Posted in Book, Child, children, Education, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, Parent, Reading, school, student, Studying, Uncategorized

How to Annotate – Close Reading

Is it enough for students to simply comprehend their school readings? While reading comprehension is necessary for doing well in school, in order to experience success in current and future schooling, students will be required to go beyond what they see on the surface and dig deeper into the text.

This is where the process of close reading can make all the difference.  Close reading is when we slow down and think about what we are reading.  An important step in close reading is to annotate, as this allows for greater focus and attention to detail. Keep reading to learn how to annotate when you are practicing the art of close reading.

Comprehension of Key Ideas and Details

Unfamiliar Vocabulary

To help yourself determine the meaning of the vocabulary word, find context clues.  If necessary use a dictionary.

Main Ideas

Take notes on the central themes, clues or details that back up the main idea and themes.

Confusing Parts

Find unfamiliar details that you might need to clarify through re-reading, summarizing, discussion or research.

Questions to Ask

Who are the main characters?

What is the setting?

What is the main conflict?

 

 

Analyze the Text for Craft and Structure

Repeated Themes or Ideas

Think about the genre of the work and the ideas, use of language, and any lesson or moral.

Character or Author’s Feelings

For fiction, take note of how the author uses dialogue, descriptions, things the character says, does, etc. to develop character.

When it comes to non-fiction, pay attention to how the author talks about the subject to determine his or her feelings about the topic.

Note the Narrator’s Point of View

Determine how the point of view contributes to the story.

Questions to Ask

Why do characters behave as they do?

How do their actions advance the plot?

How does the author’s word choice affect the story’s tone?

 

 

Integrate Your Knowledge

Connections

Compare and contrast this work with other works you have read, information you already know, and ways in which you can relate to the story.

Deeper Meaning

Find the important images and symbols to analyze their deeper meaning.

Effective Writing

Look for literary devices, figurative language, powerful sentences, etc.

 Questions to Ask

How has this work increased my knowledge of a subject or author?

What is surprising about the story’s outcome?

What did I appreciate about the author’s style?

 

 

Tools for Annotation

Make your annotation system your own, use colored pens, highlighters or symbols to annotate for the above list of items.

This process of annotation will help you read more closely and allow you to dig deeper to find more significance in the texts you are reading.  This will not only provide more depth to your schooling, but will also be an influence on your life. ­­­­­­

How to Annotate - Close Reading Icon.png

Posted in ACT, Education, English Language Arts Tutoring, Individualized Tutoring, K-12 Tutoring, Private Tutoring, student, Tutoring, Tutoring Sessions, Uncategorized

The Power of “We” – Tutoring Stories

by Julia M. – tutor at Oxford Tutoring

She sat across from me, completely defeated.  Tears slipping through the cracks of her calm demeanor.

When I first began tutoring her, she wanted to study the writing section of the ACT, and she wanted to study it at rapid speed.  She is a visual learner, so once she viewed the standards of grammar she needed to know, it was imprinted in her memory, utilized easily when she answered questions.  We whizzed through that section, my voice relaying information at the speed of an auctioneer just to keep up with her alert, competent mind.

Approaching the reading section I anticipated more of the same.

Yet, I quickly learned that she is a perfectionist. Hard on herself in school, sports, and life.  She demands a lot of herself.  I admire her work ethic and willingness to push herself in order to complete her goals, however, in this case, her high expectations were holding her back.  She could not finish the reading section in a timely manner, while still maintaining respectable marks.  The ACT is a test that requires students to think critically, move quickly, and work efficiently. In a desire to do well right away, she overwhelmed herself, not realizing that it takes time to build up the stamina and skill necessary to complete this task well.

It was my job to show her.

I spent much of the weekend thinking of a way to reach this sweet, intelligent girl.  I wanted her to feel bolstered and help her to realize that with time, she would be able to master the reading passages.  I had tried to explain this to her on our last session, but her emotional state made it impossible for her to process any new information.  She was simply too entrenched by discouragement to hear me.

I needed to find the words to reach her.

Then, I remembered a few years back when I was going through a particularly difficult situation, disappointment encircled me in the same manner.  A friend of mine was helping me through this challenge.  I will never forget what she said to me as I sat across from her feeling defeated.  She said, “Julia, we are going to get through this together.”  We.  She said we.  That meant that I was not alone in my troubles.  I had someone supporting me and with her help I would be able to make it through to the other side.

Remembering this pivotal moment, I realized that this is exactly what my student needed.

At our next tutoring session, I hoped that these same words would bring the comfort to my student that they had brought to me.  Calling upon the student’s background as a gymnast, I asked how she knew when she was ready to attempt a new move.  She explained that her coach served as her spotter, teaching a new technique and not letting go until the coach was certain her gymnast could handle the new move on her own.

After hearing her response, I looked at her and explained that, just like in gymnastics, the ACT required time and practice in order to be able to master it.  And, I was going to be her spotter.  We were going to work on the new techniques together, and I was not going to let go of her until I was positive she could handle the ACT on her own.  I paused, trying to read her expression to see if I was getting through to her.  Her mind was busy processing; she stayed silent.

“You know,” I added, “We are going to get through this together.” She breathed.  Her shoulders relaxed.  She sighed, relieved, “Okay, good!”

Ahead we moved, student and tutor together.

Meet the author:  Julia M. is an ELA instructor at Oxford Tutoring who has been working with students for over 10 years.  She builds up her student’s confidence in the subjects they struggle with through encouragement and support.  Striving to make her students ready to tackle even the most difficult concepts as they move up in their education, she motivates her students to take their education into their own hands and thrive.

Posted in Education, English Language Arts Tutoring, Reading, Tutoring, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Tools

How to Truly Understand a Text – The Reading Process

by Justin L. – Tutor at Oxford Tutoring

Reading is one of the most deceptively challenging skills to master. Once you’ve learned how to sound out words, it can feel like riding a bike downhill. You coast on momentum until coming to a stop at the bottom. You push your line of vision across the page until coming to a stop at the end.

