Posted in Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Matters of Style

This blog post presents information about last week’s cyber incident at GTCC, but that isn’t the main purpose of the post. Instead, I’ve chosen to return to the news coverage of the event as an opportunity to examine some of the differences between newspaper style, often AP (Associated Press), and MLA (Modern Language Association) style, used in many sections of English 111 and other courses in the humanities.

Capitalization in Titles

Notice that only the first word of the headline is capitalized. Many news publications capitalize only the first word and proper nouns (names) in titles. In MLA style, all of the words in a title are capitalized except articles (aanthe), prepositions, coordinating conjunctions, and the to infinitives—unless the word is first or last in the title or subtitle.

Newspaper style: Network incident forces security closure.

MLA: Network Incident Forces Security Closure.

MLA style includes the serial comma (the comma before and in a series), and in MLA style, no space appears before or after a dash.

AP: In addition, these three technologies — WebAdvisor, Navigate and Financial Self-Service — will not be available until further notice.

MLA: In addition, these three technologies—WebAdvisor, Navigate, and Financial Self-Service—will not be available until further notice.

Signal Phrases with Quotations

In MLA style, quotations are introduced with signal phrases. Dialogue in personal essays is an exception to this rule. You do not have to introduce a line of dialogue in a personal essay, such as a literacy narrative.

Newspaper style: “Out of an abundance of caution, the college took all critical systems offline around 4 p.m. Sunday,” GTCC spokesperson Aleasha Kivett said.

MLA: GTCC spokesperson Aleasha Kivett said: “Out of an abundance of caution, the college took all critical systems offline around 4 p.m. Sunday.”

For more on these MLA matters of style, see A Writer’s Reference.

  • capitalization in titles (396)
  • dashes (285)
  • serial commas (260-61)
  • signal phrases with quotations (377-78)

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

A Bridge to Words

Hilaire Belloc’s “Rebecca,” illustrated by Alice and Martin Provensen

To a small child, the pages of a newspaper are enormous. Looking far back through the years, I see myself, not yet school age, trying to hold up those long, thin sheets of newsprint, only to find myself draped in them, as if covered by a shroud. But of course, back then, my inability to hold a newspaper properly was of little consequence. Even if I could have turned the pages as gracefully as my parents did, I couldn’t decipher the black marks on the page; thus, my family’s ritual reading of the newspaper separated them from me. As the youngest and the only one who couldn’t read, I was left alone on the perimeter to observe. My family’s world of written words was impenetrable; I could only look over their shoulders and try to imagine the places where all those black marks on the page had carried them—these people, my kin, who had clearly forgotten that I was in the room.

My sister, who was three years older, had her very own news source: The Mini Page, a four-page miniature paper that arrived at our house as an insert in the Sunday edition. While our parents sat in their easy chairs poring over the state and local news, my sister, Jo, perched at the drop-front desk and occupied herself with articles, puzzles, and connect-the-dots.

Carl Anderson’s Henry

Finally, one Sunday, someone noticed me on the margin and led me into our family’s reading circle. Whether it was one of my parents or my sister, I don’t know. I remember only the gesture and the words: someone handing me the Sunday comics and saying, “You can read part of the funny pages, too. You can read Henry.”

I took the giant page and laid it flat in the middle of the oval, braided rug on the floor of the den. Once I situated the page, I lay on top of it with my eyes just inches above the panels of the comic strip. To my parents, my prone position was a source of amusement, but for me it was simply a practical solution. How else was someone so small supposed to manage such a large piece of paper?

As I lay on the floor and looked at the comic strip’s panels, I realized what the voice had meant. I could “read” Henry, the comic with the bald boy in a red shirt, because it consisted entirely of pictures. In between panels of Henry walking, there were panels of him standing still, scratching his hairless head. I didn’t find Henry funny at all. I wondered how that pale forerunner of Charlie Brown had earned a prime spot in the funnies. Still, I was glad he was there. He was the bridge that led me to the written word.

Reading the wordless comic strip Henry for the first time was the beginning of a years-long habit of stretching out on the floor with newspapers and large books—not thick ones but ones that were tall and wide, among them one of my childhood favorites: The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense. My sister and I spent hours lying on our bedroom floor, the pink shag carpet tickling our legs as we delighted in the antics of Rebecca, the mischievous title character of one of the poems.

