Thursday, December 6, 2012

Three Reasons to Take Good Notes

Nardvark hates taking notes. He would rather eat banana pizza, sleep, or frankly even spend the whole day riding up and down in a bad-smelling elevator than take notes. But his good friend Nerdvark wants to convince him that there are three good reasons to take notes:
  • For research
  • For revision
  • For speed

Research - As you know, teachers love to assign research projects. Wouldn’t it be so easy if you could just go home, type the topic into Wikipedia, copy and paste the whole thing onto a Word document, print it off, and hand it in? But for whatever reason that’s not good enough for teacher, oh, no! Your research project also has to be in your own words! Well, by taking notes from Wikipedia (or better yet, a reputable website / book / journal written by someone who knows what they’re talking about  - see the links at the bottom of each Wikipedia page for that) you can then go on to write all the info in your own words. More on that here.

Revision - You hate reading text books and hand outs, so why go through the hassle of reading them a second time when revising for exams? The first time you read a text book or hand out from a teacher, take careful notes. Then when it’s time to revise, you just have to read through your notes. Of course, if your notes are not clear and you don’t understand something, you might have to re-read parts of the textbook again. Oh well, sucks to be you.

Speed - Sometimes teachers tell you things in class that you need to know for tests or homework or whatever, and they don’t really give you enough time to write it down. Some teachers are so mean, when you ask them to repeat it, they say stuff like, “No, I already said it twice.”  If you are good at taking notes, you will be able to note down the essence of what any teacher says simultaneously while they’re talking and you won’t miss anything important.

This is even more useful once you’re in university, and all you do all day is listen to professors talk and write down what they say.  It’s pretty much all important, too.  

Some students say, “No problem; I’m just going to record the lectures and take them home and listen to them again.” Really? Is that what you want to do? Listen to university professors talk all day, and then listen to it all again all night? And when exactly do you think you’ll have time to read the text books, do the research assignments, and revise for the exams? Take notes during the lectures!

Problem: Nerdvark wants a smoked-meat-on-rye sandwich, but Nardvark won’t bring him the Dijon mustard until he teaches him how to take good notes. Here it is, folks -- good note-taking:

The Text: (or lecture)

The Nardvark consults with its inner nerd
The Nardvark is a very rare creature. Only one is known to exist in captivity at the moment. The Nardvark is the result of an unfortunate hybrid breeding experiment between two very unlike species, the narwhal and the aardvark. The match was not expected to result in offspring, however, nature took its course and despite scientists’ attempts to destroy all fertilised eggs, one rolled under the counter and resulted in the Nardvark we know today.

The Nardvark can be described as uncommonly ugly, having received the less pleasing traits from the two parent donors. It also has many strange habits. It has a voracious appetite and is exceptionally lazy.  The only reason the Nardvark has survived this long is that it is able to project its inner nerd into the hall mirror for deep talks.


  • rare (only 1)
  • hybrid / experiment
  • narwhal <-> aardvark
  • scientists tried to destroy

  • long nose
  • beady eyes
  • long pointed ears
  • single horn on head
  • fat
  • gray
  • four stubby limbs
  • lazy
  • big appetite

saving grace = inner nerd projection

Friday, November 9, 2012

A Passage to India Page 1 - AS Essay Question

Nardvark was too chatty in class and didn't understand the difference between "point" and "diction." If you have the same confusion, look at Nerdvark's colour-coded notes for the Five Paragraph Essay on the AS exam-style question given from A Passage To India, below, and see if it clears things up.  Then try to develop the notes into a fantastic essay.  Don't forget to write an introduction with a hook and thesis, and to wrap everything up with a conclusion. Remember this is only part of the passage given in class (and on an exam); if you can add more points, your teacher will be impressed. Remember to add links to your paragraphs.

Comment closely on the following passage, focusing on how it introduces the setting.


