Tag Archives: mnemonics


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In our books, we group being/helping/linking verbs together since they often serve the same purpose, and they all have the same modifiers (i.e. adjectives modifying noun before BHL verb as opposed to adverbs modifying the verb), etc. 

To help you remember the Be, a Helper, Link verbs, there is a little rhyme that you can sing to the tune of ABC’s (or “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”):

Be, a Helper, Link verbs,

Is, Are, Am, Was, & Were.

Be, & Being, Been, Become,

Has, & Had, & Have are ones.

(Now I said my ABC’s)
Can, Could, Shall, Should—they are fun.

(Next time won’t you sing with me?)
Will, Would, Do, Did, Does, & Done.

May, Might, Must—they are some as well,

Appear, Look, Seem, Remain, Taste, Feel, & Smell.

B is for BHL VERBS!

There are a number of reasons to memorize being, helping, and linking verbs:

(1) When one stands alone as a linking verb or is used before a base verb as a helping verb, it is the verb that you match with the subject: He IS happy…is must match with He; they ARE going (are must match with they.

(2) They tell WHEN something happened (present, past, etc.).

(3) When one stands alone, it may have an adjective following it–which is going back to the noun or pronoun before it, describing that noun or pronoun. (You do not use an adverb with a single BHL verb.)

(4) When one stands alone, it should have the subjective form of a pronoun following it (if it has a pronoun following it), not the objective: This is SHE (not this is HER).

(5) When a base verb follows has, had, or have (and oftentimes was and were), it should be in its past participle tense:

a. has written
b. had gone
c. have done
d. had lain
e. has risen
f. have come

WORDY WEDNESDAY: Capitol vs. Capital

The Only use for the word capitOl with an O is when referring to the capitOl building/buildings!        

Yep, you read that caption correctly! Contrary to what many people believe, capitOl does not refer to the head city, a good idea, or money invested. CapitOl Only refers to the capitOl building.

Here is the rundown:

1. Capitol
    a. Only has one use that we widely implement.
    b. Means the building or group of buildings in which the functions of government are carried out.
    c. Think. CapitOl Only means Office buildings for gOvernment–that is the Only meaning.

2. Capital
        a. All other uses of capital are the a one—capital is for all other uses

        b. ALL other uses of capitol/capital are the word capitAL.
        c. Adjectives
            1) Upper case letter: capital letter   
            2) Chief or primary: capital idea or the capital (most important) thing for us                             to     remember
            3) Die by the court: capital punishment
            4) Primary city: the capital city
        d. Nouns
            1) Stock of goods or income: to have capital in the bank
            2) Capital used by itself for the city: go to the capital of the state (i.e. the city that                 is the capital–not the building–the capitol building).

Watch the blog and Facebook page tomorrow for a quiz over this Wacky Word pair–and over last week‘s vane, vein, and vain! Better start studying!


COMMA CLUE #4: Comma Following a Subordinate Clause Opener Part I of III

Today’s Comma Clue can be confusing–but it is one of the most needful for comprehension as well as for sentence fluidity when reading aloud. 

When you start a sentence with a subordinate clause,
Put the comma in when you hear the pause!

That is a cute rhyme (don’t you think?)….but unless you know what a subordinate clause is (and prior to that, what a subordinator is), it will not do you much good to recite it. So this post will go back to what subordinators are first. 

Maybe you were taught that subordinators (words that make the part of the sentence that they are in be “subordinate” to the rest of the sentence) are called other things, like conjunctives or subordinate conjunctions. Some grammar handbooks do not even classify subordinators at all but call them whatever other class they fall under (i.e. the preposition before might always be called a preposition, even though it is a subordinator when it has a subject and verb following it).

Regardless of what you were taught about subordinators, they are extremely important to good writing. Why? 

1. A subordinator is a word that falls at the beginning of a subordinate clause.
2. A subordinate clause is a group of words that begins with a subordinator and has a subject and verb following it.
3. A subordinate clause is subordinate to the rest of the sentence–that is, it is “less than” the real sentence.
4. A subordinate clause may not stand alone as it is not a real sentence.
5. A subordinate clause sounds as though something is missing when it is read–because something is (the real sentence!).
6. A subordinate clause may be joined with a complete sentence to create a complex sentence, but the subordinate clause may never stand alone.