“Rebecca”—which my sister read to me before I could read it myself—introduced me to the word “abhors,” the very sound of which appealed to me. Sometimes before Jo had finished reading the opening lines, my uncontrollable giggles collided with her perfect mock-serious delivery. As the last word in the first line, “abhors” serves as a lead-in to an enjambment: the continuation of a sentence or clause in a line break. It would be years before I learned the term “enjambment,” but I was immediately swept away by its effect in the opening lines: “A trick that everyone abhors/ In Little Girls is Slamming Doors” (Belloc 61). The first line lured me into the second one, and so on and so on. I was drawn both to the individual word “abhors”—with its side-by-side “b” and “h,” rare in English—and the way the words joined, like links in a chain, to yank me giggling through Rebecca’s cautionary tale:

It happened that a marble bust
Of Abraham was standing just
Above the door this little lamb
Had carefully prepared to slam,
And down it came! It knocked her flat!
It laid her out! She looked like that.

Her funeral sermon (which was long
And followed by a sacred song)
Mentioned her virtues, it is true,
But dwelt upon her vices too,
And showed the dreadful end of one
Who goes and slams the door for fun. (61)

Why these particular early memories visit me now, I don’t know. Perhaps rereading Art Spiegelman’s graphic memoir, Maus, with my students has roused the wordless Henry and the word-filled Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense from the corner of my brain where they’ve slumbered. The former wakes and stretches out in my mind as a bridge to the latter: a spot in the world of words I’ve inhabited ever since.

           Work Cited

Belloc, Hilaire. “Rebecca.” The Golden Book of Fun and Nonsense, edited by Louis Untermeyer, illustrated by Alice and Martin Provenson, Golden Press, 1970, p. 61.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Practices

What You Should Do for Class Outside of Class

In this time of uncertainty, it’s more important than ever to engage in the practices outlined here. Returning to these weekly will contribute to your development as a writer and increase your chances of completing English 111 with the grade that you hope to achieve.

Study A Writer’s Reference

With the exception of the GTCC section, which you read the first week of class, you do not have formal reading assignments in A Writer’s Reference. However, it’s a book that you should keep by your side throughout your days as a student at Guilford Tech.

Guidelines for Studying A Writer’s Reference

  1. Turn to the index section. (Look for the “I” tab.)
  2. Assign yourself the task of browsing the entries alphabetically with a schedule of two or three letters per week. For example: This week you might browse the entries for a, b, and c; next week, the entries for d, e, and f; and so on.
  3. As you scan the index, read with an eye toward (1) anything that you know is a trouble spot for you, and (2) any unfamiliar concepts.
  4. Turn to the page or pages devoted to each item of interest, and make notes on it in your journal. Include the page number for reference.

In most of my comments on your introductory blog posts, I suggested some pages of A Writer’s Reference for review. Here’s a list of the ones that I mentioned most frequently:

  • abbreviations (297)
  • apostrophes (275-78)
  • balancing parallel ideas (111)
  • capitalization (293-96)
  • colons and semicolons (271-73)
  • commas (259-71)
  • end punctuation (283-84)
  • italics for titles (301)
  • lie vs. lay (182-83)
  • paragraph length (53-54)
  • sentence fragments (207-13)
  • subject-verb agreement (171-79)
  • than and then (149)
  • to, too, and two (149)
  • who, which, and that (150)

(Continue to) Read and Take Notes on Maus

As I noted in my September 2 post, after you complete each reading assignment in Maus, you should summarize it in your journal. You are not required to analyze each reading, but you should make note of any questions you have and points that you would like to address in class.

I find it helpful to organize my journal as a double-entry notebook. I begin by drawing a line down the middle of the page. On one side, I write my summaries. On the other side, I write any questions I have or points that I want to address.

For more on double-entry notebooks, see A Writer’s Reference (59).

Learn More about WordPress

The more time you devote to exploring your dashboard, the better you will understand the blogging platform and the easier it will be for you to create and edit blog posts.

Browse and Comment on Your Classmates’ Blogs

Since our time together face to face is brief, getting to know each other through our blogs is vital for building a sense of community–and a few words of encouragement from you might brighten a classmate’s day.

