in Advertising as a Study in Word Structure and Semantics
study in the English-language arts classroom can take many forms.
Early in a course my students and I typically review traditional
Latin and Greek roots and affixes; then I assign etymological studies
that take students to unabridged dictionaries and to word-history
reference books for help. Later I ask students to take notepads and
pencils to markets such as Vons and Ralphs and to pharmacies such
as Sav-On and Walgreens to discover innovative product names such
as ChocoLite (a diet bar) and Trojan-enz (a brand
of condom). I also direct students to scour the Yellow Pages for
company names such as Port-O-Let (portable toilets) and Fabrific
pedestrians and as passengers in cars and buses passing strip malls,
students peel their eyes for interesting proper nouns--unusual spellings
and morphologies of product and company names in advertising. Products
on store shelves, company marquees at business sites, and ads in
the phone book become rich sources of contemporary names purposefully
coined. More importantly, they sparkle as examples from outside the
classroom of ways in which the business world today massages, manipulates,
and recombines existing morphemes and other word elements (1) to
attract consumers' attention, and perhaps (2) to provide clues to
the nature of the service or product.
teachers may provide linguistic categories up front to which students
assign the names they find in the field, instructors may want to
hold off on naming the groups of data, allowing students to comment
inductively on the nature of the product or service as compared to
the ways in which mainstream spelling and morphology have been changed.
Through the years, high school students have never failed to respond
enthusiastically to this project, which I call The Components of
Product and Company Names.
it is a lesson in spelling, phonological and morphological analysis,
semantics, and the name-based goals of retail and service industries.
guidelines for the project require that the chosen names be interesting--unusual
in some way. Perhaps the name is a simplified phonetic and alliterative
spelling such as Chek-Quik (payroll check cashing/loans).
perhaps the word is an innovative blend of two familiar words as
in beautorium (beauty + emporium; a cosmetologist's shop) or the
suffix -ex, meaning medicinal, purifying, or efficient, as in--respectively--Blistex (blister
balm), Purex (bleach) and Timex (watches) . What I call "foreign
flair" terms may take advantage, for example, of the association
with things stylish and new: Vespre [acute accent over final e] (vesper +
spray: a feminine spray) and L'EGGS (not only is the apostrophe
used to emphasize the name of the eye-catching shape of the long-used egg
container for the hosiery, but it also lends French sophistication to the
product as an abbreviation of the French definite article le).
are interested in speculating why companies such as Chick-fil-A (a
rival of KFC in some parts of the nation) take a chance on the syllable-based
spelling of fillet (boneless meat). They can usually guess at least
one of three reasons for such innovations: (1) Companies need a unique
spelling to help them own the name of their company under federal
law; (2) companies need a spelling that is visually memorable for
the sake of marketing, and (3) companies need to make pronunciation
easy. Americans might mispronounce the French fillet, but they likely
will use the copyrighted new spelling to help them pronounce the
last syllable like the name of the capital letter 'A' in English.
The linguistic categories my students and I have determined in the
past include (1) phonetic spelling (e.g., Al-Fa for alpha, Tite for
tight, Vu for view, Kee Lox for key locks); (2)
syllabary spelling (e.g., the middle element in Port-O-let for
portable toilet, B-Beautiful for "be beautiful");
(3) blending (e.g., ChocoLite for chocolate and light);
and (4) foreign flair (e.g., De Conna Ice Cream, a
Spanish-influenced company name).
you use this project idea, orient your students to the goals of advertising
and marketing. Explain that to comply with federal law every name
in the business world needs to be unique. Finally, point out the
differences between straightforward names such as Smith's Shoe
Repair and some of the names listed above. Then send the students
out into the community with notepads and pencils, to make an accurate
drawing of each name--some of which have distinctive graphics--and
to write an objective phrase or sentence that describes the nature
of the product or service.
the names may be committed to 3 x 5 cards and labeled with the student's
name if one master file is to be created for a small group or the
class as a whole.
the students return to class with fifty or more names and their descriptors,
they are ready to work in pairs or small groups to sort out the cards
into stacks that represent natural categories that they can explain
(see those listed above). Often the same term belongs in more than
one category. Be sure to encourage students to speculate on the components
meaning in the more complex names.
a project qualifies as consumer education as well as language education.
And since the public is interested in such analysis, parents, other
students, teachers and administrators respond positively to student
oral presentations on their findings. Findings can be published in
the formats of the traditional analytical essay, the oral report
enhanced by Power Point visuals, charts, and handouts in which the
organizing focus may be on linguistic categories, on the multiple
manipulations of names, or on the denotations and connotations packed
into the names.
