IMPROVE YOUR ENGLISH TUTORING SERVICES March 2012 Newsletter

In this issue:

IYE News:

Congratulations to
creative writing award winners!

College Focus:

Stanford University
Strunk & White Tip: Rule 6 Revisited
Recommended.Reading: Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart ”
Spring 2012 Classes:

Click below to see the class web site.
SAT English
Shakespeare’s Richard II
Sherlock Holmes in A Study in Scarlet

SPRING QUARTER
IMPROVE YOUR ENGLISH NEWS
CONGRATULATIONS,
2012 IMPROVE YOUR ENGLISH STUDENT AUTHORS!

Congratulations to Improve Your English students Evan Ye, Yvonne Ye, and Irene Hsu! All three students submitted their work to the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards. Their writings have been chosen to compete at the national level.

Evan Ye
      “Ocean’s Message,” Personal Essay/Memoir – Silver Key

Yvonne Ye
      “Permission to Excel,” Persuasive Writing – Gold Key
      “Verisimilitude,” “War and Peace (of a Cake),” “Dandelion Wish,” Poetry Collection – Gold Key
      “The Grandfather,” Short Story – Silver Key

Irene Hsu
      “Gently, Into the Night,” Short Story – Gold Key

The Scholastic Art and Writing Awards are sponsored by the Alliance for Young Artists and Writers. The first contest was held in 1923; past winners include Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, and Joyce Carol Oates. Teens in grades 7-12 are encouraged to apply. According to the Alliance, the awards “continue to be the longest-running, most prestigious recognition program for creative teens in the U.S. and the largest source of scholarships for young artists and writers.” For more information, consult their website. (The deadline for California submissions is usually mid-December.)

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COLLEGE FOCUS

THE FARM
Stanford University

A world-class educational institution, Stanford University offers top-notch graduate, undergraduate, and professional programs in a wide variety of fields. Whether a student’s interests lie primarily in the natural sciences, engineering, social sciences, or humanities, Stanford provides students access to many of the world’s foremost scholars and research facilities.

Stanford University was founded in 1891 near Palo Alto, California. Built on land previously used to raise horses belonging to Leland Stanford, a wealthy industrialist and politician, the core of the campus features architecture in the Spanish Mission style, distinctive for its use of light sandstone masonry and red-tiled roofs. As the modern campus covers over 8,000 total acres on mostly flat terrain, students typically get around on bicycles, skateboards, and even in-line skates.

Stanford is a world leader in research and development in science and technology fields. Stanford professors have won 27 Nobel Prizes, and 17 Nobel laureates are part of the current faculty. Recently, seven Stanford researchers in computer science, physics, neuroscience, and economics were named 2012 Research Fellows by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which awards grants to rising stars in the sciences and economics who are considered to be potential Nobel Prize winners. This number is the greatest of all the universities in the country, including Harvard, Yale, and Caltech. Leaders in industry as well, Stanford professors and engineers have been instrumental in the creation and development of the Silicon Valley. For example, the founders of Hewlett-Packard (HP), Google, Yahoo!, and Cisco are all Stanford alumni. Its strength in science and technology research is a major reason why Stanford ranks among the top world universities, coming in at number three in lists published by both Times Higher Education of London and Jiao Tong University in Shanghai. Stanford also has an outstanding reputation as an undergraduate educational institution, consistently placing in the Top 5 among national universities in US News & World Report’s Best Colleges rankings.

While programs in science and technology fields receive the greater share of Stanford’s media attention, those in the humanities and social sciences are also among the best in the world. In the English department’s Creative Writing program, students hone their craft with prominent poets and fiction writers. The Stegner Fellowship Program is among the most coveted of all academic writing workshops and has produced authors who have won major competitions, including the Pulitzer Prize, the top literary award in the United States.

The English Department also oversees the Program in Writing and Rhetoric (PWR), through which every undergraduate must satisfy the university’s writing requirement. In this three-quarter sequence, students develop skills in critical thinking, analysis, written argumentation, oral presentation, and research. Stanford expects all of its graduates to be able to communicate their insights in their chosen field of study, whether it be biology, engineering, economics, or music.

Stanford offers advanced research opportunities in both technical and non-technical fields. In addition, all students of all majors complete the Introduction to the Humanities program as part of their general liberal arts education. In the Introduction to the Humanities program, students consider approaches to humanistic inquiry from diverse perspectives in addition to the perspective of a single department. Beginning in the academic year of 2012-13, the “Thinking Matters” portion of this required three-quarter sequence will be expanded to include offerings in environmental science, social psychology, and political philosophy. Through close reading of primary texts and discussion in small groups of no more than 15 students, Introduction to the Humanities seeks to engage Stanford freshmen, according to its website, “in exploring fundamental and enduring questions about what it means to be human.”

Most Stanford undergraduates take Introduction to the Humanities in one form or another. Anselm Chen, an IYE tutor, reflects, “In Introduction to the Humanities, I read for the first time books whose ideas continue to inspire me years after I left Stanford. Authors and thinkers whom I wrestle with regularly—Plato, Nietzsche, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky—were introduced to me in Introduction to the Humanities.”