Except, there’s more to riding a bike than balancing and pedaling, and there’s more to reading than sounding out words and scanning pages. You have to know your destination and how and why you made it there.

To learn how to read properly, you must understand the goal, the tools, and the process.

 

Goals

The #1 mistake people make when reading is approaching a text with the wrong mindset. They are looking to react to or critique what is presented. Reactions and critiques are valuable, but they are an entirely different process that follows reading. In fact, they are dependent on it.

To understand the goal of reading, you have to understand the goal of writing. Every writer wants to change your mind. That desire is not as nefarious or complicated as it sounds. While a lawyer, politician, or philosophy may pen a composition to change your opinions or actions, a screenwriter, playwright, or novelist crafts a story to entertain you. Still, either end requires the same means–your mind has to change. How? By communicating new information to you.

Thus, your goal as a reader is to understand what is being communicated to you. How? By knowing the tools the writer has at his disposal.

 

Tools

The basic tool of the writer is the word. However, like the process of reading, the word is not as simple as it seems. It is more than a collection of sounds. It is a symbol. What does it symbolize?

Every word represents a concept you hold in your mind (or will hold if you’ve never heard the word before). Concepts are placeholders in your mind for either concretes or abstracts. A concrete is an observable (by the five senses) thing. An abstract is an idea or emotion.

For example, the word “tree” symbolizes the large amount of observable traits of trees in the world. When you read it, you think of all the important traits of trees summed up in one image or “concept.” Additionally, the word “love” symbolizes the idea or emotion that can only be believed or experienced. When you read it, you think of all of the different ways to understand or feel love in one “concept.”

Thus, a writer uses symbols to make you think of the world in a specific way in order to show you new parts of it, or information, that will change your concepts.

 

The Process

The challenge of reading, then, is to understand all of the information being presented to you and how it is both different and the same as the information you already have. To do so, you must use a process similar to the Scientific Method.

Every writer has one Overall piece of information he is trying to communicate to you–usually called the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme. Once you figure it out, it becomes your Touchstone or Key to understanding everything else the writer shows you in that same piece of writing. The challenge is that you’re shown everything else first and can’t be sure of the Overall until you’ve read it all (and sometimes even after you’ve finished).

Ask a Question

Before you even consume a word, you have to decide which of the almost-infinite amount of books to pick up. If you’re completing an assignment for school or work, that decision is made for you, but your work on this step isn’t complete. You have to understand why you are reading what you’re reading. How does the text reflect your (or your teacher’s or company’s) values, interests, beliefs, tastes, and goals? Once you understand the context of your efforts, you can open the cover.

Research

With a book or essay in front of you, it can be easy to flip to page one or find the first paragraph and start pressing forward. If you do so, however, you’ll miss out on a lot of important information. Gather all the background information you can to have an idea what the text is about.

Ask yourself: What is the title? Who is the author? When did he write the text? What content does it contain? How long is it? What type of sections and how many, if any, is the text divided into? Also, make sure you didn’t miss gathering any general information about the book’s subject when completing the previous step. (Ex: If the book is about architecture, learn about the basic purposes, principles, and people of architecture). The answer to all of these questions provide you all the information you need to complete the next step.

Hypothesize

This step is where using the scientific method to read becomes really important. Based on all of your knowledge of the book and the subject, come up with a proposed Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme of the text. This proposed Overall piece of information will be the umbrella you try to fit every other piece of information you learn while reading into. It is the starting point that you will slowly craft into your end point over the course of your consumption of the text.

Experiment + Analyze

In sciences, this step is divided in two. Reading, however, has a much less clearly defined line between the physical task (experimentation) and the reflection on it (analysis). In fact, that experimentation and analysis often occur at the same time is what makes reading so challenging. In a science experiment, you set up the physical process, run it, and collect the data. It is only then, when the physical process is complete, that you analyze the data to determine its significance.

When reading, you are collecting data and analyzing it at the same time. As you consume each new word, sentence, paragraph, and chapter, you try to fit it into your hypothesis. If you can explain how it fits into your hypothesis, you can move on. If not, you must change your hypothesis or create a new one. Thus, there are two important guidelines to follow for this step:

  1. Your hypothesis is always in flux until you finish the text. Until you have all the data, you can’t have a complete conclusion. However, as you read more and more of the text, your hypothesis should change less and less.
  2. Set up checkpoints for yourself to stop consuming new data and think about the data you have. Typically these checkpoints are the ends of sections or chapters, as the author included those breaks to signal the information because it is a data subset.

Basically, once you read the first word of the text, you enter into a loop of Experiment + Analysis and Hypothesis until you read the last word of the text.

Conclusion

Now that you have all the data and have finished looping, you should have a hypothesis that explains why the author included everything in the text. The key here is being able to explain the hypothesis and how it explains everything. To do so, write a one sentence summary of what you think the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme is. This sentence serves as your shorthand for the text. Any time anyone brings up anything about the text, you refer back to your conclusion and use it as the foundation of any thinking you do. (Keep in mind, if anyone presents you with new information you may have missed when you read the text or a new understanding you may have not thought of, you may have to re-enter the loop.)

The End.png

Right now you may feel overwhelmed and discouraged by the challenge that reading presents. You may not want to put in so much effort every time you read, especially if it is “just for enjoyment.” It’s important to remember that just as everyone who learns how to ride a bike isn’t going to become a professional BMXer and medal in the X-Games, not everyone who learns how to read is going to become a Shakespearean scholar and earn a PhD in Literature. Still, just as riding a bike well can add to your life immensely, so can reading.

Truly understanding the Main Idea, Point, Argument, or Theme of a book can greatly increase your enjoyment of it. By knowing why everything was included, the importance of each line of dialogue and event becomes clear and impacts you more. Likewise, comprehending what the author is showing you can improve your life by helping you to consider complexities of life that you may never have before. Or, if you’re assigned the book for school or work, it can help you earn a good grade or complete your project perfectly.