Except for the Marabar Caves—and they are twenty miles off —the city of Chandrapore presents nothing extraordinary. Edged rather than washed by the river Ganges, it trails for a couple of miles along the bank, scarcely distinguishable from the rubbish it deposits so freely. There are no bathing-steps on the river front, as the Ganges happens not to be holy here; indeed there is no river front, and bazaars shut out the wide and shifting panorama of the stream. The streets are mean, the temples ineffective, and though a few fine houses exist they are hidden away in gardens or down alleys whose filth deters all but the invited guest. Chandrapore was never large or beautiful, but two hundred years ago it lay on the road between Upper India, then imperial, and the sea, and the fine houses date from that period. The zest for decoration stopped in the eighteenth century, nor was it ever democratic. There is no painting and scarcely any carving in the bazaars. The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving. So abased, so monotonous is everything that meets the eye, that when the Ganges comes down it might be expected to wash the excrescence back into the soil. Houses do fall, people are drowned and left rotting, but the general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.




Point: Forster used diction to introduce the setting.
Example: rubbish, filth, abased, excrescence, fall, drowned, rotting
Explanation: Words like “rubbish,” “filth,” and “excrescence” create a disgusting atmosphere. Words like “fall,” “drowned,” and “rotting” - used to describe how people and houses are left in the city - creates image of city of Chandrapore and inhabitants as neglected, poor, uncared-for.
Point: Forster used personification to describe the streets.
Example: “The streets are mean”
Explanation: makes streets seem alive – many interpretations – an effective literary device because it says so much in one word: the people in the streets are mean; streets perhaps are maze-like, convoluted, difficult to navigate; “mean” because they are dirty, “mean” because cobbled/uneven, “mean” because difficult to get taxis...
Point: Forster used a simile and alliteration to describe the buildings and people in the city
Example: “The very wood seems made of mud, the inhabitants of mud moving”
Explanation: saying the wood and people seem made of mud creates an image of the buildings and people as very dirty, covered in mud. The alliteration of the ‘m’ sound makes the reading very slow, to create an aural image of a slow-moving city, slow-moving inhabitants, feels like slow-motion – muddy people moving slowly through mud; mimics the sound of people moving through mud
Point: Forster used a simile to summarize the description of the city
Example: general outline of the town persists, swelling here, shrinking there, like some low but indestructible form of life.
Explanation: comparing the city of Chandrapore to a life form shows that it keeps changing. Saying it persists, is indestructible, shows that it is an old city. India is very old, people keep building new houses/buildings, or changing what exists, though the city is mean, dirty, disgusting, they persist in living there and keeping it alive.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Writing a Five-Paragraph Essay

We can use the Five-Paragraph Essay structure to write an essay about pretty much anything. 
Here, witness the illustrious Nardvark write an essay about one of his favourite topics, food.
Nardvark truly believes that pizza and banana go very well together. So his five-paragraph essay thesis is: "banana goes very well on pizza."

Like all good writers, Nardvark begins with an outline, or plan:

Paragraph 1: Introduction
                Hook Do you think that just because Pizza Hut doesn't have "banana" on their menu, that means it doesn't belong on pizza? What are you, a robot?
                Thesis: Banana goes very well on pizza; it is sweet, mushy, and unusual.
Paragraph 2 Body
                Point 1 sweet
                Example/evidence pineapple; ripe,  - yellow, not green or brown
                Explanation provides nice contrast to tart tomato sauce and cheesy cheese
                Link in addition, (for more linking words, look here and here)
Paragraph 3 Body
                Point 2 mushy
                Example/evidence easy to smush
                Explanation won't fall off pizza slice
                Link above all
Paragraph 4 Body
               Point 3 unusual
                Example/evidence just because it isn't on the menu doesn't mean it isn't good
                Explanation do something different for a change; break out of the mold; be unique
                Link don't be a robot
Paragraph 5: Conclusion
                haven't tried banana on pizza, go ahead.
                can't say it isn't delicious until tried.

Now Nardvark writes his essay in formal language, impersonal style. After going back to revise and edit, he will publish his excellent work here for you to read and enjoy.

Banana goes Well on Pizza
by Nardvark

Do you think that just because Pizza Hut doesn't have "banana" on their menu, that means it doesn't belong on pizza? What are you, a robot?  Banana goes very well on pizza; it is sweet, mushy, and unusual.