Philip Bowles is a Professor of English at Point Loma Nazarene University
and a fellow in the San Diego Area Writing Project. At PLNU he co-founded
Program Quick Start, a summer academic boot camp for incoming freshmen. Before
moving to California, he was a high school teacher in Metropolitan Nashville
Public Schools and an Upward Bound instructor at
Tennessee State University, Nashville.
Instruction: Theories and Responsibilities
-Leif Fearn and Nancy Farnan
There may have been 1000 people in the San
Francisco meeting room that day early in the 2002 annual conference of the
International Reading Association. The session was about writing. Donald
Graves, one of the most influential individuals in the field, started. He
talked about testing. What we highlighted in our notes from Professor Graves'
commentary was that we should not expect young writers to write as well as
they can under conditions of restricted time and artificial prompt. The theory
is that young writers' voices and their passions, both critical in good writing,
are compromised, as the result of restricted time and prompt.
Graves’ commentary at IRA 2002 wasn’t the first reference to
the theory. James Gray, for example, wrote about it (1995). He noted three
basic flaws in National Assessment of Educational Progress testing protocol
in writing: testing isn’t related to getting good grades, students
write to topics someone else selects, and there is artificial pressure (time
Both Graves and Gray suggest that restricted time and assigned prompts are
reasons why young writers may not write as well as they can when they write
for test purposes. Both time and prompt selection are routine aspects of
how people talk about teaching and testing writing. There exists a veritable
mantra to the effect that young writers must select their own topics and
have the opportunity to write on their own schedule if they’re to write
as well as they’re able.
We recently completed an investigation that required a writing sample from
tenth graders, for approximately half of whom English is not their primary
language, and we restricted the time and assigned the topic. Because we sought
a stable basis on which to compare the performance of the subjects in our
investigation, we took pre and post writing samples. The prompt was to think
of a favorite place, a place where there are good feelings, good vibrations.
In both pre and post writing situations, not only did we prescribe the topic,
we prescribed the time. Students had five minutes, start to stop, with no
preparation, and when the stop watch hand hit the sixtieth second of the
fifth minute, we directed them to stop. There was no writing at all after
the end of the five minutes, not to finish a sentence, not to check for errors,
not to enhance their structures.
We wanted everyone writing to the same topic for the same period of time
because one of our scoring protocols was analytic, and fluency (number of
words) was an aspect of the analytic scoring protocol. In the analytic protocol,
we also calculated average sentence length, ratio of clauses to sentences,
and ratio of errors to sentence.
In addition, we used a general impression rubric that included four criteria:
the writing is on-topic; elaborative; recognizably organized; and textured,
the latter meaning words and phrases that "show" rather than "tell.” General
impression scoring occurred on a 6-point absolute scale, which means that
a 6 is just about as well as the piece can be written, irrespective of grade
Because we used both a general impression scoring protocol and an objective
analytic scoring protocol, the prompt and time had to be controlled. Given
the theory about the effect of dictated time and prompt, students’ writing
samples should be absent energy, stilted, voiceless, flat. It wasn’t.
and Timed Writings From Tenth Graders
While these writing samples represent some of the better ones among those
collected, the point is that they were written under a five-minute time constraint
and to a dictated prompt. All of the pieces appear precisely as they were
submitted, errors included.
“ My favorite place is the park because I love to play soccer. I could
spend hours playing soccer, then rest, and play soccer some more. I never get
bored at the park. When Im there, I feel so alive, just like the wind makes the
“ I’m in the park, listening to the water passing
by. Theres a lot of people. They are with their pets or with their
families. I can smell the freshness of the air and feel the breeze
of the cascade Im looking at. There is like a big pond where you
can get a boat and four people can wander around. There’s
some ducks with many different colors. This park is very big and
lots of people go to celebrate a party, to walk, to relax, to get
on a boat or just to wander around. I’m sitting under a big
tree with my friend. The park is located in Reseda, California.”
“ My favorite place is the sunny blue beach. It is my
favorite place because of its atmosphere. It is like a time machine
that takes me back to the past. The smell of salty sea fills my
nostrils and the warm water beats against my bare feets. Seeing
the children and the sound of their laughters reminds me of home.
The beach is like a grandmother to me, telling me stories if I
really listen hard.”
“ I like hanging out with my friends. Usually at their
house, or the park. The park is medium sized and fenced in, with
green grass. Theres a baseball diamond which has reddish-brown
dirt and a water fountain with cold water. There is also equipment,
slides and bars. That is where my friends and I wrestle.”
