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November 15, 2018 Previous day Next day

This blog series is written by Julia Domenicucci, an editor at Macmillan Learning, in conjunction with Mignon Fogarty, better known as Grammar Girl.


Six empty speech bubbles, each with a pair of opening and closing quotation marks.


This month’s post is a week early because of the holiday next Thursday. Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate!


Podcasts have been around for a while, but their popularity seems to increase every day—and for good reason! They are engaging and creative, and they cover every topic imaginable. They are also great for the classroom: you can use them to maintain student engagement, accommodate different learning styles, and introduce multimodality.


LaunchPad products include assignable, ad-free Grammar Girl podcasts, which you can use to support your lessons. If you’re teaching a lesson on quotation marks or integrating quotations, you can assign one (or all!) of these suggested podcasts for students to listen to before class. Each podcast also comes with a complete transcript, which is perfect for students who aren’t audio learners or otherwise prefer to read the content. To learn more about LaunchPad products and purchasing options, please visit Macmillan's English catalog or speak with your sales representative.


In your LaunchPad, see the unit “Grammar Girl Podcasts” for instructions on assigning podcasts. You can also find the same information online on the page “Assign Grammar Girl Podcasts.”


Podcasts about Quotation Marks

  • How to Use Quotation Marks [7:51]
  • Quotation Marks and Punctuation [5:02]
  • Punctuating Questions [7:07]
  • Single Quotation Marks versus Double Quotation Marks [6:13]


Students can do a lot more with podcasts than simply listen to them. Choose one or both of the following assignments for students to complete using the suggested Grammar Girl podcasts.


Assignment A: Ask students, either individually or in small groups, to write a script for their own podcast on a grammar topic. Students should consider the following questions as they develop their script:

  • What topic do they want to focus on?
  • How long do they want the podcast to be? (As with an essay, broader topics tend to result in longer podcasts. You may also want to set time limits.)
  • What do they already know about their chosen topic? What other questions do they still have about their topic? What will they need to research?
  • If the students are working in groups, how will they structure the podcast to accommodate the different narrators?


After drafting, ask students to submit their scripts. Each script should include a title and the expected duration. You may also want them to include a separate paragraph reflecting on the script writing process.


Assignment B: Have students record their podcast from Assignment A and share the files with their classmates. Reflect on the process and results as a group. Which parts of the project were easiest? Which were most difficult? Did they have to adjust their scripts at all during recording?


Recording podcasts can take a lot of time and sometimes involves a steep learning curve. If recording podcasts is not feasible for your class, have each student read their script aloud to their peers.


Do you have other suggestions for using podcasts in lessons? Let us know what they are in the comments!


Credit: Pixabay Image 1375858by 905513, used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


You've heard about it before: someone perches on the edge of a rooftop, or a waterfall, or a granite outcropping, to take a vertiginous photo of the drop off, hundreds—perhaps thousands—of feet below. Or reclines on a railway line to take a quick selfie as a locomotive looms in the background. Or does one thing or another that is exceptionally dangerous in order to get an eye-popping image that might capture a crowd on Instagram. . .and, sometimes, perishes in the act, as recently happened with a husband-and-wife team of travel bloggers in Yosemite National Park.


As I say, there's nothing new about this, and there are plenty of articles scattered all over the Internet detailing the phenomenon, often containing academic commentary on the meaning of it all, as does this article in Vice from 2017. So, given the familiarity of what might be called "Fatal Selfie Syndrome," and, more importantly, the fact that your students are likely to be part of the audience to which such photos are directed, this is a popular cultural topic that calls for semiotic analysis.


Let's start with the basics. The fundamental goal behind dangerous Instagram photos (or YouTube videos, etc.) is to get attention. While the most daring of the bunch also tend to be thrill seekers, thrill seeking is not the primary motivation for the simple reason that the chosen poses are designed for publicity, not for a privately enjoyed experience. But this elementary explanation then raises the question of what all this attention getting signifies.


Here we can go back to the early days of the Net. The advent of the personal web log and/or web page in the 1990s signified the emergence of a democratizing challenge to the hierarchical structures of traditional mass media, offering a way for ordinary people to make themselves seen and heard. MySpace—a kind of pre-packaged personal web site with audio and images—took the process a step further, widening the breach in the wall (in Pink Floyd's sense of the word) of mass cultural anonymity, while opening up new opportunities for commercial self-promotion.


