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Better Reading, Writing and Listening

These are sample pages from English and Language Arts Review and Practice, copyright Amsco School Publications, 2003. This book has been used for test preparation book in both middle schools and high schools, and as a remediation tool at the college level.

WRITING FOR THE CLASSROOM AND BEYOND

For much of this book, we've devoted our attention to learning how to organize and write short responses, extended responses, and full-length essays for English/Language Arts tests. The idea, though, is not just to score well on tests. The test simply indicates how well you've learned to think critically, to organize your thoughts, and to express them clearly.

Do you know the most common question students ask when faced with a difficult or seemingly worthless task in classes? It's "When will we ever USE this?" The answer is, you'll use critical thinking and communication skills in all areas of your life for as long as you live. There is no way we can over-stress how important these skills are for you now and how important they will continue to be.

How can English and Language Arts skills help you now--other than upping your test scores and grades in English class? Although this is an English review book, you'll find that practicing the rules you learn here will help you formulate better written responses in all of your classes.

Writing for Other Classes

A short-essay question on a history test might ask you to explain how states' rights and the slavery issue came into play as causes of the American Civil War. Right away, you can picture that you'll write two paragraphs, one about each issue, and that each will begin with a topic sentence establishing the focus of the paragraph. You know you'll need to include explanatory details about each one, and a concluding sentence. Let's hope you'll also have time to quickly proofread your answer and correct any errors.

You can easily see that two well-written paragraphs showing how well you understand why and how these two issues led to the Civil War will impress your history teacher a lot more than a disjointed answer that is hard to understand.

The same is true for short responses. Suppose your science test asks you to explain Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion and give an example. A short, concise response could be:

"Sir Isaac Newton's first law of motion can be simply stated as 'An object at rest tends to remain at rest and an object in motion tends to remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.' For example, if you put a book on the car seat next to you, and the car makes a sudden stop, the book will keep going forward and fall off the seat. If you reach out and stop that from happening, you are the outside force acting upon it."

Beyond the Classroom

Good communication skills are essential outside of school as well. Are you looking for an after-school job, or do you plan to? A question on a job application might ask, "Why do you think we should hire you?" or "What special skills can you bring to this job?" You might be tempted to list a few reasons and write as little as possible, but this is actually an opportunity for you to "sell" yourself to your prospective employer by writing a persuasive paragraph. You'll need spoken communication skills if you are called in for an interview--another opportunity to do a little self-promotion.

"Good communication skills" is a phrase often listed in classified ads for jobs. In fact, poor communication among employees in a company is often blamed for the inevitable errors and misunderstandings that occur. If you're planning to go to college, technical school, or any type of training beyond high school, you will probably need to write an essay on your application. It could be as simple as a paragraph explaining why you believe you'd be a great nail technician or welder. On the other hand, if you're hoping to attend a college with highly competitive entrance standards, your application essay could make the difference between getting the letter in the mail that makes you jump for joy or getting the one that leaves you dejected for days. Some people actually hire professional writers to write their application essays, paying them several hundred dollars. So developing your own good essay-writing skills might even save you money!

Are you hoping for a scholarship or two to help you get through your higher-education choice? You guessed it. Plan on writing another essay. You may even need to write and deliver a short speech thanking the organization that awards you the money--explaining how grateful you are for their support and outlining your educational and career goals.

Speaking of speeches, there are many occasions when you may be called upon to give one. You win an athletic award and need to say a few words to the crowd. You're asked to introduce a guest speaker at a club meeting. Or, thinking positively, you're the valedictorian! Writing a speech is very much like writing an essay.

The hardest part of a speech for most people is feeling nervous in front of their audience. A large percentage of adults list public speaking as one of their most stressful experiences. A well-organized speech can take some of the stress away. Let's say you're going to make three main points and provide some details about each point. Remember those three main points, and you're on your way. For example, your team wins an award for Debate Club, and as team captain you accept it. You know you want to thank your teammates, your debate coach, and the school administration for recognizing the importance of debate in the curriculum. Add some details about each one, make some concluding remarks, and you've got your speech.

REVIEW ACTIVITIES

As we've said, this book is mostly about how to be a better listener, reader, and writer. Before you take the final Try It Out and the Practice Tests, here are some listening, reading, and writing activities to further sharpen skills that will help you in all areas of your academic life as well as your life outside school.