“ I’m singing in the choir stand and I’m singing
one of the songs we sing every time we practice on Thursdays. “Oh
Magnify the Lord” It was the first thing that popped into my
head because I love to sing. Another place I went in my head is my
poetry book journal. It doesn’t matter where I’m at because
I write wherever, whenever. It is so relaxing and peaceful to me. It
is the best time to think, especially when it’s quiet and peaceful,
and it makes me happy.”
“ My favorite place is the basketball gym. The hardwood floors
are surrounded by stands. The people go to the basketball gym to play
basketball. All you can hear there is the echo of balls bouncing, shoes
rubbin on the floor, people yelling and calling plays. I enjoy goin
there because that’s what I love doing most on my spare time.”
“ My heart was racing. I was on the way to Blueberry Muffin Land. This
place was full of blueberry muffins. The walls were large blueberries, and the
floors were soft, like muffins. You could smell the blueberries from miles away.
They were fresh and hot. You could eat the muffins right off the floor, and you
could bite the blueberries right off the wall. Kitty always comes with me to
Blueberry Muffin Land, and we eat muffins together.”
“ One of my most favorit places to go when Im down or happy
is the park. I like going to calm fun places. The reason I say that
is because when I go to the park, I can here the birds sing, smell
the aroma of the beautiful flowers, see the leaves on the trees move
to the rhythm of the wind. Most of the time the park is empty, but
not quite empty. There’s always someone there doing what I’m
doing, contemplating what’s going to happen next. When you look
at the grass and the sun reflecting up on it, it shines in your eyes
like if you were seeing a silver coine on the ground.”
“ As I sit on the beach, I see children in the water, sea
gulls all around the sky. People are having a relaxing time with their
family. I can smell the fresh salty water. As I walk along the beach,
I can feel the cool water all over my body. It is a hot sunny day so
the sun is shining brightly in the blue sky. There are kids of all
ages laying in the golden sand. People are having BBQ, and you can
smell it from miles away. As I sit back in the sand, I relax and all
of my troubles are gone away for as long as I stay here.”
we are making no claim whatsoever to the effect that the nine pieces
above represent the best kind of tenth grade writing, even from speakers
of native languages other than English, which all nine are. We offer
them in contradistinction to the theory that timed and prompted writing
is flat, lifeless, voiceless, without energy precisely because it
is written under the artificial conditions of a dictated prompt and
Perhaps the young writers who write lifeless, voiceless prose do so because
that’s how they write. Perhaps they would write flat prose absent energy
if they identified their own topic and had an hour to write. There may be
intuitive appeal in the theory that they’d write better if they had
more time, or if they could write to their own interest, but the tenth graders'
five-minute samples above tell us that intuitive appeal doesn’t necessarily
stand very well against the light of evidence.
“Yes, but,” we’ve heard when we’ve presented this perspective
in the past. “But you’re only showing selected ones on the overhead.” (Nine
here among forty-seven in the study, though not necessarily the highest-scoring
samples in the study) The number isn’t the point. When there is a theory
(and the effect of dictated topic and time constraint on writing performance
is a theory), and one instance belies the theory, the theory is at least vulnerable
to question. In science, one contrary instance requires a change in the theory
to accommodate that instance. It’s called falsification. It takes only
one instance of an object not falling “down” to require an accommodation
in the theory of gravity. In fact, the accommodation has already been made. Objects
don’t always fall down. Objects are vulnerable to gravity only when gravity
On the basis of our tenth graders’ performance, we would argue that
students don’t necessarily write lifeless prose because the topic is
dictated and the time is restricted. Young writers who write with energized
voice, do so because they can. If they have it, they’ll show it. Our
theory is that young writers, and the rest of us, write about as well as
we are able whenever we write.
Moreover, we theorize that what young writers write on their first page or
two is a very good indication of how well they can write. Therefore, when
teachers assign three pages, they multiply their reading time for little
or no additional teaching-learning benefit if, that is, the writing and teachers’ reading
is intended to have teaching-learning benefit. We would never suggest that
students should never write longer pieces; it’s just that longer writing
does not show more about writers’ ability.
Furthermore, much, if not most, of the writing critical in school and the
workplace, if written well, demands not more than a page or two. A report
of information is a question, procedures, findings, and conclusions -- four
parts, four sentences, four paragraphs, four elements. When good writing
is the priority, short is good.
Somerset Maugham wrote Death's line in “Sheppy” in 197 words,
a whole short story, and a prototype; in fact, it is a story of such precision
and insight that it reflects precisely what Gardner (1983) meant by "the
fictional dream.” Could our students write such a story? Perhaps, if
they knew how. It's the knowing that determines the probability of the performance,
not the prompting or the timing.