Like pineapple, which is often found on Hawaiian pizza, banana is a sweet, delicious pizza topping.  Ripe bananas are best for pizza, but not too ripe - it is best to use bananas when they are yellow, not green, as they are not sweet enough, and not brown, as they are overripe and thus too sweet.  The perfect sweetness of banana creates a pleasing contrast to the tart, zingy taste of tomato sauce and the mild cheesy cheese.  In addition to being sweet, bananas are also good on pizza because of their consistency.

Bananas are mushy, so unlike many pizza toppings, they do not fall off.  Large pieces of pineapple or capsicum slithering off your pizza slice and leaving a greasy stain on your lap can be a terrible irritation and ruin your pizza-eating experience.  This is not a problem with bananas, as the banana can be mushed on the pizza slice, where it stays put until the slice has been completely devoured.   Therefore, banana is a good, solid, topping, but above all, it is unusual.

Everybody seems to want to follow trends and be in fashion, but in today's fast-paced, quickly changing world, it is important to be able to start trends and begin new fashions.  Try doing something unusual, like putting banana on your pizza.  Just because it is not on the menu, does not mean it does not taste good.  One does not know until one tries.  However, by following what is prescribed by menus and fashions, one does not have the opportunity to break out of the mold, come up with new ideas, begin new trends.  Be the one to start something new; eat a slice of pizza with banana mushed on top.  Do not be a robot.

In conclusion, those who have not tried banana on pizza for the simple reason that it has never appeared on a pizza chain menu are missing out on a truly special pizza experience.  Banana is a unique pizza topping, sweet-tasting and it does not slip off.  It is impossible to say whether or not it is delicious without tasting it, so go give it a try.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Five Paragraph Essay Format

Five Paragraph Essay Format
This is your new favourite thing. It can be used to answer nearly any exam essay question—just memorize and apply the following outline. Remember that we usually write with the simple structure of introduction, body, conclusion. Use the PEEL rule in the body paragraphs.
Paragraph 1: Introduction
                Hook (make the reader want to read your essay)
                Thesis: answers the question with three points
Paragraph 2 Body
                Point 1 (from your thesis)
                Example/evidence (to support the point)
                Explanation (of how your example or evidence proves your point)
                Link (to the next paragraph, or back to the question. Create flow.)
Paragraph 3 Body
                Point 2 (from your thesis)
                Example/evidence (to support the point)
                Explanation (of how your example or evidence proves your point)
                Link (to the next paragraph, or back to the question. Create flow.)
Paragraph 4 Body
               Point 3 (from your thesis)
                Example/evidence (to support the point)
                Explanation (of how your example or evidence proves your point)
                Link (to the next paragraph, or back to the question. Create flow.)
Paragraph 5: Conclusion
                Restate thesis in different words / summarize 3 main points
                Show that you have finished the essay in a sophisticated way

Example essay question...
Comment closely on the ways in which the following poem presents old age and childhood.

Frances Cornford
I used to think that grown-up people chose
To have stiff backs and wrinkles round their nose,
And veins like small fat snakes on either hand,
On purpose to be grand.
Till through the banister I watched one day
My great-aunt Etty’s friend who was going away,
And how her onyx beads had come unstrung.
I saw her grope to find them as they rolled;
And then I knew that she was helplessly old,
As I was helplessly young.

(from "Songs of Ourselves" -- Cambridge Anthology)

