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LinguaPhile, August 2000

A monthly e-mail newsletter nurturing the development and enjoyment of English language arts at home and at school.


Portico Books News . . .

Welcome to the inaugural issue of LinguaPhile, a free e-mail newsletter published by Portico Books. Future issues will be delivered on the first Tuesday of each month. You may be receiving this first issue because you provided your e-mail address in order to be informed of Portico Books' new products. We hope you will subscribe so that you can receive the newsletter regularly.

We also hope that you'll inform your friends and colleagues about our newsletter and our Web site.

In addition to "LinguaPhile" and GrammarAndMore, Portico Books has some other new products, described below.

* * *

Hands-On Sentences is a card game that promotes understanding of parts of speech and provides practice in sentence construction.

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The Activity Book, providing practice on the concepts in Hands-On English, is now available in three editions. Purchase of the Student Edition eliminates the need to photocopy. The introductory price of the Teacher's Edition (the only reproducible version) will expire on October 1, 2000. If you've been planning to order this -- or to tell a friend or colleague about it, act now.

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As you're preparing for a new school year, you might want to reprint our School Success Tips, "Two Dozen Things Parents Can Do to Ensure a Successful School Year for Their Child."

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Quote of the Month . . .

Writing is like driving at night. You can see only as far as the headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. -- E.L. Doctorow, American writer, b. 1931


Expand Your Vocabulary . . .

As the shopkeeper handed me my sack of groceries, he said, "Now, this here bit of seasoning is a little lagniappe from me to you. You try it with those greens you just bought. You'll like it!"

lagniappe (lan YAP or LAN yap) n. something given, with a purchase, to a customer as a compliment or expression of good will. Used chiefly in southern Louisiana and southeastern Texas. From Louisiana French and American Spanish.

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Q & A: Hyphenating Adjectives . . .

Question: I always have trouble deciding whether to hyphenate words such as "sixth grade." Is there a rule for this?

Answer: Hyphenation and compounding can indeed pose problems. I often check a dictionary to see if words that seem like compounds should be one word, two words, or hyphenated. Not only does the spelling evolve over time, but often it depends on the word's particular use in the sentence. Two words that combine to make an adjective that precedes its noun are usually hyphenated:
seventh-grade student, fourth-grade text; seventh grader
He is a well-known actor.
That actor is well known.

If the first part of the hyphenated adjective is compound, it is written with a hyphen followed by a space:
first- and second-place ribbons
Her project won first place in the science fair.

The first step in dealing successfully with these words is to give them the special attention they require.

Send questions for this feature to Fran at GrammarAndMore.

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Help for the Struggling Writer . . .

Try this 4-step process to help a struggling writer.

  1. Have the person dictate his or her composition to you or another "scribe."
  2. Have the person recopy the correct composition, paying close attention to capitalization, punctuation, spelling, paragraphing, etc. The copy could be either handwritten or typed on the computer.
  3. Have the person write the composition, or part of it, from dictation. If you suspect the person is unable to spell some words that will be needed, make those spellings available.
  4. Have the person write the composition, or part of it, without referring to earlier versions. (The spelling list may still be used.) The goal is not to use exactly the same words but to effectively express ideas.

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Classroom Mixer . . .

How about starting the school year with an activity to help students appreciate both their similarities and their differences?

Prepare a sheet with verb phrases that could describe a number of students. There should be at least as many phrases as there are students (plus teachers). To the left of each phrase put a blank several inches long. Here are a few examples:

____________________ has a collection.
____________________ plays on a sports team.
____________________ has a pet.
____________________ has traveled more than 500 miles from home.
____________________ likes spinach.

Give a copy of the sheet to each person in the class. People then move freely around the room, asking questions based on the information on the sheet, such as, "Do you like spinach?" The name of a student who answers a question affirmatively is written on the blank beside the verb phrase. The goals are to fill as many blanks as possible and to get as many different names as possible. It is important for students to ask questions, not just hand their sheet to a classmate and say, "Write your name where it fits." You might also want to require students to move on to another classmate after three negative responses.

After students have gathered signatures for about twenty minutes, you might wrap up the activity by asking questions that focus on students' common and diverse interests:

Who has a collection? (Students can see who has something in common with them.)

What do you collect? (Students can see how their interests differ.)

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Book Review . . .

Nothing But the Truth by Avi

Nothing But the Truth, by award-winning author Avi, provides fascinating reading for children and adults alike. Whether you think Philip Malloy is a smart aleck who got what he deserved or consider him the innocent victim of an authoritarian teacher, you will be spellbound as a classroom incident gradually escalates to a national controversy.

Avi calls Nothing But the Truth a "documentary novel." He offers no commentary. Rather he provides various documents -- memos, transcripts of conversations, diary entries, etc. -- so that readers can draw their own conclusions from primary sources.

Nothing But the Truth offers many lessons about life and about literature. Readers can see the far-reaching consequences of casual actions. They can contemplate the enforcement of rules and grapple with the question of responsibility.

Nothing But the Truth provides a perfect example of objective writing and a wonderful opportunity to discuss point of view. Readers can then examine the process of inference: Exactly what leads them to the conclusions that they draw?

An interesting way to study the novel is to have a class read it aloud with the same students reading the main characters' roles throughout. Reading can be alternated with discussion. You may find it difficult to determine where characters' points of view leave off and students' begin.

Especially recommended for middle schoolers.

Published by Orchard Books, 1991.
Available from Nothing But The Truth: A Documentary Novel

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Puzzler . . .

Which nine-letter word has only one (unrepeated) vowel?

Answer next month.

(Hint: The word appears more than once on the GrammarAndMore site.)

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Thank you for reading. I hope you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting. Please send any comments or suggestions to Fran at

© 2000 Fran Santoro Hamilton

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