LISTENING

1. Listening Comparison Here's an activity that will really make you think about listening. Choose two of the situations below and draw a T-square on a sheet of paper. On one side of the T, jot down the sounds you would most likely hear in one situation. On the other side, write the sounds you would hear in the other situation.

Listening Situations:

a) You're traveling west on a wagon train in 1860.
b) You're at an airport, waiting for your flight to board, and it's two hours late.
c) You're at a rock concert put on by your favorite musical group.
d) You're at a high school basketball game--the one that decides if your team will be in the playoffs.
e) You're watching an action movie with lots of special effects.
f) You're at a symphony orchestra concert.
g) You're watching an old episode of "Star Trek."
h) You're backstage, waiting for your cue line to come onstage in a musical comedy the school drama department is producing.

2. Old Time Radio
Before television and video games became the major form of family entertainment in the evening, there was radio. In radio's earliest days, the whole family sat around the kitchen table and listened in amazement to sounds that came out of this amazing new invention. In the 1940s and 1950s, kids and adults alike looked forward to their favorite shows. There were westerns like "Gunsmoke," "The Lone Ranger," "The Cisco Kid," and "Sky King." Mystery buffs looked forward to "The Inner Sanctum" and "The Shadow." There were science fiction shows, too--"Buck Rogers in the 25th Century," "Flash Gordon," "Batman" and "Superman." For comedy, people could hardly wait to listen to the newest episode of "Fibber McGee and Molly," "The Bickersons," and "The Jack Benny Show." There were even "soaps." Does "The Guiding Light" sound familiar? It started on radio.

Activity #1: Thinking About Radio versus Today's Forms of Entertainment

How were radio shows different from today's television shows, movies and video games? Here are some questions to think about:

1. Why was active listening the most necessary skill to enjoy early radio shows? 2. Why was imagination especially important? 3. Computers, video games, and even television are interactive today--that is, the person involved can actually "communicate" with the devices. To what extent do you think radio listeners could do this?

Activity #2: Now for Some Fun Stuff

There are several ways to enjoy the appeal of old time radio and improve your listening skills at the same time.

A. Log on to http://www.otr.com, a site built and hosted by an old-time radio enthusiast and researcher, Jim Widner. Then click on some of the categories at the left of the screen. You'll learn about different genres of radio entertainment, and you can click on the titles of shows to hear actual broadcasts. Notice how carefully you have to listen. Jot down some notes outlining the plot of one of the stories. Include a list of the commercials as well. How do they compare to today's advertisements?

B. At The Generic Radio Workshop (http://www.genericradio.com), you can access and print out actual scripts of old shows. Choose a few scripts and divide into groups to "produce" them as class projects. First, you'll need to assign roles to various characters. (Some people may have to read more than one part.) You'll notice that you'll need some sound effects, too. Use your ingenuity. How can you make the sound of a horse galloping? A knock on the door? A car crashing?

While you are listening to the productions of other groups, focus your attention on really hearing what the characters say. See how closely you can follow the plot with no video effects to help you.

Follow up this activity by writing an advertisement promoting the show you enjoyed most. For a challenge, try to imitate the writing style used by announcers in the commercials you listened to in Activity A. Or write and produce your own commercials for products you invent.

Activity #3: A Quick But Effective Listening Exercise You Can Do Each Day At some point in your day--in the school cafeteria, on the bus or subway, at the dinner table, when you lie down to sleep, or at some other time of your choice, devote five minutes listening.Keep a listening journal to sum up what you hear in various situations.

READING

As you read the following practice selection, remember these tips::

  • Skim the selection before you read it.
  • Carefully read the entire selection.
  • Look for the topic sentences as you read.
  • Mark the text as you read.
  • Find the main idea of the selection.
  • Note the supporting details.
  • Look for an organizational pattern.
  • Draw conclusions.
  • For unfamiliar vocabulary words, rely on context clues or think about the root words you studied and see if you can determine the word's meaning based on a root within it.

    PRACTICE

    To Tattoo Or Not To?