Paragraph 1: Introduction
                Hook – As a young person, I can’t drive or vote.
                Thesis:  “Childhood” by Patricia Cornford presents old age and childhood through the use of rhyme, simile, and repetition.
Paragraph 2 body
                Point 1--rhyme
                Example/evidence –lines 1/2: “hand”, “grand”
                Explanation—the rhyming structure reminds the reader of nursery rhymes; takes the reader back to childhood.
                Link – the “hand” in rhyme is also used in a simile
Paragraph 3 body
                Point 2-- simile
                Example/evidence “veins like small fat snakes on either hand,” line 3
                Explanation—small fat snakes are an unpleasant image, shows that old age is unpleasant
                Link—simile is a literary tool; another lit tool is repetition
Paragraph 4 body
                Point 3--repetition
                Example/evidence “hopelessly”
                Explanation –we are not able to change our age or its limitations
                Link –can also use linking words in the next paragraph such as furthermore, in addition, on the other hand, additionally, finally, conversely, however...
Paragraph 5: Conclusion
                Therefore, by looking at literary tools used like similes and repetition and aspects of form such as rhyme, we can see that Cornford presents age as a trap from which we are unable to escape. Both old age and youth can be unpleasant because of their limitations. This poem makes me want to get as much out of life as I can, when I am able to, before I am limited by the physical restrictions of age.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Nardvark Discovers Really Random Literary Devices: Five Kinds of Imagery!

Everyone who's ever stayed awake during English class knows about imagery. It's where language is used really descriptively, so an image is created in the reader's imagination.

Yeah, cool. 

But did you know, did your teacher ever tell you, that imagery can be further subdivided into five kinds?  Five kinds of imagery, that correspond with the five senses: supercool! Well, Nardvark thinks so. He loves his five senses.

Here they are: the five kinds of imagery...
Visual Imagery - describe what you can see

Aural Imagery - describe what you can hear
Olfactory Imagery - describe what you can smell
Gustatory Imagery - describe what you can taste
Tactile Imagery - describe what you can feel

Now here is a fun exercise you can do to practise using the five kind of imagery: Get five things. Write a paragraph about each one, using one kind of imagery in each paragraph, and without mentioning what the thing is in the paragraph. Try to write the paragraph so descriptively the someone can guess what you're describing. Read the paragraphs to someone and see if they can figure out what you wrote about. If they can, congratulations! You may be the world's next Emily Bronte!

Which type of imagery is easiest to use? Why do you think this is? Which is hardest to use? Why? Which type of imagery would you use most if you were writing from the point of view of someone who is visually impaired? How about if you were writing from the point of view of a dog? 

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Denotation vs. Connotation

White, creamy, cow, chocolate milk, annoying babies, yogurt, ice cream, butter, cute babies, mother, latte, vanilla, smoothie, cats...
Today I asked my students to tell me what they associated with the word "milk", and these are some of the words they came up with.

The dictionary defines milk as:

The dictionary definition of a word is the DENOTATION.
But a word means so much more than the dictionary definition. When we are studying, writing about, or talking about literature, we have to look at all the associations, or CONNOTATIONS, surrounding the word. That's what my students came up with, above. What other connotations can you think of for milk? 

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Nardvark Discovers Really Random Literary Devices: Synesthesia

As well as being a bizarre neurological condition that may involve seeing a 3D calendar in ones mind's eye or considering letters of the alphabet to have colours and personalities, synesthesia is a cool literary device. 

Synesthesia is a literary device whereby the author or poet describes something by using the "wrong" sense; for example a coffee shop that smells red or an absolutely delicious new painting in the elevator lobby.

Surprise your English teacher by pinpointing the use of this funky writing tool in the following examples:

"I Heard a Fly Buzz" by Emily Dickinson contains the line "With Blue – uncertain stumbling Buzz – ". Emily used a colour (blue) to describe a sound (the buzzing of a fly.)

 In C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Peter's voice when he enters the Beavers' hiding place is "tired and pale in the darkness."  Here Lewis used a visual adjective (pale) to describe a sound (Peter's voice).

Now. Examples of synesthesia we hear and use every day, without even realisizing we're being all literary -- he/she's so hot; my boyfriend has been really cold lately; this book is so dry; that movie made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside... 

Next time you are looking for literary tools in English class, look for synesthesia.  Your English teacher will smile with noisy teeth.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Nerdvark's Favourite Linking Words - Part 2!

The Nerdvark had so much fun harassing Nardvark and sharing his tips on using effective linking words, that he is back with a second round.