So….what are subordinators?

Let’s start with the first six that we teach our youngest language arts students in our books:

Since, when, though
Because, if, although.

Yeah, it’s a rhyme! Cute, huh? (I love teaching!)

Anyway, for you older folks, we have a Subordinator-Check Sentence that most subordinators fit into. In a nutshell, if a word fits in the check sentence and the word is not an adverb, it likely a subordinator:

________________________ the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

Since the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

When the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

Though the submarine went down, we could STILL  see it.

Because the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

If the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

Although the submarine went down, we could STILL see it.

Okay, that is the first six. Here is a lengthy, but not exhaustive list of subordinators:

-after (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-as (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-as if
-as long as
-as soon as
-as though
-because of (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-before (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-even if
-even though
-inasmuch as
-in order that
-now (more commonly used as an adverb)
-now since
-now that
-now when
-rather than
-than (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-til (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-until (also a preposition when it just has an object following it)
-where ever
-where as
-which ever

In as much as the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

Until the submarine went down, we could STILL see it.

While the submarine went down, we could no longer see it.

 We will stop here and give you time to memorize these before we go on in a day or two working on punctuating sentences that begin with subordinate clauses. Just looking at the Subordinator-Check Sentence, though, you can probably deduce that the first rhyme in this post is accurate: a subordinate clause opener is followed by a comma. More later!

Picture from http://staff.jccc.net/mfitzpat/style/bd04892_.gif

Wordy Wednesday: Conscience vs Conscious

I try to use mnemonics, tricks, songs, and jingles to teach parts of speech, homophones, and any other grammar and usage tips that I can. Students (of all ages, including adults!) often remember usage better when a trick or tip is applied.

One of my students’ favorite tricks is for the confusing word pair (sometimes considered homophones, though they do have slightly different pronunciations) conscience/conscious:

The student’s conscience bothered him because he tried to con the science teacher. 

He wasn’t conscious enough to enjoy the delicious treat. 

 In today’s assignment, my students had to write sentences using conscience and conscious (one sentence each). My amazingly clever students had fun with this! Three of them used both words in one sentence and included the “trick” in that sentence too!

1. I conned the science teacher while I was conscious, and my conscience bothered me.

2. He wasn’t conscious of the fact that he conned the science teacher; once he realized he had, his conscience bothered him.

3. He had a guilty conscience after he consciously conned the science teacher. 

day 113: spelling Wednesday part i of ii

So many of my students have trouble spelling today’s day of the week! Wednesday is definitely not phonetic, so students (and adults!) get stuck on the spelling of it. Most people say Wednesday without the sound of the d at all.
We teach our students to spell difficult words in many ways, giving them as many tools as we possibly can.
1.    Syllable by syllable—longer words that are phonetic in nature can often be syllabicated and spelled syllable by syllable by a student who is fairly phonetically-savvy: con/se/quence.
2.    Tricks and mnemonics—we call these “Tricky Tricks to Help It Stick” and use them often with our “Wacky Words”—words that have a wacky counterpart that can be confusing, such as the homophones their, there, and they’re. I had an elementary student this year who told the class that they could easily spell Nebuchadnezzar if they just divided it up and pronounced the ch as choo (not kuh): Neb/U/Chad/Nez/Zar! Of course, any tricks that help a person are handy tools to have (though the trick must help that person in order to be effective).
3.    Visual tricks—many visual people spell by “seeing” the word—its shape, its sequence of letters (and the shapes those letters make), etc.
4.    Memorization—some people  are just naturally good spellers (it is now thought to be a specific skill set separate from intelligence) and can memorize a word’s spelling once it is seen.
More on “Wednesday” in the next post!

day 103: wacky words—breathe and breath

Another Wacky Word pair that trips people up is that of breathe and breath. (The latest sign I saw of this had to do with helping people to “breath clean air”!)