What does all this mean? It means that if we want textured and energized
writing from our students, we have to teach them how. If they don’t
show it when they write for a test, it isn’t necessarily because of
the test; it’s as likely because they can’t. It's always interesting
to see what they write after they’ve been taught how.
Our theory is open to evidence of falsification. Assign students a two-page
report and a four-page report, and solicit dispassionate raters' judgements
on a 6-point assessment rubric. It's most insightful if the raters are professional
writers. Give three or four raters a half-dozen randomly-selected two-page
writing samples. Give three or four other raters a half-dozen four-page samples.
Make all the samples in the same genre, though not necessarily on the same
topic. See if the longer ones get higher scores, and if so, why?
Our theory is open to evidence of falsification on another basis. See if
you get lifeless and untextured writing only from the students you prompt
and time, but those who select their own prompt and have their own schedule
write with voice, force, and insight.
a Future for Which We're Responsible
time for those of us in writing classrooms to look critically at
the assumptions that inform what we do when we teach writing. We've
learned a great deal about what to teach, and how, in the 30 years
since the last paradigm change -- the one that turned our attention
from product to process. There is ample evidence of what we've done
so well. We've heightened the focus on writing to the point at which
many children and youth are writing every day, often multiple times
every day, sometimes through the curriculum; and the data show that
we have produced a generation of young writers who write more than
any generation before. We should pay attention to what we have done
in the last three decades. It is a Herculean professional achievement.
There is also evidence of what we haven't done so well. Young writers don't
appear to be writing much better than they did three decades ago (NAEP, 1998),
and we should be paying attention to what that means. One of the cherished
theories is that the more young people write, the better writers they become.
There is considerable falsification evidence that renders our "practice-makes-perfect" theory
at least distracting, if not flatly inaccurate. The evidence seems to suggest
that practice doesn't make perfect at all; rather, a critical point related
to intentional instruction is that practice makes permanent, not perfect
(Fearn and Farnan, 2001). In fact, people don’t learn to write effectively
by writing; they learn to write effectively by writing effectively.
There's a future for which we're responsible. If it’s writing effectively
that makes better writers, how do we cause that? We certainly caused more
writing over the last three decades. How do we cause better writing? Yes,
of course, it's instruction. But what should we teach, and how, and to whom,
and when, and for how long, and how do we know if they're getting better?
Even more important, how do our students know they're getting better, every
day, in ways they experience overtly?
The assumption of a causative relationship between quantity and quality,
in the absence of evidence, ought not satisfy us. Burdening young writers
with length when brevity is the soul of quality doesn’t reflect the
best of what our students read in their literature classes. Focusing our
attention on writing activities and management plans might suggest to some
that were the activities and plans removed, we wouldn't know what to do.
We aren't suggesting there are unambiguous answers to the questions. We've
made two claims.
1. There is little or no causative relationship between testing protocol
and students' writing performance.
2. There is little or no causative relationship between quantity and quality.
Those of us with children and adolescents in our classrooms; those of us
who conduct preservice and in-service professional education; and those of
us who supervise student teachers, cooperating teachers and university supervisors,
alike; can all start moving ahead with those two unambiguous statements that
reflect what we've learned over the past three decades. By “moving
ahead” we mean moving to another paradigm shift in thinking about writing
instruction, where assessment informs instruction and where quantity is necessary
in writing, but insufficient for learning to write well..
Fearn, L. and Farnan, N. (2001). Interactions: Teaching Writing and the
Language Arts. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
Gardner, J. (1983). The Art of Fiction. New York: Knopf.
Gray, J. (1995). Why large-scale testing fails. California English,
National Assessment of Educational Progress. (1998). Report in Brief:
Trends in Academic Progress. Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/96report/97986.shtml.
Fade Away” by William Hart, Fithian Press, Santa Barbara,
Hart’s “Never Fade Away”—though set in the
mid- 1980’s is an appropriate book for our present time. The
novel takes place in Los Angeles at a mythical state university and
is about the bond between John Goddard, a Vietnam Veteran, ESL teacher,
and short story writer and a Vietnamese student named Tina Le.
Tina Le is a boat person, a survivor of serial rape, who, with Goddard’s
encouragement, becomes a powerful writer herself.
“Never Fade Away” is a novel, also, about the University and the
corruption of the University—of the way immigrant and minority students
are encouraged to enter the college system yet often not given the help or encouragement
they need to succeed at a four-year college.