Use these words and phrases to draw attention to a particular feature or idea.
Nardvark spends his day doing a lot of odd things.  He has daily half-hour practice sessions to perfect his skills at eating soda crackers and then whistling.  He sings in elevators to see if anyone will look at him.  Above all, Nardvark's most bizarre habit is to lie on his back and attempt to balance marbles on the tip of his nose.  This habit is particularly strange, because Nardvark has an extremely floppy nose, which makes marble-balancing exceptionally difficult for him.  It is especially strange to note that Nardvark spends several hours at it every day.  One would think he would dedicate his time to a more valuable pursuit, but no.  This is made significantly more disturbing when one considers the fact that Nardvark does not have a job and must rely on the pity of others to survive.

These words are used to add proof or evidence.  There is always the old stand-by:
Nardvark is not a pretty creature.  Take his nose, for example; it is ridiculously long and floppy.
or, try some variations:
Nardvark has a lot of strange physical features, such as his pointy ears, long nose, and silly grin.
Nardvark has a lot of bizarre habits.  For instance, he eats pizza with a spoon.
Nardvark has extremely ghetto tastes, as revealed by his penchant for ketchup.
Nardvark enjoys condiments more than he does his actual meals.  In the case of ketchup, he puts it on everything from scrambled eggs to ice cream.

Give your writing more flow and make it easier to follow by sequencing your ideas, like this:
     This is how Nardvark spends his day.  After sleeping until the crack of noon, he gets up and then proceeds to examine his nose in the mirror for up to half an hour.  Next, he prepares his first meal of the day, which I hesitate to call "breakfast" because it is taken after the time that most people eat lunch, and it rarely consists of any type of normal breakfast food, like cereal. Meanwhile, he is usually running the bath in his Jacuzzi tub so he can play with his boats after his meal.  Finally, Nardvark gets down to what he considers his important work of practising his nose-marble-balancing act.  If he stays awake, after balancing marbles on his nose for a few hours, he may decide to go sing in one of his favourite elevators or eat some soda crackers and then whistle.
     There are three things that drive Nardvark crazy.  First, I hide his ketchup and/or spoons so he can't eat until he finds them.  Second, and this really bothers him, I tell him that he will never balance that marble.  Third, when I blog about his strange looks and bizarre lifestyle for the lols it really irritates him.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Nerdvark's Favourite Linking Words

Who wouldn't want to let a few words take their writing from good to awesome?  Linking ideas together in your writing creates cohesion, flow, strength, and clarity.

Let the Nerdvark show you how by revealings some interesting facts about his buddy, Nardvark.

Adding ideas: 
The simplest way to add an idea is your typical and:
Nardvark is weird.  He likes bananas on his pizza and he eats it with a spoon.
More persuasive:
Nerdvark is weird.  As well as using a spoon to eat his pizza, he puts bananas on it.
In addition to putting bananas on it, that weirdo Nerdvark eats pizza with a spoon.
Nerdvark is so weird he puts bananas on his pizza.  Furthermore, he eats it with a spoon.

Drunken monkeys are extremely silly.  Nardvark is equally silly.
If you put vinegar in baking soda, it will fizz.  Similarly, if you put an intelligent thought in Nardvark's brain, it  too will fizz.
Dinosaurs had extremely small brains for the size of their bodies.  Likewise, Nardvark's brain is minuscule compared to his body.
As with lap dogs, if you try to speak to Nardvark using complete sentences, he will become confused.

Showing cause and effect:
You can always go with the old standby, because:
Nardvark ate his pillow because he thought it was a really big, squishy marshmallow.
Because can also go at the beginning of a compound (two-part) sentence:
Because he thought it was a really big, squishy marshmallow, Nardvark ate his pillow.
Nerdvark told Nardvark that his pillow was actually a big, delicious marshmallow.  Therefore, Nardvark ate it.
Nardvark erroneously mistook his pillow for an enormous marshmallow.  Thus, he ate it.
Nardvark woke up this morning to discover what he thought was a scrumptious marshmallow under his head, and consequently he needs a new pillow.

