AIM for Good Writing

As a second-language learner, I have always had issues with writing in English. You might think it’s strange for me to admit that I have issues with English since I have taught English for the past decade in the United States.

I used to joke with my students with that there was no way for an American to move to Korea and teach Korean to Korean-born children. I told them that I was grateful beyond for the opportunities that this country has given me.

Having said that, I always felt that English teachers could do a better job of teaching writing. I say that because I personally struggled for many years before I figured out three fundamental rules for writing in English. I used to have a huge poster in my classroom to teach my students to AIM for good writing because I learned that all great writers have followed the following rules when they write in English. They are: Avoid Redundancy, Improve Vocabulary, and Match Words and Phrases.

1. A = Avoid Redundancy

I used to tell my students that all English writers despised redundancy, which is different from repetition. Any English teacher knows that repetition for effect is a great strategy. But being redundant, not so much! For example, I often tell my students that they should never say, “In my opinion, I believe” in an argumentative essay. Why? Because everyone should already know that one is expressing his or her opinion in an argumentative essay. If you keep saying “In my opinion” or “I believe,” you are being redundant.

2. I= Improve Vocabulary

The second rule of writing English, which I still struggle with all the time, is improving vocabulary, aka elevation diction. During my dissertation writing, this was one of the most challenging aspects. My writing teachers used to tell me that I was “wordy.” What they actually meant was that I didn’t have a high-quality vocabulary to convey my thoughts in the most succinct manner.

For example, many students will say, “I am gonna turn in my homework.” I would encourage them to say, “I will submit my homework.” When my students asked why that matters, I would point out how so many writing contests or college personal statements often have word limits. I would also tell them that is one of the reasons why poetry is considered one of the highest forms of writing since it allows the economy of expression.

3. M= Match Words and Phrases

Finally, I would tell them how the English language requires everything to match, which is expressed in the idea of the subject and verb agreement and parallelism. Remember reading John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address or Martin Luther King’s speech? Enough said.

I feel that English teachers who are born in this country understand such rules instinctively. What many English teachers who are native English speakers don’t realize is that students who have not read many good books or stories are unable to pick up such preferences naturally. I argue that teachers must teach the rules explicitly if we were to want to help our students.

Next time you have to teach students to write essays, I encourage you to review these fundamental rules.

Short Story Project

“Create a prequel, sequel, or spinoff of a short story to demonstrate your understanding of the theme and the motifs of the short story you chose.”

Who knew this simple instruction would spark so much creativity among my students? I really shouldn’t be surprised that my students are so creative because they have always been. But time and time again, my students have surprised me with their talent. I am thrilled to see them shine.

Rationale for the Lesson

1. Social Learning Theory

Vygotsky (1978) discusses the importance of learning in a social context in his book Mind in Society.  He focuses on the use of tools. More importantly, Vigotsky argues for allowing all children to engage in play to demonstrate their innate creativity and imagination. This project focuses on providing a learning opportunity for students to work with various tools (short stories, video camera, and video editing software) in groups (social learning) while having fun (play), so that they can express their creativity.

2. A Situative Perspective

The situative perspective attempts to combine “cognitive science and interactional studies” (Greeno, 2006, p.92). Looking at the connection between student motivation and identity creation, this perspective allows teachers to create classroom activities that target both the individual students and the classroom environment to maximize student learning. Since it does not require teachers to make an explicit connection between the individual learning and the learning environment that allows it, it is a useful tool for any classroom teacher.

The Lesson Steps and Potential Challenges

If you are a teacher interested in trying this lesson, steps are listed here.

Potential challenges might be:

  • Lack of cameras

I combat that with supplying 3 digital cameras that I collected over the years. You could ask your colleagues and see whether they have digital cameras that they are willing to share. What I found, however, was that the students can use their smart phones to capture the videos.

  • Lack of video editing software

This could be one of the toughest challenges in attempting this project. At our school, we have labs with PCs. My student used Windows Moviemaker, a free program that is often pre-installed on any PC. Recently, a student of mine recommended VideoPad Video Editor, another free program that is a bit more sophisticated.

I wouldn’t, however, let this stop you from attempting the project. Providing your students with an opportunity to problem solve is important. It will just take more time.

  • Lack of time

For my AP students, I gave nearly 2 weeks to complete this project. I really wanted them to (1) read multiple stories, (2) extract the motifs and the themes from the story, and (3) synthesize their understandings in a coherent script. Still, their understanding of the motifs and the themes had a lot to be desired. I imagine this might take longer for less skilled groups of students.

I suggest reviewing what a motif is thoroughly with your students. I tell them a motif is something that reoccur throughout the story that enhance a point. I referred back to The Lord of the Flies, and Golding’s use of colors, in particular pink. For the purpose of this project, I encourage them to place a physical object in the movie to illustrate their understandings of the concept of motif.


1. Sequel

The following video is a sequel of “The Rocking Horse Winner” by D. H. Lawrence.

Synopsis – 14 years have passed since Paul Hester, a little boy who rode the rocking horse winner to provide money for his mother in exchange for his life, died after predicting that Malabar would win the big race. His mother is dealing with the fallout from his death.

2. Spinoffs

The following video is a “spinoff” of Margaret Atwood’s “Happy Endings.”

The following video is a “spinoff” of Chinue Achebe’s “Marriage is a Private Affair.”


I am more than likely to use this lesson again. I am in the process of working with another colleague to see how we can modify it for her ELD and literacy students who require more scaffold and support due to the skills levels. I can’t wait to write about their progress. Once the modifications are complete, we plan to present our findings at a conference in June.


Greeno, J. (2006) Learning in activity. In K. Sawyer (Eds.) (Ed.), The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences (pp. 79-96). New York: The Cambridge University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

RPG and Literature – What is gamification in a high school English classroom?

Since I came back from the GLS 2013 Conference, I have been thinking about ways to incorporate role playing games into my instructional practices. I met Dr. Hergenrader at the conference who did his dissertation on teaching creative writing using RPG creation. His talk sparked an interest and understanding that I didn’t had before.

The conference enlightened me and expanded my horizon as to what gaming in my classroom could be. I used to think that using digital gaming was what I was supposed to do. But I realized that using game mechanics to enhance learning was what effective gaminification was truly about. My students didn’t need to play games for me to gamify my classroom successfully.

Since I already loved the idea of situated learning, I began thinking about using the game creation rather than game playing – although there definitely was a huge benefit to game playing, which I would like to talk about later – to teach the skills as well as the content that my students needed to learn.