This pair is tricky, along with all of the ea pairs, because ea says short e and long e–all by itself. For example:

1. Today I will read the book.
2. The leaf fell to the ground.
3. The thief is going to steal the diamond.

The key to knowing whether to use breath or breathe is to consider the pairs that do have e at the end–it is there to show that, that word is the long e one (not the short e one).

For example:

1. Take a deep breath (breth–short e).
2. Breathe deeply (long e).

3.  He took great pleasure in it (short e–plezz).
4. They want to please him (long e).

While there isn’t a fullproof trick (like their/there and affect/effect), it does help to keep in mind that if one of the set has an e at the end of it, it is there for a reason–in these cases, to make the first vowel say its long sound–breathe (long e) vs. breath (short e).

day 99: lie and lay

Sit and rise have I’s–and lie does too.
“Coz these are things that I, all by myself, can do.
Set, raise, and lay are words that you choose
When each one has an object after it to use.
Here we are at the end of our Wacky Word pair—lie and lay.
Remember these lie and lay tips:
  1. Lie has an I—and I alone can do it (it is not done TO something else).
    1. I lie in bed at wide awake.
    2. Yesterday I lay awake half the night.
    3. Before that I had lain down when the cat jumped on me.
  1. Lie means to stretch out in a flat position—anybody or anything can lie, as long as it does it by itself (i.e. it is NOT laid)
    1. She lies down with a headache every day.
    2. The sun is lying low.
    3. She has lain down for a nap.
  1. Lay must have an object following it—something that it is being laid down.
    1. Lay your book on the table.
    2. He laid his money down.
    3. She has laid the towels in the sun.
Okay…the tenses for the three:
1. Lie
            a. Base form: lie—Tomorrow I will lie down early. (Remember—no object; down is an adverb; early is an adverb here, not an object.
            b. Past simple: lay—Yesterday I lay in the sun. (Tricky part: past tense of lie is lay; lay is also the present tense of lay—to lay something down!)
            b. Past participle: lain—They have lain low ever since then.
            d. Third person singular: lies—The dog just lies under the tree all day long.
            e. Present participle/gerund: lying—The sun was lying on the horizon for so long today.
2. Lay
        1. Base form: lay—I lay the kids’ clothes out every day. (Tricky: lay is the base form of lay (to put something down; it is also the past tense of lie—to stretch out by yourself or itself.)
        2. Past simple: laid—Yesterday I laid the pink pants out for Jon.
        3. Past participle: laid—Before the dog came in, I had already laid his bones out.
        4. Third person singular: lays—He lays the book down every night at ten.
        5. Present participle/gerund: laying—I am laying the swim suits out to dry.
Tricky Tricks to Help It Stick
  1. Again, do sit/set first (all same base word for tenses of set!) or rise/raise (since many people get this pair correct even if they do not know sit/set and lie/lay very well).
  2. Do rise/raise after sit/set or sit/set after rise/raise (saving lie/lay for last).
  3. Memorize acronym/rhyme to cement the fact that all three with I’s are the ones that are done by someone or something (not to something).
  4. When you get to lie and lay, to lie first all by itself until it is memorized. Then do lay. (I am starting to wait a week between the two with lots of practice on lie during that week before moving on to lay.)
I’m officially done with sit/set; rise/raise; and lie/lay! Time to move on. I feel that I have risen to the occasion and am glad that I did not sit idly by and lay these tricky ones aside. Glad I did not let people lie in agony over these Wacky Words. I would like for all of us to set our grammar burdens aside and raise a toast in honor of sit/set; rise/raise; and lie/lay! J (Last time for a while, honest!)