Understand?


About the Author:
Our Oxford Tutoring, Justin L., tutors Middle School through High School English Language Arts, as well as SAT and ACT English.  As a published writer and former college English teacher, Justin has extensive knowledge of the reading and writing process. He uses his knowledge to challenge his students to think critically, encouraging them to go deeper with the texts they read and the essays they write.

Posted in Book, Child, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, family, Reading, summer, Uncategorized

6 Reasons to Spend Your Summer Reading

For students, an ideal summer is made up of hanging out by the pool, trips to the beach, video games, shopping at the mall and most importantly, absolutely no school!  While we highly recommend students spending at least some of their summer  maintaining skills or preparing for the new school year with summer classes there is also another way to make sure you are not falling behind over the summer: summer reading.

Summer Reading

So why bother reading over the summer? What’s the point?  You spend the whole school year reading  book after book. Summer is the time for relaxing.  Well, before you completely abandon any thought of school, hear me out.  You might reconsider allocating at least some of your time to your next favorite book!

 

kids-summer-reading.jpg#1 – Avoid Summer Learning Loss

Think about it, you have just spent nine months of your life dedicated to learning.  Remember all those all-nighter’s, last minute, frantic papers, never-ending tests and hard work you have put into the pursuit of learning.  One of the greatest reasons for reading over the summer is to ensure all of that effort is not lost.  Studies show that over the summer “the average learning loss in math and reading for American students amounts to one month per year” (New York Times).

Reading keeps your mind active.  While spending lazy summer days by the pool sounds ideal, you are not doing yourself any favors for the upcoming school year.  We are not saying, don’t take some time off.  We are just suggesting that you need to keep learning over the summer to avoid losing some of your hard-earned education.  Reading is one way to do this!  And hey, you can even do it laying out by the pool!

reading-at-the-pool-2jmu8jh

 

#2 – Increase Vocabularydictionary.jpg

One of the biggest challenges for students who struggle to comprehend what they are reading is vocabulary.  Much of the texts you will encounter over the school year contains advanced vocabulary.  Reading exposes you to brand new words that will help you with future reading, but will also increase your vocabulary skills when it is time to write your essays.

Additionally, come test time, school tests but especially ACT and SAT tests, you will have a larger vocabulary arsenal at your disposal.  Also, when reading you learn how to use context clues in order to determine the rough definition of a new word.  Another crucial skill come test-taking time.

vocabulary.jpg

summer-reading-africa-studios-shuttersthock-e1436293933664#3- Obtain Analysis Skills

The ability to analyze, to find the deeper meaning, behind the words you read is a necessary skill for your high school education and beyond.  Practice makes perfect.  And the more time you take to read, the more naturally analysis will come to you when it is time to analyze those pesky classics during the school year.

Analysis also plays an important role in your everyday life.  Ninety-three percent of communication is nonverbal – body language and the tone in one’s voice. (Philip Yaffe).  Which means that what a person does facially, physically, and the inflection in their voice is far more telling that what they actually say.  We must be able to analyze in order to determine the deeper meaning behind the action’s of others and what is being said.  This will put you at a great advantage in your personal life, school life, and work life.

Lecture et coquillages

#4 – Improve WritingJournal-Photo.jpg

Famous American writer, William Faulkner once said, “Read, read, read. Read everything…just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master” (Shortlist). Writers need to read.  Why? Because that is how they learn to write.

Perhaps you struggle with writing description – read a writer who is a master of descriptive writing like Margaret Mitchell. Check out this excerpt from her well-known book, Gone with the Wind:

“Spring had come early that year, with warm quick rains and sudden frothing of pink peach blossoms and dogwood dappling with white stars the dark river swamp and far-off hills…The whitewashed brick plantation house seemed an island set in a wild red sea, a sea of spiraling, curving, crescent billows petrified suddenly at the moment when the pink-tipped waves were breaking into surf.”Gone-with-the-Wind-Scarlett-in-front-of-Tara

Or maybe writing an argument is your biggest challenge – find a well-argued essay or speech like Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail”.  Notice what he writes here:

“We have waited for more than three hundred and forty years for our God-given and constitutional rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward the goal of political independence, and we still creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward the gaining of a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. I guess it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim… then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.” (Source)

martinlutherkingjr2.jpg

Taking in excellent writing will most definitely improve yours.

 

#5 – Read What You Want

One of the irritating aspects of reading during the school year is that you are forced to read the assigned texts.  You have no say in what you will be spending hours studying and learning about.  Reading over the summer means you get to read about whatever you want!  You are in control, so go out and find your next favorite book.

#6 – Relax!relaxed-theta-brain-waves-reading.jpg

Summer is all about relaxing.  Reading seems like the opposite of relaxing.  But guess what? According to recent research, “Reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce stress levels by more than two-thirds” (Source).

Even just a little bit of reading can significantly reduce stress.  While school reading may be stressful, summer reading certainly is not.

So in between video games and the beach (or why not at the beach?) crack open a book.  Summer reading is calling!

 

Copyright Oxford Tutoring 2016

 

Posted in English Language Arts Tutoring, essay, Individualized Tutoring, K-12 Tutoring, Orange County, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Tools

Elements of an Essay: Editing and Revising

Writing an elegant, thorough, well-written essay is a necessary skill that any student will use all the way to college and even beyond.

If you cannot put together an essay that is organized, despite the argument you are making, you will be at a disadvantage.

That is why we at Oxford Tutoring have created a simple, yet helpful, outline for the elements of an essay.

Visit any of our previous blogs to learn how to write powerful thesis statements, bold body paragraphs, relevant details , insightful commentary, intriguing introduction paragraphs, and strong conclusion paragraphs.

Good writing is rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting so don’t be discouraged that your essay needs editing.  Every writer from a professional to the high school student goes through the revising process so that they can write a complete, grammatically correct, and relevant piece of writing.

