September 2001 — Volume 5, Number 2
Guide to Grammar and Writing
This site is designed for intermediate/high-intermediate-level writing students. Although it is not explicitly stated anywhere in the site that it has been designed for use by ESL students, such use would certainly be appropriate, as it contains much information that would be useful for ESL students who are becoming familiar with academic writing in the United States. However, much of the information presented on the site is written in language that would be difficult for most ESL students who had not yet reached the high intermediate- or advanced-level language proficiency. The site is easy to navigate and loads fairly quickly, despite the sometimes large graphics that accompany certain pages. All of the graphics on the site are colorful and add interest to the various topics. Another strong point of the site is that it contains several links to outside sources of information, including grammar handouts composed by high-school instructors, sample student essays, and Webster’s Dictionary. The site does not contain much original information, but the information is presented in original and creative ways.
The site is divided into 15 large sections, the three largest of which are the sections concerning sentence level advice for writers, paragraph level advice for writers, and essay level advice for writers. The Sentence Level section and the Paragraph Level section are both divided into many subsections that have their own links, presumably because these two levels involve many discrete and/or concrete rules and guidelines for composition. The Essay Level section also contains a great deal of information, but the subsections do not have links of their own, unlike the subsections of the Sentence Level and Paragraph Level sections, presumably because guidelines for essay level composition are not as discrete or concrete.
Other writing resources
The site also contains 12 other types of information, including Other Online Resources for Writing, samples of different types of writing (i.e., business letters, thank-you notes, memos, application letters) under Forms of Communication, grammar quizzes under Interactive Quizzes, quotations from famous writers under Eminent Quotables, a place for students to ask questions under Ask Grammar! and Grammar Logs, where the site keeps track of questions students have asked and the answers that were given to them. [-1-]
Writing process: Sentence level
The three big sections that contain information and advice involving the writing process would probably be of the most interest to ESL writing students who visit the site in order to learn ways to improve their writing. The Sentence Level section is divided into 27 smaller sections, including such topics as Clauses, Rules for Comma Use, Abbreviations, Subject-Verb Agreement, and Articles and Determiners. Of course, the first subsection of the Sentence Level section is Sentence Parts and Word Functions, and, in it, one finds definitions of all of the parts of speech, links to larger sections dealing with the parts of speech, examples of the parts of speech, exercises concerning the parts of speech, and interactive quizzes on the parts of speech. Similarly, the Garden of Phrases subsection contains explanations and definitions of all of the different phrase types (prepositional phrases, gerunds, appositives, etc). One finds in this subsection examples of the different types of phrases, the rules governing the use of the different types of phrases, and links to other parts of speech whenever they are mentioned.
Writing process: Paragraph level
The Paragraph Level section is divided into six subsections of information, including Sentence Variety, Sentence-Combining Skills, and Coherence and Transitions, and Paragraph Development. The Sentence Variety subsection contains excerpts from famous texts, such as one of Falstaff’s speeches in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I and a really long (but grammatically correct) sentence taken from Thomas Hooker’s Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, in order to show the effectiveness of using a variety of sentence lengths in writing. This subsection also contains a discussion of coordination and parallelism, along with a link to a slide show of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, which serves as a wonderful example of the effectiveness of parallelism. The Coherence and Transitions subsection contains a discussion of four basic types of transitions—transitional expressions, repetition of key words and phrases, the use of pronoun reference, and the use of parallel form. The subsection also contains examples of the four types of transitions and a link to a sample student essay, which has been analyzed for the transitions that hold it together. The Paragraph Development subsection contains a discussion of and an example of paragraphs that contain irrelevant details and information that is not unified. The lack of unity of one sample paragraph is analyzed sentence by sentence, and the unity of another paragraph is also analyzed sentence by sentence. This subsection also contains a discussion of topic sentences and an example of a topic sentence and how it relates to the rest of the text from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.
Principles of Composition
The Principles of Composition section is a bit disappointing. Rather than focusing on writing as process, it focuses mainly on editing skills, although it does contain a discussion of brainstorming techniques. Freewriting, clustering, and outlining are all given as options for brainstorming, and there are visual examples and definitions of each. There is, also, a brief mention of peer editing, but, again, the focus is on surface errors and proofreading rather than on content. However, one good aspect of this section is its discussion of writing with a purpose and its discussion of sample student essays.
I would not hesitate to point writing students (both ESL and native speakers/writers) to this web site if they needed or wanted additional information and help concerning any aspect of grammar or paragraph development. This site would be particularly useful if an instructor decided to underline grammar errors in students’ papers and ask them to figure out their own errorsthey could be referred to a handbook or to this web site. However, this site would not be ideal for the ESL student of lower-level language proficiency, especially since, unlike many handbooks, it does not include a special section for ESL trouble spots or issues.
Melissa S. Carr
Murray State University, Murray, Kentucky, USA
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