But mainly the novel is about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Both Goddard
and Tina have been badly damaged by the war in Vietnam. Tina has lost, to
the Communists, a grandfather murdered in a re-education camp, a father killed
by pirates on the high seas, and a mother who dies trying to protect Tina
from rape. Goddard, who still has flashbacks of Vietnam, feels responsible
for a buddy killed in front of him by a Viet Cong, and an innocent Vietnamese
woman he feels he may have killed accidentally.
Goddard has become an angry isolate—his humanity only expressed in
his writing and teaching. The novel is told through a series of diary entries—Goddard
and Tina’s. —and here is how the teacher describes himself:
“…here I am, age 35, addicted to alcohol and grass(maybe pills as
well), nearly friendless, and without family. Can this be the same promising
scholar/athlete who at age eighteen set off for war with fire in his eye and
a song in his heart? Look how far I’ve come in seventeen years.”
Goddard gives Tina and another talented student passing grades in
his composition class—despite their failure of an unfair exit
exam—and refuses to change their grades, the untenured teacher
becomes the victim of his department chairs:
“I got my annual evaluation from the Promotion and Retention Committee
today and they’ve lowered my ranking from (1) excellent to (4) poor. Means
I won’t be offered classes next year. In effect I’ve been fired…Oddly
there is virtually no other information on my evaluation form. Nothing about
my publications, nothing about the students’ evaluation of me…why
nothing this year?”
As Goodard fights without success to save his job, he and Tina become involved
in a close relationship, a friendship that becomes an unconsummated love.
Though the novel does not end in a “happily ever after”
scenario, the narrative is honest in its description of two adults—damaged
by war and war’s aftermath—who are in desperate need of each
other. As Tina Li writes in her last journal:
“As I now believe, the strong feelings I have for my teacher are most fortunate,
because they show me I can love and trust a man. For many years I did not know
how to love or trust anyone, especially men. It is the greatest thing my teacher
teach me, and surely this is the purpose of my love for him. There are many kinds
of love in the world. And which kind is best? Maybe I can answer by the time
Hart’s book could be taught in a high school or college class dealing
with American War Literature, for like Hemingway’s “Soldier’s
Home, “ and Irwin Shaw’s “Act of Faith,” and Tim
of Brien’s “If I Die In a Combat Zone,” the author’s
sympathy and feelings are with those soldiers and civilians whose lives should
not and cannot be easily summarized, or made into handy symbols, or dismissed.
Once upon a time
James Britton, Donald Graves, Peter Elbow, Dixie Gotswami, and James
Gray — giants on the earth — showed us new ways to think
about writing. Their work and the work of others who followed their
lead brought about tremendous changes in curriculum and instruction.
I can’t imagine an English teacher in this country, novice
or expert, who isn’t familiar with writing as a process. So
influential has been their work that the English Language Arts standards
documents of many states invariably include reference to the essential
elements of the writing process. According to a report by the GED
Testing Service Alignment of National and State Standards(1999):
Although the terminology
related to the writing process —often referred to as process
writing — may vary slightly among states, the overall perception
of how the process functions remains steadfast. States regard prewriting,
drafting, revision, editing, and publishing as the essential features
of the process and stress that the process itself is recursive (83).
Their work has
received such widespread acceptance that most current assessment
instruments, NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress),
state-wide language arts tests, as well as high school exit exams
and GED include a direct writing sample. In many ways this is a dream
come true for advocates of process writing. Yet we must be careful
what we wish for. It might come true.
We accept that
assessment drives instruction. For this reason most English teachers
cheered the appearance of writing prompts on standardized tests.
We were delighted that students would be required to do more than
identify run-on sentences, misspellings, and misplaced modifiers.
Requiring students to produce a page or two of well-written prose
on state tests seemed to validate our writing programs and send a
powerful message to students that “writing matters.” What
blind-sided us was the way results of state and national assessments
would be used to demonstrate what a dreadful job teachers were doing.
This issue of
California English demonstrates what a good job teachers are doing
teaching writing. Carol Booth Olson’s essay offers hard data
on how quality, focused writing instruction leads to improved student
achievement. Leif Fern and Nancy Farnan’s article explains
how to use assessment to inform instruction. Kelly Gallagher identifies
10 concerns that writing that schools need to address if we hope
to improve student writing. I believe it is a teacher’s professional
responsibility to prepare students for high-stakes tests. I also
believe it is critical that we show students how writing can be a
vehicle for learning about themselves. Though these two agendas may
sometimes compete for classroom time, they are not mutually exclusive.