Today, we will wrap up our elements of an essay blog series with an often overlooked, but entirely necessary step in essay writing – editing and revising. Look at the following questions about each element of your essay and answer them truthfully.

Introduction Paragraph:

The introduction paragraph has all of the following elements:

– A hook 

– Background info

– A thesis statement

      If not, what elements are missing?

The hook uses one of the methods learned in class:

      If so, which one?

The background information shows why the hook and thesis statement are relevant:

If not, how should the writer improve the background information?

 

Thesis Statement:

The thesis statement is easy to identity?

The thesis statement makes it clear what the subject of the essay will be?

The thesis statement tells what the writer of the essay thinks about the subject?

The thesis statement has at least 2 points of support or contention?

What elements of the thesis statement are strong and clear?

What elements of the thesis statement are missing or unclear?  How can the writer                                                make their thesis statement stronger?

 

Body Paragraphs

There are at least two body paragraphs:

Topic Sentences

There is a topic sentence in each body paragraph?

The topic sentences refer to the points of support or contention from the thesis      statement?

Details

There are at least 2 details in each body paragraph?

The details fall under one of the categories discussed in the details blog:

If so, which ones? If not, which ones do you recommend the writer use?

The details support the topic sentence: ?

If so, how?  If not, why?

Transition Words

Each Detail sentence has a transition word?

The transition words are appropriately varied?

Commentary

The commentary fall under one of the categories found in the commentary blog:

        Which ones?

The commentary makes the details clearer and easier to understand:

      If so, how?  If not, why?

The commentary uses the what and why method:

      If not, what is missing?

There are at least two sentences of commentary for every detail?

Concluding Sentence

The concluding sentence closes out the body paragraphs well?

If so, why?  If not, why?

The concluding sentence transitions into the next topic well?

If so, why?  If not, why?

 

Concluding Paragraph:

The conclusion paragraph has all of the following elements?

– Restatement of the thesis:

– Recap of what the reader learned in the body paragraphs:

– Sum up sentence:

The sum up sentence is powerful?

  If so, why? If not, why?

General:

What is your overall impression of the piece?

Does it feel complete? If so, why? If not, what is missing?

What did you learn about your writing by editing this essay?

What did you like about the essay?

 

Now that you have answered all these questions, rewrite your essay with the new edits and revisions.  Or give us a call and we can edit your essay with you!

We hope this blog series helped you feel empowered to take on the intimidating essay.  If you need additional help, feel free to book a session today!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Education, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, essay, Homework Help, Individualized Tutoring, K-12 Tutoring, student, Studying, teacher, Tutoring, Tutoring Sessions, Uncategorized, Writer's Block, Writing, Writing Tools

Elements of an Essay: Conclusion Paragraphs

For the last several weeks, we have broken down the format of an essay into easy to understand parts.  There is a basic formula for writing a well-structured essay.  Ultimately, it is the writer’s job to plug their words into the formula effectively and correctly.

However, having the tools to put an essay together in an organized manner can go a very long way to writing a successful essay.

Structure is one of the key elements in essay writing, and with the conclusion of today’s blog, you will have all the elements needed to present a well-structured essay.

Speaking of conclusions, today we are going to look at conclusion paragraphs.  As a reminder, let’s briefly look at all the components  of an essay.

The introduction paragraph is the heart.

It is designed to catch my reader’s attention.

Next, the thesis statement is the glue.

It holds my entire paper together and is placed at the end of introduction paragraph.

The body paragraphs are the meat.

They are the largest portion of my essay.

Then, the details of my body paragraphs are the key.

They unlock my argument.

Also, the commentary is the treasure.

They make the paper shine.

Lastly, the conclusion paragraph is the bow.

It ties my whole essay together.

 

Since the conclusion paragraph wraps everything up, we need to learn how to write one well.

Let’s take a look.

Your conclusion paragraph is your chance to remind the reader of your thesis, points you made in your body paragraphs, and leave the reader with a powerful closing statement. It should be made up of three parts.

Restatement

 

Use different words to remind the reader of your thesis statement.

 

Recap

 

Remind the reader of the main points from each of the body paragraphs.

 

So What

Your last sentence of your paragraph should be powerful. It tells the reader why they should care about your essay.

How to Write a “So What” Sentence

Your “So What” sentence will change based on the type of essay you are writing.

Informative Essays

Consider writing an objective truth.

If your paper was an informative essay on the devastation of the Black Plague, your sentence could look like this:

As society continues to develop and grow, it is necessary to remember that maintaining health standards is just as important now as it was in the 14th century.

Persuasive Essays

If your essay was persuasive, try writing a call to action.

For instance, if you were writing a persuasive paper on how Peeta is better for Katniss than Gale, your last sentence could look like this.

Show your support for Peeta by liking the Facebook page “Team Peeta.”

 

Analysis Essays

Write an expression of why your analysis improves the reading the text.

For example, if you are writing about how Fitzgerald develops Daisy’s character, your last sentence could look like this:

Fitzgerald allows the reader to see different sides of Daisy in order to create sympathy for a character who might otherwise seem thoughtless and unkind.

 

Your conclusion paragraph is the last thought your reader will be left with. So, it is important to make the conclusion powerful.

Now, we suggest you put your own essay together based on the elements of an essay that we have discussed.

Then check back in with us next week for proofreading.

 

As always, give us a call if you need help with essay writing.

(949) 681-0388.

Posted in Education, ELA, English Language Arts Tutoring, essay, Homework Help, Individualized Tutoring, K-12 Tutoring, Learning Activties, Uncategorized, Writing, Writing Tools

Elements of an Essay – Introduction Paragraphs

So far, in our elements of an essay blogs, we have learned about thesis statements, body paragraph and transitions, details, and commentary .

Today, we want to take a look at introduction paragraphs.   Remember that introduction paragraphs are the heart of your essay.

This is because your introduction is the first impression that your readers will get off your essay.  If it does not interest them or they do not like what they read, then they will not take the time to read the rest of your paper.