Have fun with these exciting linking words, and come back next time for more!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Read to Improve your English: "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" by Douglas Adams

This ingenious book by Douglas Adams has recently been added to the IB English approved reading list.  It is a science-fiction novel, but it is also really funny.  "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is the first book in a five-book trilogy (that's funny because trilogy means a series of three books.)

The amazing thing is that this book was published in 1979, but Douglas Adams must have been psychic or something, because The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in the book is pretty much a Kindle or iPad.  

To put things into perspective for you, this is what computers looked like in 1979: Apple II Advertisement 1979
To learn more about this relic, click here.

Now read on and enjoy this excerpt from "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:"

Ford handed the book to Arthur.
‘What is it?’ asked Arthur.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  It’s a sort of electronic book.  It tells you everything you need to know about anything.  That’s its job.’
Arthur turned it over nervously in his hands.
‘I like the cover,’ he said. ‘Don’t Panic. It’s the first helpful or intelligible thing anybody’s said to me all day.’
‘I’ll show you how it works,’ said Ford.  He snatched it from Arthur, who was still holding it as if it was a two-week-dead lark, and pulled it out of its cover.
'You press this button here, you see, and the screen lights up giving you the index.’
A screen, about three inches by four, lit up and characters began to flicker across the surface.
‘You want to know about Vogons, so I enter that name so.’ His fingers tapped some more keys.  ‘And there we are.’
The words Vogon Constructor Fleets flared in green across the screen.
Ford pressed a large red button at the bottom of the screen and words began to undulate across it.  At the same time, the book began to speak the entry as well in a still, quiet measured voice.  This is what the book said.
‘Vogon Constructor Fleets.  Here is what to do if you want to get a lift from a Vogon: forget it.  They are one of the most unpleasant races in the Galaxy – not actually evil, but bad-tempered, bureaucratic, officious and callous.  They wouldn’t lift a finger to save their own grandmother from the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal without orders signed in triplicate, sent in, sent back, queried, lost, found, subjected to public inquiry, lost again, and finally buried in soft peat for three months and recycled as firelighters.
‘The best way to get a drink out of a Vogon is to stick you finger down his throat, and the best way to irritate him is to feed his grandmother to the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal.
‘On no account allow a Vogon to read poetry at you.’
Arthur blinked at it.
‘What a strange book.  How did we get a lift, then?’

Simile - This compares the book to a dead bird.  The bird has been dead for two weeks, so it is probably smelly and covered in maggots and flies by this point.  Of course Arthur was not really holding a dead, maggoty bird.  This simile shows the reader what kind of attitude Arthur was holding the book with.  In this case, it would seem that he is not too thrilled to be holding this book.  This also gives us some insight to Arthur's character -- he is a bit of a wimp.          

Verbs - But not just any verbs.  These verbs are each carefully selected by the author to give the reader a good mental image of what the subjects of the verbs are doing, and also to invoke feelings to set or alter the mood of the passage.  "Flicker" tells the reader that the words are quickly flashing, and sets a technological mood.  "Tapped" shows the reader that Ford is an adept typist on the electronic book; he has used it a lot.  "Flared" is more ominous than "flicker," so it immediately warns the reader that they are going to find out some nasty things about the Vogons.  "Undulate" is also a bit of a creepy way for words to move.  It is something that worms or eels do.

Hyperbole - In other words, an exaggeration.  Hyperbole is often used in comedic works because it is funny to exaggerate.  

Repetition - The words "Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal" are pretty funny, so you can see why Douglas Adams would want to repeat them.  The repetition also ties this idea to the one before it, and is funny again because it reiterates to the reader just how bureaucratic the Vogons are, without going into the actual description again.

"Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" is not in the public domain yet, so you can't read it for free on Project Gutenberg.  But it's freaking hilarious, so you should read it, and the other four books in the trilogy, too.  You can buy them via his website:

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Read to Improve your English - "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London

This book is awesome because it is told from the point-of-view of a dog. It's not obvious, because Jack London's protagonist is a very human-like dog: he has human thoughts and feelings, and most importantly, in this story, he experiences the drive we all have from time to time--that to return to nature. That's The Call of the Wild.

