Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Prairie Edition: Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Whenever I need something to talk to my English students about, I pick up the daily newspaper--the Leader-Post, if I hope we can learn from the crappy writing of an ex-columnist, or the Globe & Mail for something of interest on pretty much every page.

Today, for instance, the business section refers, over and over, to stagflation, an awkward portmanteau word. Reminds me of what was a fun exercise (for me at least) with the Sage Hill teens recently. Listing as many ordinary compound words as possible--tunesmith, wallpaper, hand signals, skydome--and switching around the parts, as in tunepaper, skysignals, handsmith, and so on.

The top story in "Life" is a review of a book called Good To Go: A Practical Guide to Adulthood, by Sharon McKay and Kim Zarzour, who is described as a "parenting journalist". What I would do with my first-year English class is try to talk about the experience of being, or having, a parent of a first-year university student. And turn it into writing somehow.

"Review & Sports" yields, in a column by television columnist Kate Taylor, this hyphen usage discussion-starter: the "traditional sex-kitten pose" (supposedly evoked by Pamela Anderson in her reality-tv show called Girl on the Loose). Perhaps not much would come of talking about that hyphen decision--the one between sex and kitten, I mean--made in Taylor's column, but many students seem surprised to learn how much choice they actually have every time they write a word or choose (not) to use a hyphen. Awareness of choice first, "correction" of choice maybe later.

How about this for an article, by John Ibbitson, at the bottom of page one: "People look warily at the Anglo in the good clothes, carrying a notepad and knocking on doors along this ramshackle row of trailer homes." Reads more like a column, doesn't it? What does this language do? While we talk about such matters, it might be fun just to imitate the sentence, slotting in replacement nouns, verbs, and modifiers.

Any of these ideas could lead to useful writing assignments. Also lucky for me, tomorrow's paper will be new.

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