 

What should an introduction paragraph look like?


An introduction paragraph should consist of three parts:

A hook

This is your chance to grab the reader’s attention with a compelling statement.

Background Information
This is where you connect the hook to the thesis statement.

Thesis Statement
A thesis statement is an opinion that can be proven and is worth proving to others.   For more information on how to write a beautiful thesis statement, check out our thesis statement workshop.

 How do I write a hook?

A hook should grab your reader’s attention and make them want to read your essay all the way until the very end.  

There are many different ways to write a hook including:

  • A literary quote
  • A quotes from well-known people
  • A rhetorical question
  • An anecdote
  • A statistic

 

What is an example of a literary quote?

If you were writing an essay about persevering through difficult times, you might consider beginning your essay like the following example:

“Tomorrow is another day.” This quote by author Margaret Mitchell from her 1939 novel Gone with the Wind, emphasizes that no matter what uncertainties and trials we are facing today, the new light of tomorrow can provide us with hope for the future.

A literary quote can be a powerful statement drawing readers in with descriptive language.

What is an example of a quote by a well-known person?

Perhaps you are writing an essay about leadership. You may want to write an introduction starting like this:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, which most frightens us.” Here, Nelson Mandela, revolutionary politician and philanthropist, explains our fears are much more about achieving success than they are about failing. 

A quote by a well-known person can inspire your reader to think deeply, desiring to keep reading so they might understand the reason for including this quote.

What is an example of starting your paper with a rhetorical question?

Let’s say your essay is focusing on bullying. Using a rhetorical question to start your introduction paragraph could look like this:

How would you feel if your child came home, crying and distraught, telling you about another student at school who had called him horrible names?

A rhetorical question encourages the reader to become invested in your essay.

What is an example of an anecdote?

Maybe your essay is about courage. You could start your essay with an anecdote like this:

A close friend of mine fought in the Vietnam War. He admitted that he was terrified every time he to go into battle.  Even so, he is one of the most courageous men I have ever know.  Courage is not defined by the lack of fear, but by the ability to take action in the face of fear.

Using an anecdote will present the reader with a real person or story, allowing them to be more invested in your essay.

What is an example of a statistic?

If your paper is about divorce, maybe your hook could look like the following:

Fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. This well-known statistic reflects the ever-changing family dynamic.

A statistic creates authority, leading your reader to trust you and your opinion presented in your essay.

How do I write background information?

Background information is a bridge that will connect your hook to the thesis statement.

The goal is to show why your hook and thesis statement are relevant.

Depending on what type of paper you are writing, the strategy for writing your bridge will be different.

Background Info for an Informative Essay

For an informative essay, after the hook, write sentences that detail information that will help your reader understand the topic.


For example, if you were writing an informative paper on the devastation of the Black Plague, it would help the reader to know details about the time period in which the Black Plague took place, how many died from the disease, what areas it affected, etc.

Background Info for a Persuasive Essay

For a persuasive essay, after the hook, give the reader information about the argument.

For example, if you are writing a persuasive paper on how Peeta is better for Katniss than Gale, you would present both camps, telling the reader why some people support Gale and why others support Peeta.

Background Info for an Analysis of Literature Essay

For an analysis of literature essay, after the hook, give the reader technical or contextual information about the novel or topic to make the thesis easier to understand. 

For example, if you are writing about how Fitzgerald, in his novel The Great Gatsby, includes various aspects of Daisy’s character in order to make her dimensional, you could define
characterization and discuss aspects of Daisy and Gatsby’s personal relationship. 

 

Check back in next week for the conclusion paragraph.

Need for information about the introduction paragraph? Call us to set up an appointment today. (949) 681-0388.

 

 

 

 

 

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Elements of an Essay: Writing Commentary

For several weeks now, we have been identifying the essential elements of essays and learning how to incorporate these effectively and successfully. We have discussed that the thesis statement is the glue that holds the entire paper together, the body paragraphs are the meat where the majority of your argument will be found, and last week we looked at how the details are the key to unlocking your argument.  Today we are going to take a look at the other extremely important factor in writing a well-thought out essay.  It is needed for every single detail that you write.  It is the commentary.

 

Commentary Definition

When you write commentary, you are explaining to your reader how the details relate to the thesis statement. Commentary does not contain facts.  Instead, they help explain why the details are relevant to the topic.

 

Writing Commentary

writing

You are going to need at least two sentences of commentary for every detail sentence.  A good rule of thumb is that your commentary should be twice as long as your details.  Otherwise, your paper is just full of facts.  We want to know how YOU think these facts prove your point and what YOU think they mean.

 

Here are a few different methods for writing commentary:

1) Opinion: this is where you write your belief, subjective judgment or way of thinking about a detail .

2) Interpretation: your explanation of something that is not clear.

3) Character and Subject’s Feelings: when you describe what the character or subject of the detail is feeling (ideal for literary analysis papers)

4) Personal Reaction: your personal emotions about the detail.

5) Evaluations: your objective judgment of a detail.

 

Commentary is the Treasuretreasure

Your commentary is the treasure that makes your paper shine.  It should always strengthen and extend the details. This is your chance to show us what you’ve got.  It is where you can impress us with your analysis and interpretation skills.

 

“What and Why” Method

You may be thinking, “Analysis and interpretation skills?  What if I don’t possess those skills?”  Well breathe easy, because interpretation is really just a fancy word for “what,” while analysis simply means “why”.

So if you are struggling to write your commentary try using the “what and why” method.  First, tell the reader WHAT your detail is talking about by defining or explaining.  Next, let your reader know WHY this detail is relevant to your thesis statement.

 

Starting Commentary Sentences

If you are struggling to start your commentary, consider beginning your commentary in one of the following ways:

“This shows that…”

 “This is important because…”

Obviously, you cannot start every sentence you write like that since this would be redundant.  However, even if you do not write these phrases at the beginning of all of your sentences, it is helpful even just to think these phrases in order to guide your commentary in the right direction.