Read the introductory paragraphs, and then scroll down below for my brief commentary on them.  For your convenience, literary tools are highlighted in a lovely pale orange.

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost. 

Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge Miller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached by gravelled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a more spacious scale than at the front. There were great stables, where a dozen grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages, an endless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumping plant for the artesian well, and the big cement tank where Judge Miller's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.

The mood shifts in these two paragraphs, from a hint of the danger that is to come in the first paragraph, to the pleasant surroundings that Buck will leave behind in the second. In the first paragraph, words like "groping," "darkness," "yellow metal" (instead of "gold"), "booming," "toil" and "frost" foreshadow a challenging future for Buck, working hard for men in the dark, cold north.  In contrast, in the second paragraph, we are introduced to Buck's comfortable home.  A pleasant atmosphere is built through words like "sun-kissed," "wide," and "cool." The second paragraph builds delightful visual imagery of Buck's home: "half hidden among the trees" shows that the house is approachable yet still private, and embedded in a natural environment. The word "approached" echoes the idea that friends and neighbours are welcome there. "Wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs" lets the reader imagine a wonderful place for a dog--space to play, and shade to relax in. Then London takes us to the back of the property, where "things were on even a more spacious scale" -- a big dog can truly have a wonderful day here.  The author then goes on to describe the surroundings in a consistently pleasant way: "vine-clad servants' cottages:" this personification make the buildings seem friendly; "orderly array:" the repeated 'r' sound echoes the orderly arrangement of these small buildings. Finally, the reader can see the rainbow of colours in the "grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches."  This visual imagery truly reveals Buck's home as a special place that no dog would ever want to leave.

You can see from all the orange how simple it is to pepper your commentary with literary terminology, in order to score highly in the third section of the marking criteria.

Read the entire novel on Project Gutenberg, and learn more about it at Shmoop. Whether you are reading for class or for pleasure, read The Call of the Wild to improve your English!

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Read to Improve your English - "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde

Oscar Wilde was an Irish author, playwright, and poet.  His full name was Oscar Fingal O'Flahertie Wills Wilde.  Although he died in 1900, his work is still very enjoyable to today's readers, and his epigrams and wise yet sometimes satirical thoughts are often quoted.

Oscar Wilde often wrote in such a way as to get his readers or audience to question their moral values or their lifestyles; to enter into a little self-reflection.  In The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian, a popular and extremely attractive young man, wishes that his painted portrait could bear the burden of his inevitable aging, so that he can stay young forever.  The brilliantly written story of what happens is in the public domain and can be downloaded from Project Gutenberg.

Oscar Wilde prefaced the story with a few paragraphs showing the paradoxes of art, which he finishes and summarizes with one of his most widely-quoted epigrams, "All art is quite useless." An epigram, in this context, refers to a short, satirical saying.  Oscar Wilde penned countless epigrams throughout his work.

Let's look at one of the introductory paragraphs to The Picture of Dorian Gray: in this paragraph, the artist, Basil Hallward, introduces a problem that is very present in nearly everybody's life, and it is this very problem that Wilde explores through the story.

First, we'll focus on vocabulary.  Click on the highlighted words to link to their dictionary definition.

"You don't understand me, Harry," answered the artist.  "Of course I am
not like him.  I know that perfectly well.  Indeed, I should be sorry
to look like him.  You shrug your shoulders?  I am telling you the
truth.  There is a fatality about all physical and intellectual
distinction, the sort of fatality that seems to dog through history the
faltering steps of kings.  It is better not to be different from one's
fellows.  The ugly and the stupid have the best of it in this world.
They can sit at their ease and gape at the play.  If they know nothing
of victory, they are at least spared the knowledge of defeat.  They
live as we all should live--undisturbed, indifferent, and without
disquiet.  They neither bring ruin upon others, nor ever receive it
from alien hands.  Your rank and wealth, Harry; my brains, such as they
are--my art, whatever it may be worth; Dorian Gray's good looks--we
shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly."