Troubleshoot WordPress Issues ASAP

Visit the support page. If you cannot find a solution there, email

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: On Drafting, or Feeling Like a Crab Pulled out of its Shell

Brainstorm and Freewrite

If your initial plan doesn’t seem to be taking shape, turn away from your draft for a while. Try brainstorming or freewriting in your journal. Don’t concern yourself with spelling and structure; attend to those matters later. The aim of brainstorming and freewriting is to get your ideas on paper as quickly as you can.

For more on brainstorming and freewriting, see A Writer’s Reference (6).

Write Your Uncertainty into Your Story

If you’re unsure of some details, make your uncertainty part of your literacy narrative. Art Spiegelman does just that in the epigraph for Maus when he writes, “I was ten or eleven . . .” (5).

Look to Maus and An American Childhood as Models

Continue to examine Maus as a model. Study how Spiegelman creates tension in the panels of his comic. Also reread the excerpts from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood, included in my September 9 blog post (“ENG 111: Of Maus and Memoirs, Part II”). Look to Dillard’s words as models for creating dialogue and shifting back and forth from scene to summary.

Seek More Models

For starters, see the New York Times feature “The 50 Best Memoirs of the Past 50 Years.” The description of each memoir in the list includes a short quotation, a sentence or two, from the book. Browse the list, and if you read a line that you find evocative, write it down in your journal. Here’s one that I recorded in my journal:

He [J.M. Coetzee] feels like a crab pulled out of its shell, pink and wounded and obscene” (qtd. Szalai).

Writing of himself in third person, Coetzee vividly depicts the vulnerability that many of us feel when we put ourselves on the page for others to see.

For additional models, I offer the list below, which includes five literacy narratives written by former English 111 students of mine and two written by me.

Remember: I’m in the process of writing a literacy narrative along with you, and I’ll share that process with you in class and on my blog.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part II

Narrative Conflict or Tension

Last week I advised you to Study Spiegelman’s scenes closely. As you continue to read Maus, and as you prepare to write your first essay for English 111, your literacy narrative, note which panels of Spiegelman’s convey conflict, either a character’s inner conflict or a character’s conflict with another character. Conflict, which is essential to narrative, appears on virtually every page of Maus.

The first half of Chapter 2, “The Honeymoon,” depicts six conflicts or problems:

  • Vladek combatting his medical condition (heart disease, diabetes)
  • the policemen’s pursuit of Anja
  • the interrogation of Anja’s aide, the seamstress,  Miss Stefanska
  • Art questioning his father’s storytelling
  • Anja’s struggles with post-partum depression, and
  • the train passengers facing the threat of the Nazi regime, signified by the flag in the center of the page (32).

Scene and Summary

As a comic, Maus consists primarily of scenes but it includes summary as well. In the panel below, which depicts Miss Stefanska’s interrogation by the Polish police, the scene is depicted with the panel’s drawing and its speech balloons. Spiegelman presents summary in the rectangles.

Panel from page 28 of Maus.
Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 28.

Scene and summary are the building blocks of narratives. Simply put, scenes show and summaries tell. Narratives can consist primarily of scenes, but ones that rely heavily on summary don’t capture our imagination. As you plan your literacy narrative, keep this in mind: Readers would rather be shown than told.

The paper-craft graphic below illustrates the organization of scene and summary in a narrative essay.

Illustration of narrative essay structure.


Maus demonstrates the important role that dialogue often plays in narrative, but it doesn’t show how dialogue is presented in an essay. In comics, dialogue appears in speech balloons. Prose narratives (essays, short stories, novels, and book-length  nonfiction) present dialogue with lines of speech enclosed in quotation marks and with dialogue tags. A dialogue tag is a short phrase at the beginning, in the middle, or at the end of the dialogue that attributes the dialogue to a particular person or character.

“Have you chosen a topic for your literacy narrative?” she asked.

In the sentence above, she asked is the dialogue tag.

When you write dialogue, you begin a new paragraph whenever the speaker changes. That’s why paragraphs of dialogue are generally short, often only one line.

Consider the dialogue below, from Annie Dillard’s memoir, An American Childhood:

Excerpt from An American Childhood by Annie Dillard.
Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987. p. 112.

