Posts Tagged ‘Language’

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.

and

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

Don’t Send a Conjunctive Adverb To Do a FANBOYS’ Job

September 5, 2014

conjunctive-adverbs-notes-5-638.jpg

I am begging you, in the name of all that is good and beautiful in this world, don’t send a conjunctive adverb to do a FANBOYS’ job.

A clause is a group of words which contains a subject and a predicate. In other words, a clause can function as a simple sentence all by itself. A simple sentence, as I told you before, is a group of words that tells us what someone or something is or a group of words that tells us what someone or something does. Here are two simple sentences (clauses):

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix.

My car just had a nervous breakdown.

You might choose to join these clauses together in one complex sentence using the subordinator although:

Although
I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

You could also join them together using the word but, which is one of the FANBOYS:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix, but my car just had a nervous breakdown.

Another strategy for emphasizing the connection between these two clauses is to use a conjunctive adverb. The following words are conjunctive adverbs: accordingly, also, besides, consequently, conversely, finally, furthermore, hence, however, indeed, instead, likewise, meanwhile, moreover, nevertheless, next, nonetheless, otherwise, similarly, still, subsequently, then, therefore, and thus.

However, you must separate the two clauses utilizing a period or a semicolon. Then place the conjunctive adverb at the beginning of the second clause. Most conjunctive adverbs should be followed by a comma when they are placed at the beginning of a clause (but not then). (Don’t capitalize the conjunctive adverb if you choose to use a semicolon.) Here are some examples:

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix; however, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

I would love to give you a ride to Phoenix. However, my car just had a nervous breakdown.

One reason this can be confusing is that many conjunctive adverbs can be placed at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of a sentence, punctuated like the following examples:

However, we did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not, however, see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers.

We did not see any more yellow-bellied sapsuckers, however.

Indeed, Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is, indeed, the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Donatello is the most valiant of all the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, indeed.

What you must not do under any circumstances is connect two clauses together with a comma and a conjunctive adverb as though that conjunctive adverb were merely one of those common FANBOYS. (Conjunctive adverbs deserve more respect than that.)

If you are still confused, try this. First, memorize the above list of conjunctive adverbs. (Or, if that seems too daunting a task, simply have them tattooed to the underside of your left forearm.) If you want to know when you are abusing a conjunctive adverb by placing it between two clauses with nothing but a comma for protection, simply cross it out. If you discover clauses on both sides of the conjunctive adverb, do the right thing and provide it with a period or a semicolon.

Evaluation. Correctly punctuate the following sentences. (Warning: I sneaked in a few FANBOYS and/or subordinators.)

I need to comb my hair in front of my eyes then I will be as cool as Justin Bieber.

Sharon won’t mind that I borrowed her new dress without asking besides I’ll return it before she ever finds out.

I was a skaterboy therefore she said, “See you later, boy.”

It’s not my fault that your weeping willow died for I am merely a tree surgeon, not a miracle worker.

My homemade cinnamon buns moreover made me the most popular person in the William Hung Fan Club.

I want to be rich and famous so I am going to introduce myself to Rihanna.

I will show all my dance moves to Rihanna subsequently she will marry me.

Rihanna won’t respond to me on twitter even though I have downloaded all of her songs and memorized the lyrics.

Rihanna’s bodyguard told me to stay away then she got a restraining order.

by Richard W. Bray

A Lesson Plan Which Utilizes “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan to Highlight the Distinction Between Sarcasm and Verbal Irony

March 1, 2014

casm

Americans frequently use the term sarcasm to describe verbal irony.  This needs to stop.

Verbal Irony Definition: A speaker means something different than, often the opposite of, what she says.

Thus, verbal irony occurs when a speaker says what she DOESN’T mean.

Examples of verbal irony:

“Oh, great! It’s raining and I forgot my umbrella.”

 “I can’t wait to start writing these forty-seven reports.”

“My walk home was only twenty-three blocks.”

Sarcasm definition: the implementation of contemptuous language or verbal irony in order to mock or insult.

Sarcasm is often a subset of verbal of verbal irony which occurs when a speaker says what he DOESN’T mean with malicious intent.

Examples of sarcasm:

“I just love working with incompetent people.”

“You call this a cup of coffee?”

“I was hoping to encounter a competent sales clerk today.”

 Lesson Plans:

Step #1Teach this life-altering lesson on the three types of irony.

Step #2. Ask class to reiterate the difference between verbal irony and sarcasm.

Step #3. Have each student read aloud a line of “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” by Bob Dylan.  (If you have less than thirty-two students, some lucky students will get to read two lines.  If you have more than thirty-two students, your students’ parents should sue the local school board.)

