What is a rhetorical précis?

A précis is a highly structured summary of a text, focusing on the text’s argument and presentation.  It is a type of academic writing presenting factual information only, without opinions of the précis writer.

One way of organizing a précis is to write a four-sentence summary:

The opening sentence names the text, its author, genre and publication date followed by a clause naming the thesis of the work.

The second sentence explains how the author develops the thesis, with information usually presented in the same order as in the original text.

The third sentence explains why the text was written, often followed by an “in order to” phrase.

The fourth sentence either describes the intended audience or the tone of the text.

Let’s look at a précis I wrote about the Declaration of Independence:

In the Declaration of Independence (July 1776), Thomas Jefferson argues that because King George III usurped the liberties of British citizens in the North American colonies, those citizens were declaring their independence from Britain.  Jefferson divides the Declaration into four parts:  the preamble, a short paragraph explaining that the world has a right to know why the colonies are separating; second, the most quoted part, the philosophical justification for the separation; third, the longest section, the list of grievances against King George III; and fourth, another short paragraph declaring independence.  Jefferson’s purpose was to present a logical and legally sound justification for the separation in order to gain the support of all 13 colonies and of potential international allies.  The author’s tone is formal as befits the seriousness of the purpose.

Why are students asked to write a précis?  A précis demands summarizing, analyzing and culling a text into a concise format, eliminating opinion.  Writing a good précis proves whether a student understands a text and whether a student can write.

The only three organizers elementary and middle school students need

To write well, students need to plan their writing before they write.  They need to organize their ideas on paper, tablet or computer before they write sentences.

Some workbook publishers suggest students need a different type organizer for almost every essay or narrative they write.  Other publishers suggest as few as six.

This is a graphic representation of a third grade student's handwritten mind web.

This is an example of a mind web.

I suggest three.

A mind web (sometimes called a spider web or mind map) suffices for most expository and persuasive essays. The topic goes in the center, and then, like spokes of a wheel, three or four subtopics connect to the center.  The student augments each of these subtopics with details.  Then using colored pencils or markers, the student loops the information for each subtopic using a different color.  Lastly, the student numbers the subtopics in the order in which they will be written about.

Use a chart for comparison and contrast essays.

This is an example of a chart.

A chart suffices for comparison/contrast essays. The student draws a horizontal line across the top of the paper (or online page) and then draws three equally-spaced vertical lines.  At the top of the middle and right columns the student writes the two topics to be compared or contrasted.  Down the sides of the left column the student writes the ideas to be compared or contrasted.

An example of a modified timeline organizer on Babe Ruth's life--childhood, school years, and baseball career.

This is an example of a modified timeline.

A modified timeline works great for narratives. At the top of the page on the left write “beginning.”  Next to it stack the words “setting,” “POV,” “characters,” and “inciting action.”  Below the word “beginning” write “middle,” and near the bottom of the page on the left write “end.”  Next to “end” write “climax” and “resolution.”

These three organizers cover the situations elementary and middle grade students need to write about.  I particularly like the mind web because it is so flexible.  The more “sloppy” a student is allowed to be in creating an organizer, the more apt a student is to create one.

I also recommend creating these organizers on notebook paper which can be placed next to an electronic surface if the student is writing online.  That way the student can easily glance back and forth to use the organizer.

For more on organizers, click on the cover of my book How to Write a 5th Grade (or any other grade) Essay in the  left side of this blog.

How do you write the possessive of dress? Dress’s? or Dress’?

In the sentence, the “The dress’s / dress’ sleeve is too long,” how do you write the possessive form of dress?  Dress’s or dress’?

I tried to find the answer in my English handbook at home and in various internet sites.  But I couldn’t find an answer to the situation of a noun already ending in “ss.”

“Dress’s” looks funny because three letters s come together.  But “dress'” also looks funny because we pronounce a second syllable which seems not to be represented by a single apostrophe.

This question was presented to me by a high school student studying for his SATs.  I told him that it’s probably better to use the apostrophe s even though that creates three letters s in a row.  Other words which add a second pronounced syllable such as box’s and church’s add the apostrophe s.  So based on pronunciation, I would add the apostrophe s.

Anyone know what the answer is?

Bloated words mean longer, boring writing

Utilize.  Three syllables.  Use.  One syllable.  Why not use “use”?

Price point.  Two words.  Price.  One word.  Why not use “price”?

Vaporous.  Three syllables.  Vapid.  Two syllables. Why not use “vapid”?

Inflating your writing with multi-syllabic or multi-phrasal words when simpler words work just as well makes your writing pompous, long and hard to understand.

So why do it?

  • To sound important. In college I worked as a telephone operator, but my brother suggested I introduce myself as “an international communications coordinator.”  Nobody knew what I was talking about, and when I explained I was a phone operator, they rolled their eyes.
  • To sound educated. Many SAT words are multi-syllablic:  capricious, ephemeral, and facilitated, for example.  But isn’t it easier to understand synonyms such as flighty, short-lived and made easy?  And why do we write?  To sound educated or to be understood?
  • To please an English teacher who confuses big words with deep thinking. In fact, big words obfuscate logic (clutter your meaning) and enshroud cogitation (hide poor thinking).

What can you do to rid your writing of clutter?

  • Look for empty words. If you look, you will find.  Many empty nouns end in “tion,” “ment” and “city.”  Turn them into verbs and then search for simpler synonyms.
  • Tell yourself that big words aren’t better.  They are just bigger.
  • Look up synonyms for long words. Many English words with the most punch are ancient Anglo-Saxon words of one or two syllables.
  • Read the poetry of Robert Frost. Frost rarely used even two-syllable words, and that is no fluke.  He said good writing should be understood on a literal level the first time it is read.

Write short.

Draw pictures to remember what you read

Drawing pictures is almost twice as powerful a memory tool as is reading or writing, according to the George Lucas Educational Foundation called Edutopia*.

Cartoon of a man with footprints up his body and the words, Unassertive: wimpy

Mutilate

When you draw, your kinesthetic , visual and linguistic brain centers all work.  Your brain processes the information you draw in ways which “interact,” forming strong bonds and deeper memory.

How to take advantage of drawing to improve memory:

One way is to draw when you take notes and write rough drafts. You can do this no matter how good or how poor an artist you are.  In a science class, for example, to show the water cycle, draw the sun with water below and arrows from the water heading up toward the sun.  Write “evaporation” next to that image.  Next to it draw clouds in the sky with rain drops falling out of them.  Next to it write “condensation.

Cartoon of a man with footprints up his body and the words, Unassertive: wimpy

Unassertive

Another way is to use mind webs (sometimes called spider webs or concept maps) to show how concepts are connected.  For example, draw and label the topic in the center, and then draw spokes out from there.  At the end of each spoke, draw another picture and label it with simple annotations.

Use interactive notebooks, that is spiral or composition notebooks in which you take notes with pictures which your draw yourself or which you cut out and paste. You can draw or paste timelines. You can paste vocabulary cards which you can flip to see definitions or pictures of definitions.  You can draw or paste political cartoons on the subject you are studying.

Cartoon of a waterskiier withe the caption, Aquatic: relating to water

Aquatic

Use visuals to show data—timelines, sequence ovals with arrows, graphs, and maps.

*For more information and a cleverly illustrated version of the above ideas, go online to Edutopia News.