Category Archives: Grammar

Here’s My Letter-Writing Guide for #EnglishTeacher Types and #Elearning #Grammar

examples of letter formats for kids

Image: My Own Design
Artwork: iClipart

I actually have an entire page on this blog, dedicated to letter-writing tips and pointers. So if you’re an English teacher, and you’re looking for letter-writing guidelines to share with your students, check out this page.

For next week’s post, I’ll suggest some of the fun assignments you can do with your students, in the letter-writing category.


Sample E-mail for Daily Oral Language Assignments


Summer is upon us! Since about 90% of my readers are teachers, I may decide to take a break from English Emporium (or just post once a month during the summer). That way nobody’s in-boxes are overloaded when they return to school in the fall.

But before I go, I have one more handout I want to share with you. This is the Katy Perry e-mail assignment that I talked about in last week’s post.

Here’s how you use it: make photocopies of this e-mail for each of your students, and ask them to correct it using proofreading symbols and editorial comments (arrows, explanations written in the margin, et cetera). Then correct it just as you would any other Daily Oral Language assignment.

Here’s my Katy Perry e-mail Daily Oral Language assignment page:

Sample DOL handouts for e-mail and letter writing practice

Image: iClipart

Please note that the subject heading says “Chicken Soup Tastes Yummy”, which has nothing to do with the content of the e-mail. It will, of course, need to be changed. Another problem that isn’t immediately apparent is the fact that indenting paragraphs is next to impossible in an e-mail, so students will have to fix that too.

Have a fantastic summer, everyone. I’ll be back in the fall if not sooner! 🙂

How to Teach Students to Write an E-mail

email etiquette for kids

Image: iClipart

I teach students how to write an e-mail by using sample e-mails for our Daily Oral Language (or Daily Language Learning) assignments. I pass out a page on which I have a sample e-mail with errors, then I have my students use proofreading symbols to fix the mistakes.

Next week I’ll post a sample e-mail (an imaginary one) that’s from a hotel manager to Katy Perry. Kids love that one! The correct e-mail is found right here, on my e-mail tips page, so if you choose to use the sample e-mail in your classroom, you’ll have the answers.

Anyway, these are the nine tips to writing successful e-mails, as I have them posted on this website:

  1. When creating a subject heading (the RE box), follow the rules of title capitalization for business e-mails, but capitalize using sentence guidelines for personal e-mails. Putting a subject heading in ALL CAP is a red flag; people will think your message is spam (junk mail) and delete it without reading it. Never put your subject heading in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. It looks like you’re screaming!
  2. Make sure the topic listed in the subject heading matches the content of the e-mail.
  3. Never use TAB to indent the paragraphs of an e-mail. In some e-mail programs, this will move your cursor up to the heading options. So leave paragraphs flush against the margin, but skip one line between paragraphs.
  4. E-mail programs usually only allow single spacing. Double spacing is not an option.
  5. E-mails should avoid texting language. Take the time to type out the words.
  6. If you’re replying to an e-mail in which someone asked a question, remind them of the question before providing them with your answer. If you only supply them with an answer to their question, they may have forgotten the question by the time you reply.
  7. If you’re the first person to send an e-mail, it’s important to include a greeting and closing. Once the first e-mail has been sent, however, it’s okay to leave out the greeting and closing in your replies (although this is somewhat informal). It’s also okay to include a greeting and closing (especially if you wish to keep your correspondences more formal).
  8. The greeting of an e-mail is the part where you say, Dear so-and-so. Begin all formal e-mails with a greeting, and capitalize the first word of your greeting. The greeting of an e-mail should be followed by a comma.
  9. At the end of your e-mail, skip one line between the final paragraph and the closing. Capitalize the first word of the closing, and follow the closing statement with a comma. Then drop down one line (in other words, don’t double-space) to type your name. In formal e-mails, include your first and last name.

What is a run-on sentence and how might you correct it?

how do you know you have a run-on sentence ?

Image: iClipart

Today’s post is a quick-fix answer for the question, “What is a run-on sentence and how might you correct it?”

There are lots of complex ways to write sentences, but you really need to avoid run-on sentences so you don’t look foolish.

If you want to be able to write more complex sentences, I recommend you visit my commas page. In my mind, the longer the sentence, the more likely you are to have need of a comma. So become familiar with the many ways commas get used.

But let’s get back to the original question. Here’s my very simple definition of a run-on sentence:

Run-on Sentence = two complete sentences connected by a comma instead of a period (without using a conjunction like and or but).

1. How can you tell it’s a run-on sentence? If you have a run-on, then you have this fundamental sentence structure: subject + predicate + subject + predicate.
2. In most cases, the best thing to do about a run-on is delete the comma and replace it with a period.

  • Correct: Michael Phelps wore a purple swim cap. His goggles were foggy.
  • Incorrect: Michael Phelps wore a purple swim cap, his goggles were foggy.

3. It’s also okay to have this sentence structure: subject + predicate + conjunction + subject + predicate. However, you must put a comma before the conjunction in that case.

  • Example: Michael Phelps wore a purple swim cap, and his goggles were foggy.
  • Another example: Michael Phelps waited on the diving board, and his muscles twitched in anticipation of a quick dive.

If you need more help understanding subjects and predicates, I suggest you visit my “Sentence Structure” pages.

Is it “He and I” or “Me and him”?