Currently, a freshman’s only alternative to IHUM and PWR is a residence-integrated program called Structured Liberal Education (SLE). Since 1974, SLE has taken 90 students from each freshman class and pooled them into one dorm for a yearlong course that makes its way through the greatest hits of the Western canon. With three days a week of two-hour lectures, followed by dinner, followed by two hours of small-group discussion, SLE offers students a unique learning community within the university.

“SLE made you get over the notion that it was impossible to read and digest 300 pages in one day,” says Teresa Kim, IYE tutor. “It’s sink or swim when you have one weekend to read Don Quixote, the next to read Summa Theologica, and then feel genuine relief to hear, ‘This weekend you get a break. Just read Inferno—you can skip the introduction—and write this six-page paper.’ To get that lesson as a freshman, though, is worth the first year’s tuition. After that, nothing that a professor assigns daunts you.”

For students who apply to Stanford, a letter of acceptance is often a dream come true. As the top choice of many students, Stanford makes sure that its admissions standards are among the most competitive of all universities. Those who choose to attend Stanford will master their academic fields and maybe start a company or two along the way.

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WRITING TIP
 
  Steve High,
president


Strunk and White’s Rule 6 Reviewed:
Do not break sentences in two.

by Steve High

A sentence expresses a complete thought. By definition, breaking a simple sentence in two creates at least one incomplete thought. Such incomplete thoughts are sentence fragments.  Sentence fragments, one of the most serious grammatical errors, are the result of flawed thinking and a weak understanding of sentence structure.

A clause has a subject and verb; a phrase does not. Because many phrases contain both nouns and words formed from verbs, writers sometimes mistakenly treat them as complete sentences. Any verbal phrase punctuated as a sentence is a fragment.

Sentence Element Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Noun The team. Eats pizza. The team eats pizza.
Verbal phrases used as nouns:
Sentence Element Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Infinitive phrase To eat pizza. Is a delight. To eat pizza is a delight.
Gerund phrase Eating pizza. May be fattening. Eating pizza may be fattening.
Verbal Phrases used as adjectives and adverbs:
Sentence Element Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Present participial phrase Eating pizza on Friday nights. We celebrate the end of the week. Eating pizza on Friday nights, we celebrate the end of the week.
Past participial phrase We like a restaurant. Called “Mom’s Place.” We like a restaurant called “Mom's Place.”
Infinitive phrase We head to “Mom’s” on Fridays. To celebrate the end of the week. We head to “Mom’s” on Fridays to celebrate the end of the week.
Simple sentence with multiple phrases
Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Beginning Friday night, we will eat pizza every week in the company of our coach and fellow teammates at a little place called “Mom’s.” Adorned with checkered tablecloths and pictures of Italian-American entertainers on every wall. Beginning Friday night, we will eat pizza every week in the company of our coach and fellow teammates at a little restaurant called “Mom’s Place” adorned with checkered tablecloths and pictures of Italian-American entertainers on every wall.

Reducing complete sentences to phrases is an excellent way to improve your writing. Breaking off any phrase from the main clause, however, produces a fragment.

Sentence Element Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Past participial phrase Adorned with checkered tablecloths and pictures of Italian-American entertainers on every wall. “Mom’s Place” is adorned with checkered tablecloths and pictures of Italian-American entertainers on every wall.
Present participial phrase Beginning Friday the thirteenth. We are beginning our meetings on
Friday the thirteenth this month.
Past Participial phrase A little restaurant called “Mom’s Place.” The little restaurant is called “Mom’s Place.”
Prepositional Phrase Pictures of Italian-American entertainers and athletes on every wall. Pictures of Italian-American entertainers and athletes are on every wall.

A clause has a subject and a verb; a phrase does not. But subordinate clauses—used as adverbs, adjectives, and nouns, are also incomplete thoughts and are therefore another source of Rule 6 violations.

Sentence Element Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Adjectives and Adverbs We greedily. Devour every olive and mushroom on Mom’s delicious. Pizza. We greedily devour every olive and mushroom on Mom’s delicious pizza.
Adjective clause Mom’s pizzas are famous for their toppings. Which include red and yellow bell peppers, porcini mushrooms, and kalamata olives. Mom’s pizzas are famous for their toppings, which include red and yellow bell peppers, porcini mushrooms, and kalamata olives.
Adverb clause Our coach, too, overindulges in slice after slice of Mom’s pizza. Even though she is subject to painful bouts of acute indigestion. Our coach, too, overindulges in slice after slice of Mom’s pizza even though she is subject to painful bouts of acute indigestion.
Noun clause Whether we win or lose. Affects our gourmandizing not in the least. Whether we win or lose affects our gourmandizing not in the least.
Compound-complex sentence with multiple verbal phrases Beginning Friday the thirteenth, our team will greedily devour every scrap of pizza topped with Italian sausage. Which is lightly scented with fennel in a little restaurant called “Mom’s Place” adorned with checkered tablecloths and pictures of Italian-American entertainers on every wall; whether we win or lose affects our appetite not at all, nor do the painful bouts of acute indigestion to which our poor coach is subject. Beginning Friday the thirteenth, our team will greedily devour every scrap of pizza topped with Italian sausage, which is lightly scented with fennel, in a little restaurant called “Mom’s Place” adorned with checkered tablecloths and pictures of Italian-American entertainers on every wall; whether we win or lose affects our appetite not at all, nor do the painful bouts of acute indigestion to which our poor coach is subject.