 

Applying Commentary Techniques

Now that we have discussed the different options for writing commentary, and the method for doing  so, let’s put them together and see what is looks like.

 

Commentary Type: Opinion using the “what and why” method

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Topic: education

Detail: According to the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress Reading test, 80% of students score below grade level in reading.

Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my opinion?” and (2) “WHY is my opinion relevant to my thesis statement?”

(1)  A statistic like this shows the poor state of the education.  (2) If we are to help students become successful adults, we need to change the way we are educating our children.

 

Commentary Type: Interpretation using the “what and why” method

Topic: benefits of college

Detail: First of all, of 2,350,000 college students enrolling per year, only 1,750,000 will graduate.

Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my interpretation?” and (2) “WHY is my interpretation relevant to my thesis statement?”

(1) This shows that the high demand placed on students during their college years is too much stress for many.  (2) However rigorous it may be though, the pressure and expectations are reflective of a future career and help prepare young adults for these challenges.

 

Commentary Type: Character or Subject Feelings using the “what and why” method

feelings.jpg

Topic: cost of higher education

Detail:  For example, Benjamin Davis, a recent college graduate with a degree in Business, struggled for many years to find a job because of the recent unemployment struggles in America

Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is the subject’s feelings?” and (2) “WHY is subjects feelings relevant to my thesis statement?”

(1) He, like most, experiences extreme frustration at spending a great deal of time and money obtaining his degree, but feeling like he has very little advantage over others without a degree when finding a job. (2) As a result, many who find themselves in a similar situation are left wondering if higher education is worth the high cost.

 

Commentary Type: Personal Reaction using the “what and why” method

Topic: bullying

Detail: Also,  a bully might speak cruelly in order to intimidate, steal a student’s belongings, or intentionally exclude one from a group .

Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my personal reaction?” and (2) “WHY is my personal reaction relevant to my thesis statement?”

(1) It is extremely upsetting to know that most children undergo this type of treatment at school. (2) It is hurtful, isolating, and can have long-lasting psychological damage on those students who experience bullying often.

 

Commentary Type: Evaluation using the “what and why” method

Topic: bears

Detail: Naturally, a bear, when threatened, will rise up from the ground, growl loudly, and begin charging at a speed of up to 35 mph.

Commentary: Your commentary for this detail will answer the following questions: (1) “WHAT is my evaluation?” and (2) “WHY is my evaluation relevant to my thesis statement?”

(1) Although this is a frightening experience, it is not entirely the bear’s fault. (2) In fact, most of the time when a bear attacks a person, it is the result of a person not understanding that when going out into the woods, he or she is entering a bear’s environment; forgetting to be respectful and cautious can cause the bear to react thusly.

 

When To Use Commentary Types

Depending on your assignment, choose the types of commentary that best fits your argument.  Use of a variety of different types of commentary to write a well-argued paper.

 

Workshop

workshop

Go back and look at step two of writing details from last week’s blog.  Look at the commentary you wrote and update it to fit into the “what and why” method using some of the above types of commentary.  If you did not do that step last week, go ahead and use the worksheet found here.

We hope this helped you when writing commentary.  If you still need help, call Oxford Tutoring for support or to schedule a writing tutoring session.

 

 

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Elements of an Essay: Writing Details

Recently, we looked at how to write thesis statements  and then dove into three elements of a body paragraph: topic sentences, transitions words, and the conclusions sentence.  These elements are necessary, make your body paragraph organized and clear.  However, the heart of your body paragraphs, what can make or break your argument, is the details and commentary.  Today, we are going to zoom in on the details of your body paragraphs.  Without them, your argument will be unproven and unconvincing.  With them, you will give the reader confidence in your opinion and present evidence in support of your reasoning.

Details are the Key

Details are the key to unlocking your argument! They are the supporting statements to your thesis statement.

Details are the key!

 

How many body paragraphs do I need?

In order to write  body paragraphs that are effective and well argued, you are going to need at least two per body paragraph.

 

reading interestedWhat Should my Details look like?

Your details should be varied and brief.  Having a lot of long details looks like you are padding your paper with the efforts of other writers and researchers, instead of telling
your audience what your opinion is.

Also, having different types of details keep a paper interesting and can convince a reader more effectively, since you are providing them with support from a variety of sources.

 

Different ways to write details

Evidence1) Evidence

Evidence is information showing something is objectively, scientifically true, like a statistic.

Example: According to the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress reading test, 80% of students score below grade level in reading.

 

2) Examples/Concrete Detailsexample

Examples are used when mentioning a specific person or thing that help explain or show truth.

Example: Also, a bully might speak cruelly in order to intimidate, steal a student’s belongings, or intentionally exclude a student from the group.

 


Illustration3) Illustrations/Descriptions

Illustrations are analogies, metaphors, similes, or pieces of information that paint a picture to make something easier to understand.

Example: Naturally, a bear when threatened, will rise up from the ground, growl loudly, and begin charging at a speed of up to 35 mph.

 

4) Factsfact

Facts are true or provable pieces of information.

Example: First of all, of 2,350,000 college students enrolling per year, only 1,750,000 graduate.

 

sequence5) Occurrences/Sequencing

Occurrences show something that happened (use action verbs).

Example: For example, Benjamin Davis a recent college graduate with a degree in Business, struggled for many years to find a job because of the recent unemployment struggles in America.

 

What else should I know about details?

Be sure that your details support your thesis and are relevant to your argument.

You need at least two per paragraph to prove your point successfully.

Remember to use a variety of details when writing your body paragraphs.

 

Workshop

workshop.png

With all this information you have learned, it is time to apply it.

Once you have developed a thesis statement for your essay with 2-3 points of support or contention (see our thesis statement blog), you can begin to develop your details through organization.  Look at the following organizational steps:

 

Step One:

Thesis statement – use a cluster web to generate your thesis statement.