In the first paragraph, Annie Dillard summarizes how her mother would tell her to spell words. In the second paragraph, Dillard moves to the scene of one particular evening, the night when her mother says there’s a deer in the hall.  Only the first of the three short paragraphs that follow the summary includes a dialogue tag. The other two don’t need tags because the new paragraph itself, the indentation of five spaces, signals a change in the speaker.

Once you’ve established who the speakers are in a dialogue between two people, you don’t need to include dialogue tags.

Notice that the first and last paragraphs include single quotation marks within the lines of dialogue. In the first paragraph, the words poinsettia and sherbet are enclosed in single quotation marks because words referred to as words are enclosed in quotation marks. Since the two words are contained within a longer quotation, Dillard’s mother’s line of dialogue, the words are enclosed in single quotation marks.

In the last paragraph, the words I know are enclosed in single quotation marks because the mother is quoting her daughter.

Words referred to as words in dialogue and quotations within lines of dialogue are enclosed in single quotation marks.

For more information on quotation marks, see A Writer’s Reference (279-80).

Look to the passage that follows as another model for your literacy narrative. Here, Annie Dillard recounts seeing an amoeba for the first time:

Finally late that spring I saw an amoeba. The week before, I had gathered puddle water from Frick Park; it had been festering in a jar in the basement. This June night after dinner I figured I had waited long enough. In the basement at my microscope table I spread a scummy drop of Frick Park puddle water on a slide, peeked in, and lo, there was the famous amoeba. He was as blobby and grainy as his picture; I would have known him anywhere.

Before I had watched him at all, I ran upstairs. My parents were still at table, drinking coffee. They, too, could see the famous amoeba. I told them, bursting, that he was all set up, that they should hurry before his water dried. It was the chance of a lifetime.

Father had stretched out his long legs and was tilting back in his chair. Mother sat with her knees crossed, in blue slacks, smoking a Chesterfield. The dessert dishes were still on the table. My sisters were nowhere in evidence. It was a warm evening; the big dining-room windows gave onto blooming rhododendrons.

Mother regarded me warmly. She gave me to understand that she was glad I had found what I had been looking for, but that she and Father were happy to sit with their coffee, and would not be coming down. She did not say, but I understood at once, that they had their pursuits (coffee?) and I had mine. She did not say, but I  began to understand then, that you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself.

I had essentially been handed my own life, in subsequent years my parents would praise my drawings and poems, and supply me with books, art supplies, and sports equipment, and listen to my troubles and enthusiasm, and supervise my hours, and discuss and inform, but they would not get involved with my detective work, nor hear about my reading, nor inquire about my homework or term papers or exams, nor visit the salamanders I caught, nor listen to me play piano, nor attend my field hockey games, nor fuss over my insect collection. My days and nights were my own to plan and fill.

Those paragraphs from An American Childhood don’t include any direct quotations. In the second paragraph, Dillard recounts what her mother said, but she doesn’t present it as dialogue. If the exact words spoken aren’t crucial to a scene, you can present the conversation indirectly, as Dillard does above.

Narratives Don’t Have to Center on Dramatic Events

The excerpts that you’ve just read from An American Childhood demonstrate how to write dialogue and shift between scene and summary. And perhaps most importantly, they demonstrate this: Narratives don’t have to center on dramatic events.

If you think that you don’t have a story to write as your literacy narrative, look again at Dillard’s depiction of herself as a student of the natural world. There’s no dramatic conflict, but there’s desire. First, she wants to see an amoeba,  something she’s never seen before. Second, she wants her parents to share her excitement, but they don’t. With her microscope, Annie Dillard develops her knowledge of nature, but the larger learning experience that takes place is her realization that “you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself” (149). She has “essentially been handed [her] own life” (149).

What quiet, significant learning experience of yours has lingered in your mind? Your answer to that question could be the start of your literacy narrative.

Literacy Narrative Topics

I included your options in the previous blog post and am listing them here as well:

  • any early memory about writing, reading, speaking, or another form of literacy that you recall vividly
  • someone who taught you to read or write
  • someone who helped you understand how to do something
  • a book that has been significant to you in some way
  • an event at school that was related to your literacy and that you found interesting, humorous, or embarrassing
  • a literacy task that you found (or still find) especially difficult or challenging
  • a memento that represents an important moment in your literacy development
  • the origins of your current attitudes about writing, reading, or speaking
  • creating and maintaining your WordPress blog

Length Requirement

Your literacy narrative should be no fewer than five-hundred words. I encourage you to challenge yourself to exceed the minimum.