Step #4. Listen to the actual song.  (I like this version, but If you want to rock, try Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan together.)

Step #5. Ask students if they have ever said mean and angry things to someone during a romantic breakup.  Ask them why anyone would ever want to hurt someone with whom he has shared a special part of his life.  (You will probably get some interesting answers.)

Step #6. Number students off into groups of no more than three.  Instruct each group to list at least six examples of sarcasm from the song and explain their answers.

Step #7. Collect student work and review it as a whole-class activity.

Additional lyrics that can be used to discuss verbal irony:

Consider the following lines from “Troublemaker” by Weezer

I’m such a mystery
As anyone can see
There isn’t anybody else
Exactly quite like me
And when it’s party time
Like 1999
I’ll party by myself because I’m such a special guy

Also, there are some lovely examples of verbal irony in the song “Walking Slow” by Jackson Browne.  See if your class can spot them.

by Richard W. Bray

Are Three-Syllable Words the Coolest Words, or What?

February 13, 2014

woven baskets

Why are handwoven baskets so lovely? Because human beings have an inborn hunger for beauty. And just as it is impossible to separate the utilitarian function of handicraft from its artistic function, the inherent beauty of the sounds and rhythms of words cannot be severed from the practical application of language.

That’s why everyone who speaks is a poet.

Just as a canary cannot read music, speakers of English needn’t study linguistics in order to employ rhyme, rhythm, assonance, and alliteration in their everyday speech.

The sportscaster is a poet when he says:

THAT BALL is OUTta here.

Instead of saying:

Chris Davis just hit another homerun.

And the adman is a poet when he writes:

BURGers are BETter at BURGer TOWN.

Instead of saying:

The chefs at Burger Town cook delicious burgers.

And the schoolteacher is a poet when she says in singsong:

PUT your PAPErs in the PACKet.

Instead of saying:

The assignment should be placed inside your homework folder.

And W.H. Auden is a poet when he tells us that the lover is

UNDer an ARCH of the RAILway

Instead of saying that the love smitten fellow is located

Underneath the elevated train tracks

Three-Syllable Words

We create poetry by collocating different types of words. And many of my favorite words have three syllables. (I have an unprovable theory that three-syllable words are the coolest words in the English language.)

There are three types of three-syllable words: Dactyls, Amphibrachs, and Anapests. Here are some examples:

Dactyl (The first syllable is stressed.)

Wonderful
Beautiful
Happily
Musical
Satisfy
Halibut
Excellent
Matterhorn
Saturday
Popular

Amphibrach (The second syllable is stressed.)

Accepted
Regardless
Terrific
Amazement
Exhaustion
Persistent
Reunion
Electric
Horizon


Anapest
(The third syllable is stressed.)

Incomplete
Misinformed
Unemployed
Understand
Interrupt
Comprehend
Unafraid
Absolute
Kangaroo

by Richard W. Bray

Grab a Breath

July 27, 2013

kidsromp

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

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.

Activity:

#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

zzzsubordinators

#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.

1.
___a. If you love me you will take out the trash.
___b. If you love me, you will take out the trash.
2.
___a I love you because you buy me things.
___b. I love you, because you buy me things.

Key
1.b
2.a

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

Richard W. Bray

Alliterative Animal Kingdom

April 8, 2013

koala


Round the rampant rugged rocks
Rude and ragged rascals run.

—W.H. Auden

Queasy koalas quarrel and quibble
Noisy gnus nag and nibble
Hefty horses heave and hoe
Shameless sheep shop and show

Playful pigs prance and preen
Careful cats cook and clean
Dancing dogs dally and drink
Thirteen thoroughbreds thank and think

Buoyant bunnies broil and bake
Rampant rhinos rush and rake
Slippery seals splash and splish
While wayward weasels wonder and wish

Richard W. Bray

Dreamsuckers

March 20, 2013

politician

a politician is an arse upon
which everyone has sat except a man

—e.e.cummings

With greed that festers like a stinking flower
Every breath you suck promotes a scheme
The only thing you care about is power

Glory-seeking minions don’t see how you’re
Warping minds by tapping ageless themes
With greed that festers like a stinking flower

All you see are lambs to be devoured
With gluttony that feeds on hopes and dreams
The only thing you care about is power

If I were you I’d always need a shower
You curdle filth and throw away the cream
With greed that festers like a stinking flower

Lackeys sing your praises by the hour
Like starstruck fans support the local team
The only thing you care about is power

Piling up your lies, you build a tower
And live a life that’s nothing like it seems
With greed that festers like a stinking flower
The only thing you care about is power

Richard W. Bray