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LinguaPhile, December 2000

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


Portico Books News . . .

We welcome new subscribers from the International Dyslexia Association convention that met in Washington, DC, last month. We hope you enjoy LinguaPhile and recommend it to your colleagues.

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Have you considered giving "Hands-On English" products as gifts? They would be wonderful for grade school or high school students, for education majors or beginning teachers, for people learning English as their second language, really for anyone who would like quick access to English fundamentals. You can order directly from

Are you yourself an impoverished college student, beginning teacher, or young parent? Take this opportunity to put "Hands-On English" products on your holiday wish list. Let your family and friends know they can shop for you from

Portico Books now offers Hands-On English, The Activity Book (Teacher's Edition), and Hands-On Sentences as a "Package" for $45.00 -- a savings of $4.95.

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In addition to the new "Package," we now have a T-shirt. The front features the familiar "Hands-On English" in yellow on a blue background. The back provides an opportunity to match the parts of speech with their icons.

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Quote of the Month

Our language, one of our most precious natural resources, is also a dwindling one that deserves at least as much protection as our woodlands, streams, and whooping cranes.
--James Lipton, 20th C. writer


Expand Your Vocabulary: perspicacity, perspicuity . . .

Much of the student's perspicacity could be attributed to the perspicuity of his textbook.

Both perspicacity and perspicuity are nouns derived from a Latin word meaning "to see through clearly." Although the words are not proper synonyms, they have been confused for centuries and their synonymous use is becoming accepted. In the strict sense, perspicacity means "keenness of mental perception; discernment"; perspicuity means "clearness or lucidity, as of a statement." They are related in the same way that "intelligence" and "intelligibility" are related. Each noun has an adjective form -- respectively "perspicacious" and "perspicuous."

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Q & A: Proofreading . . .

Question: How can I get my students/children to be better proofreaders?

Answer: This has been a refrain of educators for decades. First of all, I want to distinguish between proofreading and revising. By revising I mean "improving the content of a piece of writing." This would include such things as topic development, organization, support, word choice, and sentence structure. Proofreading, on the other hand, means "correction of mechanical errors," primarily spelling, usage, capitalization, and punctuation. In the writing process, revising should precede proofreading. Young writers, however, are likely to develop their proofreading skills before their revising skills. Proofreading is more basic, more objective. Proofreading questions usually have right or wrong answers. Revising questions usually have "better" or "worse" answers and are therefore more difficult.

Becoming a good proofreader, then, really involves two skills: knowing the correct form, and spotting (and fixing) the error. Exposure to correct use of language, whether oral or written, helps students internalize correct patterns. I believe it is also important for students to have a handbook where they can quickly and easily find answers to questions that may arise (hence, Hands-On English). Practice such as that provided by The Activity Book or Daily Oral Language can also help students learn correct forms.

The second step of this two-step process is no less formidable than the first. We all realize that knowing the rules does not ensure an essay free of mechanical errors. While the following techniques are not guaranteed, they may prove helpful.

1. Rather than have a student read through an essay attempting to correct all errors, have that student focus on one type of error at a time. The Editing Checklist on page 142 of The Activity Book can be very helpful for this. Have the student focus on one skill, such as having all sentences complete. The student can review the appropriate rules and then go through the composition looking for just that one thing. Another time through, the student might check for something else, such as correct spelling. Let the student know which types of errors you expect him or her to correct. Others may be corrected with a peer or by the teacher. The student will gradually assume responsibility for more corrections as skills are mastered.

2. A specific technique that helps some students identify errors in wording or spelling is to have them point to each word and read it aloud (at a rate no faster than two words per second). Since students frequently read what they meant to write rather than what is on the paper, it can be helpful to have a peer monitoring the reading and stopping the student when the word read does not match the word on the paper.

3. One of the best ways to utilize peers is to establish an open atmosphere of consultation and collaboration. Students will learn their peers' areas of expertise and will select their advisors judiciously. As students not only provide the right answer but explain the reasoning behind it, both students will enhance their understanding.

4. Attractive publishing venues -- such as classroom displays, individual books, anthologies, gifts, or letters -- can spark motivation to proofread more effectively.

5. Nebulous as it is and idealistic as it sounds, nurturing an interest in and a respect for language can help students realize the importance of exerting extra effort to use language correctly.

We invite your questions for this feature. Send them to Fran at GrammarAndMore.

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Review: How To Have Intelligent and Creative Conversations with Your Kids by Jane M. Healy . . .

Jane Healy has written perspicuously about the learning process and impediments to thinking in the electronic age. In this small volume she provides step-by-step concrete suggestions for engaging children in open-ended discussions about questions that do not have right answers. Such conversations can help children become better thinkers, better communicators, and better problem solvers. The techniques that Dr. Healy delineates can be used at home, at school, when traveling, anywhere that a conversation can occur.

Dr. Healy suggests that adults begin by setting aside time for creative conversations with children and by making sure that all participants know the ground rules. She suggests many ways adults can model creative thinking as well as ways they can encourage children to express themselves. She offers specific ways to acknowledge a statement, restate it, clarify it, disagree with it, redirect it, and expand it.

