Category Archives: 4. Classroom Exercises

Succinct Summaries

[Instructors: Download the exercise and its solution at the end of the post.]

The ability to condense information into a format that preserves the original meaning but does so in fewer words than the original is an important skill in professional writing. Summarizing is not linear; it does not simply reduce the number of words in each paragraph. Instead, good summaries produce a thoughtful but streamlined and abbreviated version of an original.

To write a summary, follow these steps.

 

  1. Read the original carefully and look up any words you do not understand. Note key words or phrases.
  2. Isolate the selection’s main idea, which is the primary point the author is making
  3. List the ideas that support the main idea. Try to do this from memory so you are not tempted to use the exact wording from the original. You may find it helpful to limit each idea to one bulleted point.
  4. Reread the selection to be sure you have a good understanding of its overall meaning.
  5. Write the summary in your own words.

Keep these points in mind as you write:

  • Start with a topic sentence that states the main idea clearly.
  • Include only essential information such as names, dates, facts.
  • Eliminate nonessential information such as examples and some descriptive details.
  • Use transitions to link ideas and to unify the summary.
  • Arrange the sentences in the most logical order for a reader who will come to the summary with no prior knowledge.

Using the selection below, write a summary of about 100 words.

“Acid rain” is precipitation with a high concentration of acids. The acids are produced by sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and other chemicals, which are created by the burning of fossil fuels. Acid rain is known to have a gradual, destructive effect on plant and aquatic life.

The greatest harm from acid rain is caused by sulfur dioxide, a gas produced by the burning of coal. As coal is burned in large industrial and power plant boilers, the sulfur it contains is turned into sulfur dioxide. This invisible gas is funneled up tall smokestacks and released into the atmosphere some 350-600 feet above the ground. As a result, the effects of the gas are seldom felt immediately. Instead, the gas is carried by the wind for hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles before it floats back down to earth. For example, sulfur dioxide produced in Pennsylvania at noon on Monday may not show up again until early Tuesday when it settles into the lakes and soil of rural Wisconsin.

Adding to the problem is the good possibility that the sulfur dioxide has undergone a chemical change while in flight. By simply taking on another molecule of oxygen, the sulfur dioxide could be changed to sulfur trioxide. Sulfur trioxide, when mixed with water, creates sulfuric acid—a highly toxic acid. If the sulfur trioxide enters a lake or stream, the resulting acid can kill fish, algae, and plankton. This, in turn, can interrupt the reproductive cycle of other life forms, causing a serious imbalance in nature. If the sulfuric acid enters the soil, it can work on metals such as aluminum and mercury and set them free to poison both the soil and water.

Damage from acid rain has been recorded throughout the world, from the Black Forest in Germany to the lakes in Sweden to the sugar maple groves in Ontario, Canada. The result is a growing concern among scientists and the general public about the increasing damage being done to the environment by acid rain.* (334 words)

Suggested Solution

Acid rain is a worldwide problem that concerns scientists and the public. Acid rain is caused by burning fossil fuels. The worst acid rain comes from sulfur dioxide, which is a byproduct of burned coal. When coal is used in large power plant boilers, it emits sulfur, which is carried thousand of miles by the wind. Sulfur dioxide undergoes a chemical change to create sulfur trioxide, which, when mixed with water, becomes highly toxic sulfuric acid. This acid can upset the ecosystem and poison water and soil. Because acid rain knows no borders, it is a global problem. (98 words)

Succinct Summaries Exercise

Succinct Summaries Solution

*From Writer’s Inc.

Intended for classroom use only–posting or wide distribution with authors’ permission only (c) The Guffey Team, 2018

Uncovering Cover Letters

Some hiring experts say candidates should not apply for a position if they do not send a cover letter with their résumé. Writing effective cover letters that detail qualifications for a specific job requires awareness of the dos and don’ts hiring managers look for in these persuasive requests.