    In 1991, a couple hiking in the Alps discovered the mummified body of a human who is thought to date back to about 3300 BC. Markings all over the body of this stone-age man were believed to be tattoos. Tattoos were also found on Egyptian and Nubian mummies, about 4000 years old.

    It seems that early tattoos often served identification purposes. For instance, Roman slaves were tattooed to show who owned them, much as cattle today are branded. Criminals were tattooed both as an embarrassing punishment and as a permanent warning to others. Many native tribes in North and South America tattooed their bodies for decoration or to commemorate some special event--such as a young boy's first kill in a hunt. Polynesian tribes and the Maori of New Zealand are famous for tattooing. When sailors began traveling the globe in ships, many returned with tattoos as souvenirs of their travels.

    Of course, tattooing methods have changed considerably since those days. Today, tattoo artists inject ink into the skin using a vibrating needle. The ink goes past the top layer of skin, the epidermis, and mingles with the cells in the dermis, or second layer. Tattooing just the epidermis doesn't work because these cells are constantly being replaced. The pattern of the tattoo is visible through the epidermis--and aside from minor fading, a tattoo lasts a lifetime.

    Tattooing has become extremely popular in recent years, especially among people under 30, so it's quite likely that if you are reading this article you already have a tattoo or two or are considering heading for the tattoo parlor. It's quite understandable for teens and people in their twenties to want to fit in with the latest styles.To you, a tattoo may be another way of fitting in and being "cool."

    To your parents, tattooing may represent something else entirely. When they were young, most of the people who got tattoos were criminals, gang members, and bikers. People who got them didn't think of tattoos as "body art." They got them so they could look dangerous and defiant. Considering this, you might find it easier to understand why your mom or dad shudders at the sight of someone covered with "body art."

    If your parents agree to let you get a tattoo, there are some significant things to consider. The most important one is that it will be there forever, unless you get it removed by one of several procedures--all of them painful and expensive. American physicians estimate that 50% of those who get tattoos eventually want to have them removed -- and even the best methods available right now leave scars.

    If you decide tattooing is for you, realize that there are some possible health risks, such as hepatitis, tuberculosis, infection, and allergic reactions. You must find a tattoo parlor that practices proper sterilization and infection control standards. What this means is that anything that comes into contact with blood or other bodily fluids must be sterilized in an autoclave or thrown away. The needles used to apply your tattoo should be sterilized "single use" needles, that is, used only for you and then discarded. The remaining ink and other materials should also be tossed after your tattoo is completed.

    To find out if the tattoo parlor you're considering is following these standards, first make sure it is licensed. Ask the owners if they observe "Universal Precautions," and if they give you a blank stare, look elsewhere. When you've chosen a tattoo artist, carefully observe how he or she works before you make an appointment. Another bit of advice that may seem like a no-brainer: Never, ever let a friend try to tattoo you!

    Afterwards, be sure to follow care instructions to the letter. If there is swelling or redness, particularly with red streaks leading away from the tattoo, call your doctor and make an appointment as soon as possible, or go to the emergency room. It could be a sign of infection or even blood poisoning.

    It's important to think through "to tattoo or not to" carefully before you make your decision: You can always throw away your baggy jeans when they go out of style or dye your purple hair another color, but will you still want "Jordan, My Forever Love" tattooed on your forearm ten years after Jordan breaks your heart and you're happily married to someone else?

    To review your understanding of this reading selection, answer questions 1-6 and then choose Activity A or B.

    1. Make a list of unfamiliar words. Can you define them from context? 2. Can you define the author's main purpose? 3. Can you find all the topic sentences? 4. Can you list the pros and cons of tattooing, according to this author? 5. Can you explain how long tattooing has been around and give some examples? 6. Can you clarify some reasons why some parents and older people don't have the same attitude toward tattooing as younger people do?

    Activity A: Write a two-paragraph response to this article. You can write it as an opinion piece, but be sure you support your opinions with evidence and examples.

    Activity B: Divide into small groups that are "for tattooing" and "against tattooing." Prepare reasons for your group's stance on tattooing, even if you've been assigned to a group that doesn't represent your own feelings. Finish up by staging debates between groups, voting on the best "pro" and "con" groups, and having a final debate between them.

    Please note: All of the material on this page is copyrighted. It may not be reproduced in any form without the consent of the publisher and/or author.

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