Check out the printable here, to help you out: Step One of Writing Details

 

Step Two:

Brainstorm – use a T-chart to generate your details.

We have a worksheet for you here: Step Two of Writing Details

 

We hope this will help you write effective, strong details.

strong.jpg

If you still need additional support, give us a call at

(949) 681-0388.

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10 Study Tips to Study More Effectively in 2016

2016

The New Year is just days away.  For many, it’s a fresh start; a chance to re-evaluate decisions made in the past year and their results.  Was my money well spent?  Did I make exercise a priority?  And if the answers aren’t to the individuals liking, the New Year provides an opportunity to make some changes.  At Oxford Tutoring, we suggest, in the next few days before the New Year, students take the same action, focusing particularly on their studies.

Ask yourselves a few questions: Did I get the grades I wanted this last semester?  Did I put the effort into school that I wanted to?  Did I feel prepared for the tests I took?  If your answer to any or all of these questions is no, then most likely it is time to evaluate your study habits, then consider adopting some new ones so that you can start off 2016 academically strong.

Study

Here is a list that we at Oxford Tutoring have compiled of tips to study more effectively in 2016.  Even if you choose to use only one of the tools, you are already in a better place for 2016 then you were in 2015.

 

Planner Icon

#1: Get a Planner

PlannerIt seems simple enough and it is.  But planners are an often overlooked option for preparing to take exams.  And don’t just buy a planner, make sure that you actually use it!  There you can put down every upcoming test,
every project, every deadline.  You can even add checklists, use different color pens, utilize post-it notes or develop whatever system necessary to help you get organized.

Why does organization matter in becoming a more effective studier?  Keeping track of upcoming tests and events will help you be prepared.  If you know what is coming you can prepare for it.  And your grades will not suffer from those inevitablely forgotten assignments which can quickly add up if you aren’t paying attention.

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Furthermore, putting down everything on paper is an excellent way to clear your mind.  Worries about deadlines can often creep into our subconscious and nag at us even if we do not realize it.  With all your to do’s written down, your thoughts have room to breathe and focus on the task at hand.  It will be easier to study and easier to retain information with a clear mind.

 

Plan Ahead Icon

#2: Plan Ahead

Plan ahead

Now that you have purchased your planner and filled it up with tests and project dates, you have the chance to look down the road and see what lies ahead.  Which means, you can plan ahead.  Mark out time in your calendar to study.  Make it a priority, or set it up as a checklist that you make sure to complete before you move onto anything else.

Study all nightAdditionally, it is extremely helpful to study a little bit every day.  One of the biggest mistakes students make is that they prepare for their tests and write their papers the night before.  This works against you in several ways.  First of all, the stress level alone means you are not going to be as present while studying.  Secondly, trying to cram week’s worth of learning or writing into one evening is an excellent way not to learn.  Lastly, because you have jammed all that information into your brain just for one test, chances are once the test is over, all that information is going to fall away.  This will be detrimental come final’s time; and, even more harmful in classes like Math and Science, where concepts build upon one another, meaning that it is necessary to have a firm foundation of one formula before being able to understand another.

learning style

#3: Determine Your Learning StyleLearning style.jpg

In order to be able to study the most effectively, it is imperative that a student knows what study habits work for him or her and what study habits do not.  Many students do not take an assessment on their learning style until college, if then.  Meaning that they may have spent years struggling through studying simply because they did not know  there were other resources available to them based on how they learn.

There are three main learning styles: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic.  A quick break down of these styles is that visual learners retain information through what they see.  These are usually the students that all of their friends are jealous of because they can remember facts just by viewing them.  Then, there are auditory learners.  These are the students that do best recalling knowledge if they have heard it out loud.  Lastly, kinesthetic learners are those that require touching and moving in order to best understand what it is that they are learning.

To figure out what learning style you are, take the quiz.

 

apply learning style

#4: Use Learning Style Study Methods

Once you determine youR learning style, you can use suggested study methods to better prepare for tests.

Check out the following lists to get some ideas.

Study Tips - Visual

Study Tips - Kinesthetic

Study Tips - Auditory

 

Take a break icon

#5: Set a Scheduled Break

There is only so much information you can remember in one sitting of studying.  And while some may think that taking break is counterproductive in reality, breaks give your mind a chance to rest.  Therefore, you can come back to your study table refreshed and ready to take on more reading.

So get to know your own mind.  Do you tend to stop remembering what you are studying after 30 minutes, an hour, or an hour and a half?  Whatever it is, set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to get up from your desk and let your brain breathe.

For weekly tests, you probably do not want to take more than a ten minute break.  However, if you are preparing for a big test, such as a final or an SAT or ACT, taking longer breaks around 20 minutes is recommended.

Basketball break.jpgNo matter how long the break, do not, I repeat do not go on Instagram, play a video game or turn on the TV.  These activities are not actually giving your brain a rest.  Furthermore, you will most likely end up spending longer than your planned break and waste precious study time.  It is ideal to grab a healthy snack, get outside or go for a quick walk.  On your longer breaks, consider shooting hoops or playing a quick game of catch.  Exercise helps your brain in a number of ways, including fighting stress and improving your ability to focus.  (It’s true, really!)

If you are in a time crunch, instead of taking a break, switch subjects.  For example, if it is finals week, and you have a History final and Mathematics final on the same day, you may find it helpful to switch from History to Math after an hour and a half.

Take a break you earned it.jpg

So, schedule your break for a time that will be most helpful for you, and take that break you have earned it.  But do not, I repeat, do not go on Instagram.

 

study envionment

#6: Set up a Study Environment

Just as important as the way that you study is the environment in which you study.

Why?

Because much like your routine before you go bed, is the routine you Study deskestablish when studying.  For example, when you get ready for bed you might (hopefully) first brush your teeth, then wash your face, put on your pajamas, set your alarm, and finally hop into bed.  These steps, taken in the same order most nights, signal to your brain that it is time to sleep.  Forget one of your steps or add surfing the web while lying in bed to your routine, and you may find yourself tossing and turning.

take a tstThis is the same for when you study. If you listen to music while studying, your brain will associate the information you are learning with music.  So when you go to class and sit down to take a test, your brain will have a harder time recalling that information because it will be waiting for music that never actually plays.

