Grammar Workshops

A Grammar Workshop for Writers

Alyssa Pelish will lead the Spring 2018 Grammar Workshop Series for students. This series will serve as a creative laboratory where students will review grammar basics, experiment with grammar rules, seek personalized grammar counsel and gain self-awareness of their own stylistic habits---all toward the goal of becoming more effective writers. Each workshop will include playful, imaginative writing exercises that will help students re-engage the serious work of academic writing with greater clarity and control.


The dates and times of this spring's grammar workshops for students are as follows:


Stunning Sentences: Friday, 2/9 | 10:30-11:30 AM | Milbank 202

How aware are you of the structure of your sentences? Are you crafting sentences strategically, conscious of the subtle — even startling — shifts in focus that a shift in structure may create? Or are you unconscious of these possibilities and just sort of letting your sentences … happen? In this workshop, we’ll zero in on the essence of any sentence: the subject and the verb. Aware of the dynamic between these two elements, you’ll be able to chart the course of more complex structures that stem from them. We’ll then consider examples of powerful writing that exploit sentence variety to elegant effect, and we’ll practice constructing sentences along a continuum of complexity.


Powerful Punctuation: Friday, 2/23 | 10:30-11:30 AM | Milbank 324

The history of punctuation is the history of a culture’s development from oral to written. We don’t need punctuation to understand someone’s speech, but we do need it if we want to make sense of that speech once it’s been written down. In the texts we read and write today, periods, commas, dashes, semicolons, colons, parentheses (and more) help us parse the meaning of what might otherwise be a confusing string of words. (Believe it or not, legal decisions have actually hinged on the presence or absence of a comma!) This workshop will sharpen the tools in your punctuation toolbox, equipping you to firmly suture clauses together, briskly chop others up, and lead all of your sentences to meaningful conclusions.


Trailblazing Transitions: Friday, 3/2 | 10:30-11:30 AM  | Milbank 324 

Do your thoughts arch gracefully or swerve precipitously from one sentence to the next? Are your juxtapositions, comparisons, contrasts, and conclusions able to carry the load? Or are you leaving your reader with only a gaping chasm between the thoughts in one sentence and those in the next? Transitional words, phrases, and sentences are the bridges that carry our thinking from one sentence to the next, transferring the freight of our argument from one statement to another and allowing our readers to follow our train of thought without faltering. In this workshop, we’ll examine the architecture of a wide variety of transitions, from serviceable foot bridges to grand suspension bridges — not to mention the all but invisible connections created through juxtaposition. With these models in mind, we’ll practice laying down ready-made transitions as well as building our own.


Special Topics for ESL Students: Friday, 3/30 | 10:30-11:30 AM | Milbank 324

When to use the? When to use a? When to use neither the nor a? Does one say in Barnard or at Barnard? Does one research on a topic or just research a topic? Articles and prepositions are those tiny but telling details of the English language that can trip up just about anyone who’s not a native speaker. (And even native speakers stumble over them from time to time.) This workshop will introduce you to resources and ways to think about articles (the and a) and prepositions (on, in, off, at, by, to, over, through, etc.) that you can lean on as you write and revise.


Incredible Quoting: Friday, 4/6  | 10:30-11:30 AM | Milbank 324

Think of the quotations in your paper like precious cargo: having been carefully chosen, they must now be handled with care. Situated in just the right place in a paragraph, and cushioned by a strategic arrangement of your own words, a quotation adds credibility to a writer’s assertions and reveals the texture of the text you’re analyzing. But dropped willy nilly into your writing, without regard for the sentences surrounding it, a quotation’s value decreases rapidly. In this workshop, we’ll examine how skillful writers pluck lines from other texts and integrate them into the syntax of their own sentences. We’ll then practice different ways of introducing and integrating quotations into our own writing, from deciding on the best quoting verb to finding the right rhythm.


Breaking the Rules: Friday, 4/13 | 10:30-11:30 AM | Milbank 202

Avoid using the passive voice. Never end a sentence with a preposition. Never begin a sentence with “but” or “and.” “They” refers only to a plural subject. Sentence fragments are bad. Chances are you’ve heard all or some of these usage rules during your time in school. So what’s the story behind them, and when can breaking these rules actually be rhetorically effective? In this workshop, we’ll consider these supposed usage taboos and any others you’re wondering about. Once you understand the story behind them, you’ll be able to decide when you want to follow them to the letter and when you want to deviate meaningfully from them.


Community Discussion on Rhetorical Grammar: Friday, 4/20 | 10:30-11:30 AM | Milbank 324




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