day 99: rise and raise

Sit and rise have I’s–and lie does too.
“Coz these are things that I, all by myself, can do.
Set, raise, and lay are words that you choose
When each one has an object after it to use.
I like to start with the simplest Wacky Word pair—sit and set. Then I like to move onto rise and raise. (And leave the “wackiest” pair, lie/lay, for the end.)
Remember these rise and raise tips:
  1. Rise has an I—and I alone can do it (it is not done TO something else).
    1. I rise around
    2. Yesterday I rose at dawn yesterday. (Not really!)
    3. Before that I had risen when the cat jumped on me.
  1. Rise means to come up to a higher position—anybody or anything can rise, as long as it does it by itself (i.e. it is NOT raised)
    1. She rose to greet us.
    2. The sun is rising late.
    3. Our grades have risen lately. (Technically, grades are raised by someone (“I raised my GPA”)—but if you do not state who raised them, they would be rising by themselves—which we know doesn’t really happen!)
  1. Raise does have an i—but not only an I like rise—raise is done to something.
  2. Raise must have an object following it—something that it is being raised.
    1. Raise your glass for a toast.
    2. He raised his children well.
    3. The children are raising their hands in class now.
Okay…the tenses for the two:
1. Rise
            a. Base form: rise—Tomorrow I will rise early. (Remember—no object; early is an adverb here, not an object.
            b. Past simple: rose—Yesterday I rose late.
            b. Past participle: risen—They have risen to the task.
            d. Third person singular: rises—The sun rises early now.
            e. Present participle/gerund: rising—The sun was rising later in the day before.
2. Raise
        1. Base form: raise—Today I raise my voice in song. (Object—voice)
        2. Past simple: raised—Yesterday I raised the log and found a mole.
        3. Past participle: raised—Before I put the binoculars down, I raised them up and looked through them in the distance.
        4. Third person singular: raises—She always raises her voice when she is angry.
        5. Present participle/gerund: raising—I am raising the bar in that class!
Tomorrow is quiz day…so be ready! J

day 94: sit and set pop quiz!

Sit and rise have I’s–and lie does too.
“Coz these are things that I, all by myself, can do.
Set, raise, and lay are words that you choose
When each one has an object after it to use.
Fill in the blanks below with the correct forms/tenses of sit/set.
  1. She _________ down and wept when she heard the news.
  2. They _______ down.
  3. They _______ the plants out.
  4. They will be _______ the clothes out beforehand.
  5. Yesterday, he ________ down to rest.
  6. They will ________ the clothes out to dry.
  7. He _________ down.
  8. He is ____________ down.
  9. They will be _________ the clothes out beforehand.
  10. She has _________ the clothes out beforehand.
  11. They have __________ down.
  12. He has ____________ down.
  13. They __________ the trap to catch the bear.
  14. They are __________ down.
  15. They will ________ the tent up at .

day 80: homework help—helping young students learn to write sentences

After a student is reading well (and sometimes even before if things are not quite taught in order), he will start learning to write. Remember this is not penmanship. Penmanship is penning words. Writing is putting words together to form sentences. Sentences are then put together to form paragraphs. And paragraphs are put together to design essays, reports, and stories.
A student can learn to write sentences either by writing them himself or by dictating to you and having you pen the sentences for him. Either way, here are some “sentence writing tips”:
  1. The CAVES acronym shows that a sentence must contain five parts: Capital; All makes sense; Verb; End mark; Subject. You can use this with your child as he writes sentences to evaluate if he truly has written sentences or just a group of words. (If he doesn’t fully understand the subject-verb part, ask him if his sentence has someone or something that it is about. And that someone or something doing or being something (verb). He doesn’t even have to know the terminology to see if the subject or verb is missing from a sentence.
  2. The other two “easily visible” part of CAVES—capital and end mark—can be spotted quickly by your student as you ask him for each one.
  3. The last one, All makes sense, is best discovered orally (both now and in writing for years to come). This is because what a person thinks he wrote (and reads silently) is not always what he truly wrote. Thus, if he reads something silently, he will often read in his head what he meant to write, not what he actually wrote. If he reads it aloud, he will “hear” it. (Incidentally, we use this “hear” your errors approach in our writing books for high schoolers as well—not just for individual sentence writing.)
  4. If he is learning to write sentences and feels at a loss as to what to write, point out the speaking-writing connection to him by dialoguing:
Student: I can’t think of anything to write.
Teacher/Parent: What did you do today?
Student: school
Teacher/Parent: Say it in a complete sentence with “I” as the subject.
Student: I went to school.
Write this down for him, showing him once again that the written word is simply the spoke word written down.
More homework help for early writing tomorrow. Happy learning!