She and I or me and her ?

Image: iClipart

This is a question about double subjects. When you have two subjects at the start of the sentence, do you say “He and I did this or that” or do you say “Me and him did this or that”?

The right pronoun makes sense if you use it alone. Sometimes you have to change the verb to match a singular subject though.

Here’s what I mean:

In the sentence, “He and Jonathan are going to a movie,” does it make more sense to say, “Him is going to a movie?” or  “He is going to a movie”?

Since Him obviously sounds weird without Jonathan, that means He is the correct pronoun for the sentence.

It’s as simple as that.

Let’s change Jonathan to I/me and see how the pronouns work alone in the sentence too, just for kicks.

Is it I went to a movie or Me went to a movie?

Yeah. Obviously Me doesn’t sound right there.

So if the original sentence said He and I went to a movie, you’ve got the right pronouns going on. It would never be He and me went to a movie because me doesn’t work alone in that sentence.

What’s the difference between the semicolon and the colon?

How can you tell the difference between a colon and a semicolon ?

Image: iClipart

Well, here’s how you use these two pieces of punctuation:

A semicolon is used to join two complete sentences which are very closely related in meaning.  Example:  Mark my words;  you’ll learn a lot in her language arts class!  In this compound sentence, the two pieces need each other because without the explanation, “you’ll learn a lot in her language arts class,” the statement “mark my words” wouldn’t make any sense.  The two connected sentences are depending on one another.

A colon is used after a salutation in a block or semi-block letter.  It can also be used between numbers, to indicate the time of day.  Sometimes it is used to introduce a list.  Example:  The following authors have eBooks available for purchase: Rick Riordan, Nicholas Sparks, Suzanne Collins, Becca Fitzpatrick, and Lauren Kate .  Another example:   Dear Webmaster:    Or Dear Customer Service Manager:  And don’t forget this:  It’s 9:12 a.m.

I tell my students to take a good look at what a colon looks like. The prefix semi- means only partly. So a semicolon only has the top half of the colon. That seems to help my students identify the two pieces of punctuation by sight. But it’s still a long stretch to get seventh graders to understand how to use semicolons in a sentence they might create themselves.

How do you write dialogue? (Ten tips on the mechanics and fundamentals of making characters talk in a book or short story.)

How to use dialog correctly in stories and books and novels quotation marks dialog the mechancis mechanics of dialog using good punctuation with quotation marks fundamental rules of dialog in books written speech how to make dialog dialogue look good sound natural on the page making characters talk how do you punctuate a sentence of dialogue ? ! , .

Image: iClipart

The number one tip for writing good dialogue has to do with paragraphing. If you look at last week’s post, you’ll see that I have my writing students think of themselves as a camera operator. When the camera angle changes, we need a new paragraph. And that’s why the number one tip is…

Tip #1   New speaker = new paragraph.

Imagine you’re writing about an imaginary cooking show starring Julia Child and Chef Boyardee. When Julia speaks, she gets a paragraph for her words. When Chef Boyardee replies to her, he gets a whole new paragraph for his words. It’s that easy.

Tip #2   All of the words that a character from a story actually says  must be put in quotation marks. So if the words didn’t come out of someone’s mouth, like in this sentence…

He told her to add Noodle-o’s to her tomato sauce, and she looked offended.

…those kinds of statements are part of the narrative; therefore they don’t need quotation marks.

Tip #3   If he said or she said follows the words that a character has said, and that character made a statement ending in a period, the actual quoted sentence must end with a comma, where the period would have gone.  For example:  “You can buy my cookbook,” said Chef Boyardee.

Tip #4   When you interrupt a quoted sentence with he said or she said, surround the interruption with both quotation marks and commas, as follows:  “Hey,” the chef asked, “how do you like my cheese ravioli?”

Tip #5   A question mark should only end the questioning  part of the quote.  Here’s what I mean:  “Would you rather have some spaghetti and meatballs?” asked Chef Boyardee.

Tip #6   An exclamation point should only end the shouted part of a quote.  For example:  “I burned myself!” the chef shouted. My literary agent has also suggested that professional writers should go easy on the exclamation points. They’re kind of like swear words; if you use them too much, they lose their umph.

Tip #7   A comma always follows he said or she said, when he said or she said comes at the beginning of a quoted statement.  Here’s an example of this:  He said, “Use a hot pad when taking food out of the microwave.” Let me caution you though. Nine times out of ten, when I put he said or she said at the beginning of a quoted statement, my agent tells me to move it to the end of the sentence instead. I’m not sure if that’s just Liz’s preference, or if it’s an industry standard.

Those were the seven tips on the mechanics of dialogue. Now for a few added pointers that I reserve for my more advanced students–the talented and gifted seventh graders who want to be writers when they grow up…

Tip #8   If there are only two characters in a room, you only need to add a dialogue tag (a he said or she said) once in a while. The reader should know who’s who because of the paragraph breaks.

Tip #9   Avoid long paragraphs of dialogue. Janet Evanovich suggests in her book, How I Write, that no character should be allowed to say more than about three sentences before another character interrupts them with another sentence of their own.

Tip #10  Make dialogue sound natural on the page, but pay attention to that last bit: ON THE PAGE. Just because it’s what people would say in real life, that doesn’t mean it sounds natural on the page. Next week I’ll post more about making dialogue sound natural.