Writing can be improved no matter what your age

October 25, 2012|Lisa Prejean

On a recent evening, I noticed something as I was reading a stack of essays.

I kept marking the same things over and over again on the papers of my students. It seemed as if they were all making the same mistakes ... mistakes that I had marked before.

How should a teacher combat those pesky common errors?

Students strongly dislike the marks of a red pen. Sometimes, an abundance of red ink makes them hesitant to review the paper.

"Why bother?" They think. "This paper must be so bad, I probably can't even fix it."

That defeated mentality is the last thing I want for my students. I want them to feel capable, intelligent and enthusiastic about their writing.

Technology comes to the rescue as presto, a PowerPoint presentation on sharp writing is created.

Anything I do with a computer and a screen catches my students' attention. Frankly, I think most of them had keyboards in their cribs.

Hey, if technology is what it takes to make them sit up and listen, I say plug it in and let's go.

Here are some things I pointed out in the presentation for my tenth-graders:

 Avoid second person. Second person pronouns include you, your, yours. Instead, use third person: he, she, they, them.

 There is a difference between might and may. Use might to indicate possibility. Use may to indicate permission.

For example: "Mother, may I go to the mall?"  (permission)

"We might go to the mall tomorrow if you don't have too much homework," Mother said. (possibility)

 Know when to use "more than" and when to use over. Use "over" for spatial relationships. Use "more than" with figures. For example: The bird flew over the tree. Our school has been in existence for more than 40 years.

 Don't insert yourself into an essay. Avoid writing "I believe that …"  We know the one wrote it believes it.

 Replace verb-adverb combinations with one verb.

For example: Use "establish" for "set up"

 Its and It's ... It's is a contraction for it is. Its is a possessive pronoun.

For example: Bruce said it's going to be warm today. (This could also written: Bruce said it is going to be warm today.)

The house has lost its left front shutter. (The shutter belongs to the house.)

 Avoid splitting an infinitive. ("To" plus a verb is an infinitive.)

 Don't place an adverb between the "to" and the verb.

For example, "to openly speak about the crime" should be written as "to speak openly about the crime."

Hopefully my students learned a little bit from the presentation. Hopefully you did, too. After all, we're never too young or too old to become better writers.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Email her at

The Herald-Mail Articles