About half the book comprises what Healy calls "playful ponderings" -- examples of the open-ended questions that can serve as the catalyst for conversations. She divides these into three levels:

Mind-Openers (for primary-aged children; dealing with concrete objects and experiences). Example: How can you tell that someone is your friend? What do you need to do to be a friend?

Mind-Stretchers (for third graders through adolescents). Example: Design the perfect house pet. What would you name it?

Mind-Bogglers (for mature middle schoolers, teens, and adults; requiring abstract reasoning skills). Example: Why do you suppose people sing?

Many questions are followed by conversation hints and follow-up questions. A special feature is the suggestion of read-aloud selections to enhance discussion. The bibliography includes additional guides to read-alouds as well as sources on communication, creative thinking, and questioning.

How to Have Intelligent and Creative Conversations with Your Kids is a valuable resource for any parent or teacher -- or anyone else who wants to help children develop their thinking and communication skills.

Available from on a limited basis.
How to Have Intelligent and Creative Conversations with Your Kids, First Edition By Healy, Jane M.

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Suggestions for Writing

1. Emily Dickinson, who was born on December 10, 1830, is regarded as one of the greatest poets of all time. In stark, haunting poetry, she presents life from her unique perspective. Her poetry -- with its irregular rhythm, slant rhyme, and unconventional word use -- reflects her personal eccentricity. Dickinson lived as a recluse for most of her life, scarcely leaving her home during her last decades. Although Dickinson wrote more than 1700 poems during her 56 years, she published less than a dozen during her lifetime. She directed that her poems be burned after her death. Emily's younger sister, Lavinia, however, contravened Emily's wishes and had the poems published.

Do you think Lavinia's actions were ethical? Was it permissible to share these intriguing poems with the world, or should Emily's wishes have been followed and her privacy preserved? Support your opinion in an essay, or prepare to defend your viewpoint in a discussion or debate. (Also take time to read some of Dickinson's poetry -- even though its quality may have no bearing on the ethics of Lavinia's actions.)

2. Explain what makes [favorite seasonal holiday] special to you. You might do this in the framework of a five-paragraph essay: an introduction, three paragraphs each supporting one reason, and a conclusion. Presenting your second-strongest reason first and saving your strongest for last usually makes the most effective presentation. Support each reason with specific details. Use some concrete words that will create sense images in your reader's mind. For your conclusion, consider what you want your reader to know or feel after reading your essay. What do you need to include to achieve that impression?

3. Identify the particular Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanza, or other celebration that stands out most in your mind. Consider what makes it so memorable. Was it a particular person, an event, a comedy of errors? Recreate this celebration in a story or essay so that your reader can experience it as you did. Do not try to tell everything that happened during your celebration. Instead, select the details that support the impression you are trying to convey.

4. Most of the questions listed in Jane Healy's book, reviewed above, would provide effective stimulus for writing.

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Puzzler: Can You Decipher Disguised Titles and Sayings? . . .

A. Can you decipher the titles of these well-known Christmas songs in which less familiar words have been substituted?

1. Approach, Everyone Who Is Steadfast
2. Ecstasy Toward the Orb
3. Hey, Minuscule Urban Area South of Jerusalem
4. Quiescent Nocturnal Period
5. The Autocratic Troika in First Person
6. A Melodic Composition Reverberates Throughout the Ozone
7. During the Time Ovine Caretakers Supervised Their Charges Past Twilight
8. The Thing Manifested Itself at the Onset of a Transparent Day
9. Seraphim We Have Aurally Detected in the Stratosphere
10. Valentino, the Roseate Olfactory-Organed Wapiti

B. Here is another list, especially for those subscribers who do not celebrate Christmas. Can you decipher these familiar adages that have been obscured by the substitution of less familiar words?

1. Members of an avian species of identical plumage congregate.
2. Surveillance should precede saltation.
3. It is fruitless to become lachrymose over precipitately departed lacteal fluid.
4. The stylus is more potent than the claymore.
5. It is fruitless to attempt to indoctrinate a superannuated canine with innovative maneuvers.
6. The temperature of the aqueous content of an unremittingly ogled posnet does not reach 212 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Where there are visible vapors having their prevalence in ignited carbonaceous materials, there is conflagration.
8. Male cadavers are incapable of yielding testimony.
9. Individuals who make their abode in vitreous edifices would be advised to refrain from catapulting petrous projectiles.

(Neither the song titles nor the adages are original -- but a few are slightly edited. They are among the many goodies I acquired during my teaching career. I am sorry that I do not know the author so that I can give proper credit.)

An activity to have students use a thesaurus to create "translations" for their classmates to decipher is on page 118 of The Activity Book.

Answers next month.

Answer to November puzzle:

1. underground
2. boldface, feedback

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Best wishes to all for a safe and happy holiday season -- and special times with family and friends.


Thank you for reading. If you find LinguaPhile helpful and interesting, don't keep it a secret! Consider which of your friends would also enjoy it, and send them information about subscribing. We welcome your comments and suggestions:

© 2000 Fran Santoro Hamilton


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