Good cover letters have the following characteristics:

  • Address the reader.
  • Name the job title.
  • Promote the applicant using examples of experience and education as they pertain to specifics named in the job ad.
  • Target and tailor the letter to a specific job.
  • Make it easy for reader to respond by providing contact information.
  • Ask for an interview.
  • Refer to an attached résumé.
  • Avoid errors in spelling, grammar, and formatting.
  • Concentrate on the organization’s needs instead of the writer’s.

Task: Read the following cover letter and list its weaknesses. Your instructor may ask you to revise this letter before showing you an improved version.


To Whom It May Concern:

I saw your accounting associate position listing yesterday and would like to apply right away. It would be so exiting to work for your esteemed firm! This position would really give me much needed real-world experience and help me become a CPA.

I have all the qualifications you require in your add and more. I am a senior at Colorado State University-Pueblo and an Accounting major (with a minor in Finance) and have completed 64 units of upper-level course work. Accounting and Finance are my passion and I want to become a CPA and a financial advisor. I have taken eight courses in accounting and now work as a part-time financial advisor with Primerica Financial Services in Pueblo. I should also tell you that I was at Target for four years. I learned alot, but my heart is in accounting and finance.

I am a team player, a born leader, motivated, reliable, and I show excellent composure in stressful situations, for example, when customers complain. I put myself through school and always carry at least 12 units while working part time.

You will probably agree that I am a good candidate for your accounting position, which I understand should start about July 1. I feel that my motivation, passion, and strong people skills will serve your company well.

Sincerely,

Camille Montano


Letter’s Weaknesses

  1. Fails to use the receiver’s name in the salutation.
  2. Neglects to identify the position title and specifically where the announcement appeared.
  3. Fails to back up assertions with evidence of qualifications.
  4. Offers little to show how her qualifications fill the position requirements.
  5. Fails to promote her experience and special skills.
  6. Overworks the pronoun I. Nearly every sentence begins with
  7. Fails to refer to her résumé, and does not request an interview.
  8. Does not make it easy for the reader to respond.
  9. Has several typographical, punctuation, and spelling errors.

[Instructors: You may choose to ask your students to write the letter as an e-mail or as a letter that is attached to the job application as a PDF. Our revision is formatted as a letter, which you can download here.]

Revision

 

 

 

 

Parsing Paraphrasing: Classroom Exercise

Students struggle with paraphrasing. Frequently they stay too close to the source text and only exchange words or expressions for synonyms. Occasionally they just copy. Teaching paraphrasing is important if we want our students to cite and document sources correctly and write reports with integrity.

The best advice? Encourage students to read the original text carefully; then ask them to recast the passage into their own language from memory. This will prevent them from piecing together their summaries and paraphrases. Last, ensure that students check for accuracy.

This exercise can be used with individuals or small groups. First, ask students to read “Humanics,” the original source text below. Then follow steps 1-3.

Original Source: “Humanics”

Economists say the United States has lost about five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, twice the losses of the 1980s and ’90s, as offshoring and machines have taken over routine labor. Meanwhile the economy has added tens of millions of service jobs, which require higher levels of education. But white-collar jobs are hardly safe, as artificial intelligence could oust workers from fields as diverse as radiology, accounting, and insurance. We face a churning, unstable labor market, in which everyone is vulnerable to replacement by a robot.

Joseph E. Aoun, a theoretical linguist by training, is an advocate of Northeastern University’s co-op model of education, with students working in real-world jobs related to their studies. Students need training in “humanics”: a mixture of data science, technology, the liberal arts, and empathy, he believes. Colleges should take a broader lens on disciplines, helping students connect disparate issues. Those lessons come best outside the cloister of the classroom, in messy yet engaging ­real-world environments:

We should embrace experiential education, because it is a humbling experience. It leads us to be in tune with the reality, the changes, and the opportunities that exist. We run the risk of becoming like the railway industry, which said, We are focusing on railway transportation—and they missed the airline revolution. Companies are starting universities. Why are they doing that? Because we are not meeting their needs.