Although on the long side, the above sentence expresses a complete thought and is grammatically correct. Be careful not to introduce sentence fragments if you decide to shorten it.

Sentence Element Wrong (Fragmentary) Right (Complete)
Fragment hidden by semicolon Of course, because happy stomachs digest spicy cuisine better than bilious ones; mom’s authentic pizza tastes even better on a night when we win our game. Of course, because happy stomachs digest spicy cuisine better than bilious ones, mom’s authentic pizza tastes even better on a night when we win our game.
Fragment created when the sentence fails to reach a predicate Having failed to eat lunch and running toward the goal while distracted by thoughts of post-game pepperoni that I could almost smell and taste in the mouthpiece of my helmet, blindsided by an angry middle linebacker growling incoherent curses, giving up an incomplete pass, almost weeping with frustration, still tormented by hunger and gargling silent curses of my own. Having failed to eat lunch and running toward the goal while distracted by thoughts of post-game pizza that I could almost smell and taste in the mouthpiece of my helmet and blindsided by an angry middle linebacker growling incoherent curses, giving up an incomplete pass, almost weeping with frustration, still tormented by hunger, I gargled silent curses of my own.

Many writers never progress because they fear errors and take no risks with sophisticated sentence patterns. Others convince themselves that the errors don’t matter. And indeed, they don’t matter if, as Strunk wrote in 1918, the sentence contains  “some compensating merit, attained at the cost of the violation.” Despite the warnings of what Bruce Ross-Larson calls “grousing grammarians,” at the head of which class E. B. White’s old professor certainly belongs, deliberate fragments in the hands of professional writers clearly spice up pedestrian sentences, especially in paragraphs that imitate conversation.

Deliberate Fragments
Correct, but ordinary Effective and original
There was no reply. Again and again he called out. No reply.
—William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White,
      The Elements of Style, 2000
All this seems overdone. Does all this seem overdone? Well, yes.
Nevertheless, it is not clear which countries will represent these regions. Pakistan objects to India; Brazil objects to Argentina; and everyone objects to Nigeria. But which countries should represent these regions. India? Pakistan says no. Brazil? Argentina says no. Nigeria? Everyone says no.
—Bruce Ross-Larson,
      Stunning Sentences, 1999

As usual, Strunk and White have the last word:  Unless he is certain of doing as well as they, the student will probably do best to follow the rules. After he has learned, by their guidance, to write plain English adequate for everyday uses, let him look, for the secrets of style, to the study of the masters of literature.

For answers to specific writing questions, email us here. Who knows? Your question may inspire our next article on Writing Tips.

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RECOMMENDED READING
Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart”
Nat Crawford,
director of tutoring



by Nat Crawford

What sets great authors apart from the crowd? It is neither crafting beautiful descriptions nor creating exciting plots; libraries are full of now-forgotten books that at one time set hearts a-beating or made readers murmur with delight. Rather, great authors have one key skill that brings us back to their books: the ability to create great characters—the ability to make a character intriguing, inspiring, or simply true.

This month, I briefly discuss Edgar Allan Poe’s depiction of character in his short story “The Tell-tale Heart.”

Here’s why this story is so much fun to read: The narrator claims throughout the story that he is perfectly sane, and yet Poe makes it clear that the guy is simply bonkers. In fact, often the very evidence with which the narrator tries to prove his sanity speaks instead for the opposition. In the first paragraph, for instance, the narrator claims that he is not crazy but simply sharp-eared. OK, we might be willing to accept that claim. However, the narrator goes on to say that he is so sharp-eared that he “heard many things in hell.” Now hell may well exist, but it has given us no messages for several thousand years, and no one is staying up nights waiting for any. The narrator is, as they say, not playing with a full deck.

The deck, in fact, seems to have been reduced to a few cards: calmness, caution, and reason (as well as his so-called heightened perception, which plays a central role in the climax). The narrator tries to show his sanity by saying “observe how healthily—how calmly I can tell you the whole story.” Now if this were the story of a day at the office, then calm might well show sanity. However, the narrator goes on to describe a brutal murder; when someone can speak of such acts calmly, it’s time to lock him up. In describing his preparation for this murder, the narrator again insists that he is sane: “You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen how wisely I proceeded.” Indeed. What is his evidence for this wisdom? Why, it’s taking a great deal of time to move his head six inches: “It took me an hour to place my whole head within the [doorway] so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed.” How many people reading this article have ever taken an hour to perform a simple physical movement? That’s a task so difficult and so pointless that we wouldn’t even pay money to watch someone do it, yet this narrator thinks performing it shows his sanity.

I could continue, but it’s time for you to try for yourselves. Read “The Tell-tale Heart” and see how many passages you can find that show the narrator’s insanity, even as he protests otherwise. And when you have done so, sit back and wonder at Poe’s ability to see into the human heart himself.

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