The Instagram daredevils – and increased competitive stakes – are a consequence of what happens when democratic opportunity collides with a mass scramble for individual distinction. With so many people publicizing themselves on social media, it becomes harder and harder to get anyone to notice. This is especially problematic for those who exploit the Internet as a source of personal income, seeking to attract advertising dollars by attracting large numbers of views. So much money is at stake now that a sort of arms race of ever-more-daring stunts has ensued, effectively creating a new Internet hierarchy of online Evel Knievels contending with each other to make the cut.


The semiotic upshot of all this is that social media are not merely addictive, they are expressions (and extensions) of a hypercapitalistic society so taken up with monetizing every corner of human existence that personal experience itself is now for sale—in fact, one might say that personal experience is being sought for the sake of a sale.


Behind the scenes of this dramatic interplay between risk-entrepreneurs and their followers is the advertising that pays for it all. James Twitchell has called America an "advertising culture" (or "adcult"), and the Instagram economy can be said to signify an adcult in overdrive, careening through a consumer marketplace so splintered into niches and sub-niches that those with goods and services to sell are ever on the lookout for new ways of reaching anyone who is likely to buy their stuff. So if you can survive your latest, rather literal, peek into the abyss and get it up onto the Net, you may be able—thanks to all those advertisers who want to reach the kind of people who want to see you do it— to shudder all the way to the bank.



Image Credit: Pixabay Image 2034239 by Alexas_Fotos,used under a CC0 Creative Commons License


Last week I had an opportunity to visit with colleagues and students at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. It has been some years since I was last there and I was amazed to see how the campus has grown—up to 65,000 students! As a kid growing up in Florida, I had only the U of Florida and Florida State to choose from (and Florida State was just moving to co-ed!), so seeing all the new campuses that have grown up over the decades is impressive indeed.


I was glad to see the Department of Writing and Rhetoric (no longer part of English) thriving and met some grad and undergrad students who told me the Department’s mission resonated with them:

Everyday life in the 21st century involves composing and understanding complex messages in multiple media and in varied contexts. In order to address challenges related to composing, rhetoric, and literacy in school, workplace, civic, and community settings, Department of Writing and Rhetoric (DWR) faculty engage in innovative research and teaching, often collaborating with students as well as community and campus partners to undertake this work. Additionally, as a department, we provide academic and public leadership on writing-related issues.
Students in our undergraduate and graduate programs receive a comprehensive education in writing and rhetoric that enables them to communicate effectively, persuasively, and ethically across a range of civic, professional, and educational contexts.

The Department offers a BA in Writing and Rhetoric and an MA in Rhetoric and Composition as well as a Professional Writing Certificate—and oversees the First Year Composition Program and The University Writing Center. I was on campus to address the Department faculty and students, and the person who brought me to campus thoughtfully let me out right at the door to the new building the Department occupies. I was to wait for her to return from parking, but once inside I spotted The Writing Center and made straight for the entry. The young woman at the reception desk welcomed me and introduced me to grad student tutors and gave me a tour of the light and airy—and spacious—Center. Throughout this post are a few photos of the Center.


From the Center, I got to tour the Department offices and take a look at the curriculum. I was particularly impressed with their outcomes statement and with their assignments for both Writing 1101 and 1102, especially when I got to read examples of student work. For the first course, I read essays that had been published in their Stylus: A Journal of First-Year Writing, notably Julie Wan’s “Chinks in My Armor: Reclaiming One’s Voice”; Shravan Yandra’s “Note-Taking Involving Native and Modern Languages: A Detailed Analysis of My Code-Meshing”; and Jaydelle Celestine’s “Did I Create the Process? Or Did the Process Create Me?” These essays engaged me thoroughly—they were well thought-out, well written, and managed to balance traditional research with personal experience offered as (powerful) evidence.


Students I spoke with were enthusiastic about the courses they were taking, which is always refreshing when those courses happen to be required. Writing about the program, one student said

The writing program is really a journey into the art and science of communication. I thought I knew what to expect, but I was utterly and pleasantly surprised. This isn’t your mother’s comp program—this is ‘take it to the real world’ stuff.


The day I visited UCF was November 6, mid-term election day. I spoke with students about their writing and how they hoped it could help them get their voices heard. Some had managed to vote on campus, but others who came from out of state had not voted: they promised to look into absentee voting in the future (!). But what an uplifting experience it was to visit yet another outstanding writing program, to know that in the face of so much negativity and division and, yes, even hate, that writing teachers are keeping faith, continuing to engage and inspire writers to write honestly, think critically, and speak their own truths.


Image Credit: Andrea Lunsford