 If you look at your job as a 9-to-5 job, it means that you are not passionate. You are not excited about your job, but you are doing it because you have to. Those jobs are subject to automation. Everything that can be turned into a process is going to disappear.*

*This excerpt is based on an interview of Joseph E. Aoun conducted by Scott Carlson: Carlson, S. (2017, November 20). How real-world learning could help people compete with machines. The Chronicle of Higher Education.

STEP 1: Highlight Main Ideas.  Ask students to identify the core ideas in the passage by highlighting important phrases and sentences. The result could look like this:

“Humanics”— Original with Highlighted Main Ideas

 Economists say the United States has lost about five million manufacturing jobs since 2000, twice the losses of the 1980s and ’90s, as offshoring and machines have taken over routine labor. Meanwhile the economy has added tens of millions of service jobs, which require higher levels of education. But white-collar jobs are hardly safe, as artificial intelligence could oust workers from fields as diverse as radiology, accounting, and insurance. We face a churning, unstable labor market, in which everyone is vulnerable to replacement by a robot.

Joseph E. Aoun, a theoretical linguist by training, is an advocate of Northeastern University’s co-op model of education, with students working in real-world jobs related to their studies. Students need training in “humanics”: a mixture of data science, technology, the liberal arts, and empathy, he believes. Colleges should take a broader lens on disciplines, helping students connect disparate issues. Those lessons come best outside the cloister of the classroom, in messy yet engaging ­real-world environments:

We should embrace experiential education, because it is a humbling experience. It leads us to be in tune with the reality, the changes, and the opportunities that exist. We run the risk of becoming like the railway industry, which said, We are focusing on railway transportation—and they missed the airline revolution. Companies are starting universities. Why are they doing that? Because we are not meeting their needs.

If you look at your job as a 9-to-5 job, it means that you are not passionate. You are not excited about your job, but you are doing it because you have to. Those jobs are subject to automation. Everything that can be turned into a process is going to disappear.

STEP 2: Discuss Plagiarized Version. Let students highlight phrases that were copied verbatim and note the strong dependence on the original’s organization and sentence structure. This version is too close to the original. The writer follows the order in which ideas are introduced as well as the sentence structure and substitutes synonyms for some words in the excerpt. Ideally, paraphrases are accurate representations of the original, often summarized or condensed, but recast in the writer’s own words. To avoid inadvertent plagiarism, writers should paraphrase from memory. This type of plagiarism is common. 

“Humanics”— Poorly Paraphrased/Plagiarized Version

 Workers in jobs requiring education, in fields such as radiology, accounting, and insurance, could be displaced by artificial intelligence. The labor market is in flux and unstable; everyone could be replaced by a robot. This is why Joseph E. Aoun, a theoretical linguist, embraces Northeastern University’s co-op model of education, with students working in real-world jobs relevant to their studies. Students must be trained in “humanics”—a blend of data science, technology, the liberal arts, and empathy, he argues. Experiential learning is a humbling experience but it leads us to align with reality, changes, and opportunities. Because the current educational system does not meet their needs, some companies are starting universities. Tomorrow’s workers must be passionate or they are subject to automation. Every job that can be turned into a process will disappear.

STEP 3: Paraphrase the Original Without Plagiarizing. Ask students to reread the source text, move it from their sight, and put the ideas in the excerpt into their own words. Below is a potential acceptable paraphrase. Answers will vary. 

“Humanics”—Competent Paraphrasing

 Joseph E. Aoun, a theoretical linguist at Northeastern University, believes that students need to learn in realistic, relevant workplace settings to be competitive in a world that will see automation even in white-collar industries, for example, accounting or insurance. Any jobs that can be streamlined will be replaced by artificial intelligence in a fast changing, unpredictable labor market. Employers criticize the traditional educational system for not preparing graduates for the workplace of the future; therefore, some have started their own universities. Aoun calls for a broad experiential approach he calls “humanics,” encompassing data science, technology, the liberal arts, and empathy. He says that future-proof workers need to be enthusiastic, creative, and multi-faceted.

Download the paraphrasing exercise as a PDF document suitable for posting or printing:

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WITHOUT Annotation

Intended for classroom use only–posting or wide distribution with authors’ permission only (c) The Guffey Team, 2018