As soon as you go ahead and read this superb novel, you will see that it starts out with a pile of foreshadowing.  That is to say, Wilde hinted early at the upcoming events in the story.  In the paragraph above, Basil states that "We shall all suffer for what the gods have given us, suffer terribly." When you read the story, you'll see that Dorian does indeed suffer terribly, as do Basil and his friend, Harry.  

Another example of foreshadowing, more subtle, is in the very second paragraph of the story, with Harry gazing on a garden: "Lord Henry Wotton could just catch the gleam of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured blossoms of a laburnum, whose tremulous branches seemed hardly able to bear the burden of a beauty so flamelike as theirs..." Here, Wilde is hinting that beauty, while appearing sweet, can be a terrible, volatile burden to bear.  This is what Dorian Gray finds out as the story progresses.

Now, whether you are reading The Picture of Dorian Gray for school, or you just love reading fantastic literature, go and read the story.  For more detailed information on this brilliant little novel, don't forget to check out SparkNotes.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Read to Improve your English: The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

 The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald

This novel was set in New York in the 1920s.  F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in a very interactive style, so this story truly transports the reader to that place and time.

"The Great Gatsby" is in the public domain in Australia, so you can read or download the whole thing at Project Gutenberg Australia.

Let's start with vocabulary.  As you read the novel's introduction below, click on any of the highlighted words to find out their meaning.

In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.

"Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven't had the advantages that you've had."

He didn't say any more but we've always been unusually communicative in a reserved way, and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I'm inclined to reserve all judgments, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about that in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men. Most of the confidences were unsought--frequently I have feigned sleep, preoccupation, or a hostile levity when I realized by some unmistakable sign that an intimate revelation was quivering on the horizon--for the intimate revelations of young men or at least the terms in which they express them are usually plagiaristic and marred by obvious suppressions. Reserving judgments is a matter of infinite hope. I am still a little afraid of missing something if I forget that, as my father snobbishly suggested, and I snobbishly repeat a sense of the fundamental decencies is parcelled out unequally at birth.

F. Scott Fitzgerald used a lot of literary devices to make his writing more vivid and enjoyable to read. The highlighted passages below are examples of literary devices. See if you can figure out which device is used, and then scroll to the bottom of this entry to check if you were right.

And, after boasting this way of my tolerance, I come to the admission that it has a limit. Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes but after a certain point I don't care what it's founded on. When I came back from the East last autumn I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart. Only Gatsby, the man who gives his name to this book, was exempt from my reaction--Gatsby who represented everything for which I have an unaffected scorn. If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life, as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away. This responsiveness had nothing to do with that flabby impressionability which is dignified under the name of the "creative temperament"--it was an extraordinary gift for hope, a romantic readiness such as I have never found in any other person and which it is not likely I shall ever find again. No--Gatsby turned out all right at the end; it is what preyed on Gatsby, what foul dust floated in the wake of his dreams that temporarily closed out my interest in the abortive sorrows and short-winded elations of men.

Conduct may be founded on the hard rock or the wet marshes is an example of metaphor. “Conduct” is an abstract noun; it is not a person, place or thing, but an idea; “conduct” means the way we behave. In this metaphor, conduct is being compared to a building by saying it can be “founded” on a certain type of ground. This metaphor shows the reader that his or her basis for his or her conduct can be solid or mushy.

personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures has a repeated ‘s’ sound. This is called “sibilance.” It simply makes this passage sound nice to the ear (or the mind’s ear, as you are probably reading silently.) It builds up to the description of Gatsby as “gorgeous” later in the sentence. The pleasant sound of the sibilance makes it easier for the reader to accept that Gatsby, a character as yet unknown, is gorgeous.

as if he were related to one of those intricate machines that register earthquakes ten thousand miles away is a simile. It compares the man, Gatsby, to something that is powerful, useful, and enigmatic… this gives the reader a lot of insight into Gatsby without F. Scott Fitzgerald explaining that Gatsby has these traits.

Now, whether you are reading The Great Gatsby for class, or you just love to read awesome literature, you can find out more about it at Sparknotes. Read to improve your English!