it would be oxymoronic* to declare that Dave was only “slightly devastated” by the news of his hamster’s untimely demise.

For the poet (by which I also of course mean the novelist) the phrases completely devastated and slightly devastated have all sorts of wonderful possibilities. However, writers seeking precision with their words (students enrolled in a Freshman Composition class, for example) should avoid such phrases.

* George Carlin has helpful lists of redundancies and oxymora in his book Braindroppings


State whether the highlighted portions of the following sentences are redundant, oxymoronic, or grammatically acceptable.

1. I was a tad heartbroken when my wife left me for my younger brother.

2. My aunt is a little bit pregnant.

3. Dresden was totally incinerated by the Allied bombing.

4. Pizza is extremely overrated.

5. My cat was completely dead after the accident.

6. Gertrude was a little bit exhausted after studying six straight hours for her English exam.

7. Osvaldo was completely miserable after he lost the tiddlywinks tournament.

8. The traffic around here is somewhat slow after jai alai matches.

9. Pham was extremely furious when I told her the results from Dancing with the Stars.

10. Ted overdosed slightly on pain medication.

by Richard W. Bray

A Strategy for Remembering the Difference between Primes and Composites and an Amusing Teacher Story (by Sig)

November 3, 2010

A Strategy for Remembering the Difference
between Primes and Composites

Subject: Prime and Composite numbers

Objective: To ensure that students who understand the concept of prime and composite numbers do not mix up the terms.

Whenever I taught prime and composite numbers I noticed that some students who understood the concept mixed up the terms. This misunderstanding caused them to miss all the problems when tested.

I came up with the mnemonic device that numbers are like people. Prime numbers are Picky People who only have one friend while composite numbers are folks who enjoy Company.

Reinforcement: I had the students do a skit in order to increase retention of the concept.

Evaluation: I made up a worksheet so each student could draw prime and composite numbers with their factor friends.

It was a fun lesson that made a nice bulletin board.

An Amusing Teacher Story

Here’s what happened one day when we were reading Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, our core literature novel:

In case you didn’t know, the characters in the story are personified mice and rats. It is a riveting story with several dramatic plot twists.

One morning as we were reading the novel aloud, a mouse—a REAL one—ran across the classroom in full view of the students. This was a very unusual occurrence in our suburban setting. The students were surprised and curious.

“Is that Mrs. NIMH?” they asked.

I smiled and calmly took the class outside to continue reading this wonderful book.

I couldn’t have planned it any better.

A Critical Thinking Story Evaluation Activity for High School Students and an Amusing Teacher Story (by Brian)

October 20, 2010

A lesson plan for a critical reading of The Interlopers by Saki

: High School English

Objective: Students will demonstrate higher order critical reading and reflection skills

Materials: a class set of The Interlopers, coloring markers, two-by-two sheets of butcher paper.


Students will read the story the night before and come to class with written responses to the following questions:

1) How did you connect personally to the story?
2) What questions would you like to ask the author and/or the characters?
3) What strategies did you utilize to clarify any segments of the story that were unclear to you?

Classroom Activity

a. Teacher groups students
b. Students in each group use their homework to come to a consensus on two statements for each category
c. Group leaders submit written proposals to the teacher who okays them and distributes butcher paper and markers to students
d. Students make posters containing a picture of the scene that best represents the theme of the story, a prediction based on the ending of the story, and the six answers generated from homework assignment


Groups present their posters explaining whether their clarifications, questions, and connections are inferences or evaluations in a question and answer session with the class.

Why I no longer Have Show-and-Tell on the Second day of Class

It was my second year teaching at the university and I had my students bring an item to the second class meeting that represented them, and I had them do a short presentation. Well “Carl” showed up with an old two liter bottle of coke that had been converted into a terrarium. I didn’t think much of it until he volunteered to go first.

He went up to the front of the class and opened up the bottle and reached inside and pulled out a rather large pet black-widow spider named Helen. He let it crawl on his hands, and I swear he even pet it. About this time, the entire class and I moved to the back of the classroom while a large man who had been sitting in front bolted out the door. Carl asked if anyone wanted to hold his “pet” –there were no takers.

I then attempted to walk up to the front and said, This is very nice, can you please put Helen back in her cage? He did without further incident, and the class then got back to normal. A few more people then decided to complete their presentations, and just as we were about to get to work for the evening, I heard a knock at the door and Victor, our large runner, was asking if the spider was gone.

(You can reach Brian at

The Kingdom of Homophonia

September 28, 2010


The Kingdom of Homophonia

On a cold, damp night, the king’s favorite knight
Was feeling a little bit hoarse
Although not allowed, he wasn’t too proud
For singing aloud to his horse
(The horse, named Harry, had a brother named Larry
Who was truly more hairy than he)
Now Harry could see it was scary to be
Overlooking great cliffs by the sea
Of course, man and horse followed coarse course
Towards the castle of Don Palindrome
They had chosen to roam to the city of Rome
For that’s where the Don made his home
At a quarter to eight, the two stopped and ate
On a knoll by the side of the trail
The pair had fair fare: an apple, a pear,
And barbecued brisket of quail
They rode down the road and passed a plain plane
Which they had not seen in the past
Man slept as horse led, though its legs felt like lead
They no longer traveled so fast
When the brave knight awoke, a spooky voice spoke,
“Just what are you doing down here?”
A giant hole had swallowed them whole
And something quite scary was near
A sorceress named Shirley appeared and exclaimed,
“Surely, you will die today!
You’ve discovered our coven and you will know
Why visitors do not get away.”
The young knight interjected he had not detected
Which witch was truly in charge
When an old witch named Carrie proceeded to carry
A bucket that was rather large
Gizzards and guts from previous guests
(Who’s to say whose innards they were)
The knight turned pale as he peered in the pail
Staggering away from her
Carrie declared, “They’re two victims right there.
And their hides ain’t going nowhere.
You’re aware that in hours your flesh will be ours
You’ll make a delicious pair”
The two were too scared and quite unprepared
To wind up as anyone’s meal
For four long days, witches roasted and braised
When Beth finally said to Lucille,
“I’d like you to meet the meat we will eat.
It’s time to sprinkle in thyme
And oh, by the way, how much do they weigh?
Does anyone have any lime?”
Although in a daze from not eating for days
The knight had come up with a plan
He had been able to steal a sharp piece of steel
Which he hid in the palm of his hand
Not able to cut clear through the knot
He managed to slide around
Then Harry bit through and off they threw
The cords which held them down
They had no time to heal with witches at heel
As they headed back to the trail
By the hair on his tail, Harry’s speed did prevail
And they both lived to tell this tale

by Richard W. Bray