When to Begin

You are not required to begin your literacy narrative before the class period devoted to drafting, but you are welcome to sketch out ideas and begin drafting in your journal.

Dillard, Annie. An American Childhood. Harper & Row, 1987.

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.

Posted in Reading, Teaching, Writing

ENG 111: Of Mice and Memoirs, Part I

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.


Last week I asked you to focus your journal writing on the epigraph for Maus I, first by writing a short summary and afterward by writing about how the short two-page epigraph relates to Chapter 1.

Here’s my version of that journal exercise:

In Art Spiegelman’s epigraph for Maus I, “Rego Park, N.Y., c. 1958,” he recounts the events of a summer’s day when he was ten or eleven years old. He and two of his friends are racing together on roller skates until one of Artie’s skates comes loose and he falls. Rather than waiting for Artie, the other two boys skate away, leaving him behind to be the “Rotten egg” (5). After Artie returns home, his father asks why he is crying. When Artie tells his father what happened, his father questions his son’s use of the word “friend.” He replies, “If you lock them together in a room with no food for a week . . . / . . . Then you could see what is, friends! . . .” (6).

The cutting remark that Spiegelman’s father makes as he saws wood illustrates the communication breakdown between him and Artie. Spiegelman’s depiction of that gulf foreshadows the trials he will encounter: struggling to understand his father and himself as he aims to make meaning of their lives through his comics.

Notice how the first paragraph, the summary, does not express my opinion. By definition, summaries are objective. When you write a summary, you aim to convey a text’s main ideas in your own words but without offering your own opinion.


In the second paragraph, I turn to analysis. I connect the father’s cutting, or unkind, remark to the sawing of the wood, which is itself an act of separation—a detail that I might add to the paragraph if choose to develop my analysis.

Summary and analysis are building blocks of both academic and professional writing. We summarize to increase our understanding of texts, and we analyze them to demonstrate our ability to think critically.

For more information on summary and analysis, see pages 63-64 of A Writer’s Reference.

Writing about Maus in Your Journal

After you complete each reading assignment in Maus, summarize it in your journal. You are not required to analyze each reading, but you should make note of any questions you have and points that you would like to address in class.

What to Focus on as You Read Maus

Because Maus is a memoir and your first essay assignment for English 111 is a literacy narrative, a form of memoir, focus on this question: How can Maus serve as a model for my own memoir, my literacy narrative?

In your literacy narrative, which you will draft and revise in September, you will write on one of these topics:

  • any early memory about writing, reading, speaking, or another form of literacy that you recall vividly
  • someone who taught you to read or write
  • someone who helped you understand how to do something
  • a book that has been significant to you in some way
  • an event at school that was related to your literacy and that you found interesting, humorous, or embarrassing
  • a literacy task that you found (or still find) especially difficult or challenging
  • a memento that represents an important moment in your literacy development
  • the origins of your current attitudes about writing, reading, or speaking
  • creating and maintaining your WordPress blog

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986. p. 6.

Maus isn’t a precise model; it’s a book-length comic rather than an essay, but Spiegelman’s memoir serves as a guide for us as writers. Here are some points to consider:

  • Consider the title, Maus, the subtitle of the book, A Survivor’s Tale, and the subtitle of Part I, My Father Bleeds History. What does each one tell you about the book? After you decide on a topic for your literacy narrative, ask yourself what you want the title to tell the reader. Will your essay also have a subtitle? Sometimes the best title isn’t clear at the beginning of the writing process. Think about your title, but don’t get hung up on it. Return to it after you have finished drafting.
  • Study Spiegelman’s scenes. Your narrative will include one or more scenes, but yours will be created solely with words, rather than with words and drawings.  As you examine the panels in Maus, note which ones convey conflict, either a character’s inner conflict or a character’s conflict with another character. Conflict is essential to narrative.
  • Note that the epigraph for Maus could be scenes in a literacy narrative. Imagine the two scenes in paragraph form. What would Art Spiegelman add as the final paragraph to give his readers some sense of the narrative’s significance? (What did it mean to him, and what did he learn from it?)

Spiegelman, Art. Maus I. Pantheon, 1986.