Furthermore, the classroom environment is generally quiet, your desk is empty, and you’re sitting in a hardback chair.  So when studying try and mimic this layout and atmosphere.

 

Sleep icon

#7: Get Several Good Nights of Sleep

Speaking of sleep, getting several good night’s rest in a row is important.  When getting ready for a test, it is not enough to simpsleeply get in your eight hours of sleep the night before.  (And hey guys, it should be at least 8 hours.  Because, as an adolescent, your bodies and brains are working harder as they develop, studies  show that most teenager actually need closer to 9 1/2 hours to feel fully refreshed). Your body won’t feel the full effect of that rest until a couple of days later.  So, ideally, you want to be sleeping well for several nights in a row before a big test.

I can see many of you wondering, with all the studying I have to get done, how in the world am I going to get 9 1/2 hours of sleep, let alone 8?  Time management is key.  And if you take the steps mentioned above, you most certainly will have enough time to get the necessary sleep.

If, even after applying these study tips, you still do not have time to get enough sleep, you may want to look at the number of commitments you have made.  Between sports, school, extracurriculars and social activities, it is extremely easy to take on too much.  Many students think they have to do a lot in order to get into a good college.  But what will colleges appreciate more, a student who gets average grades because she has over-extended herself or a student who excels in the few activities she has committed herself to? Here’s a hint, it’s the latter.

Bottom line: go get some ZZZ’s.

 

Brain food icon

# 8: Eat Healthy Food

brain-food.jpgNot long ago a student was preparing for her finals, and her mother, knowing that she would have a lot of studying ahead of her, put together a care package of goodies to help her get everything finished.  This act was kind on her mother’s part, but the contents were cringe worthy.  Inside were salty pretzels, chocolate muffins, candy, soda and several other junk food items.  The irony here was that though her mother was trying to help her, this care package was not at all useful.  These foods would do nothing whatsoever to give her energy and the mental strength to get through finals, in fact these foods would work against her.

Eating “brain food” is another simple way to make your study time more effective.

Check out the chart below for suggested foods and their benefits.

Brain Foods.jpg

Read an article about brain food here.

 

study group

#9: Form a Study Group

study group funnyMany do not discover the power of a committed study group until after High School;  however, students as young as Jr. High can find study groups valuable.  We’re not talking about a group of friends who get together for an hour, talk for half of it, take selfies for another 15 minutes, and do not get around to studying until it’s almost time to leave.

What we are referring to is a study group with committed students whose goals really are to improve their grades and do well on tests. Kids who want to goof off, talk, or not do the work should not be invited.  And if you cannot get school work done with friends, then look for other serious students in your class.

This can be helpful for a number of reasons.  First of all, discussion is a powerful tool for learning.  Also, if you are not sure about something, there are several students you can go to for help.  Between a group of minds, one of the students is most likely going to have the answer or your group can reason it out together.  Lastly, if another student is unsure, this gives you the opportunity to teach them.  When you get the chance to apply what you learn, you deepen your understanding.

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goals icon

#10: Set an End Goal

Maybe, you are the type of student who knows exactly where you want to be in ten years.  Maybe you know exactly where you want to go to college.  Or maybe you are just trying to make it through the semester, so please stop talking about goals, thank you very much!  Regardless of where you are at, it is important to have objectives, whether they be short term or long term.
Star Wars Yoday GoalNot sure where you want to be in the future?  Take a few moments to reflect.  Decide what grades you want this semester.  Think about the college of your dreams.  Even go as far as what type of job you want.  Write them down.  Go back to them throughout the semester to remind yourself of what it is that you are working so hard for.

What is your motivation? What keeps you getting out of bed in the morning and going back to school every day?  All this time you are putting to school is not in vain.  You will use it down the road whether it seems like it or not.

Plan Goal.jpg

At the very least, school is a stepping stone to get you to where you want to get.  So when you feel overwhelmed and like you want to throw in the towel, remember your purpose for studying.  You are headed somewhere, and there is a reason for giving school your best effort.

. . .

Untitled-2We hope that this list gave you some helpful tips to study more effectively in the New Year.  Even if using just a few of these tips end up making your studying more efficient, then it was worth the effort of applying these tools.

Which one of these tips sound the most helpful?  Are there any tips not on the list that you use to study?

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© Oxford Tutoring 2015

Julia Author PicMeet the author:  Julia Myres is an ELA instructor at Oxford Tutoring who has been working with students for over 10 years.  She builds up her student’s confidence in the subjects they struggle with through encouragement and support.  Striving to make her students ready to tackle even the most difficult concepts as they move up in their education, she motivates her students to take their education into their own hands and thrive.

Contributors:

Alex Claude:  Alex Claude is an SAT and ACT ELA Director and an ELA tutor at Oxford Tutoring.  He takes the time to get to know his students so he can learn and apply how to best teach them.  Alex teaches his students how to effectively communicate through writing, and how to analyze informational texts and novels.

Jason Orens: Jason, a Math and Computer Science Instructor has been tutoring with Oxford Tutoring for over nine years.  Utilizing the student’s existing knowledge and a touch of humor, Jason strives to remove students mental barriers between themselves and the difficult, technical materials.  He combines his years of tutoring experience and expertise in the fields of Math and Computer Science to give his students the tools they need to succeed in these challenging classes.

Yuriko Lord: Yuriko is a Math and Science instructor who has been tutoring at Oxford Tutoring for over eight years.  Fully invested in her students, Yuriko sees her students through the demanding Math and Science courses, motivating her students through encouragement, accountability, and by challenging them to take their education into their own hands.  She incorporates visual and auditory tools into her tutoring method in order to best reach her student’s learning styles and educational needs.