Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sentence Diagramming: Diagramming Subject Complements

A subject complement is a noun or an adjective that follows a linking verb and tells us more about the subject.  The linking verb acts like an equals sign between the subject and the complement.

There are two types of subject complements, predicate adjectives and predicate nominatives.

It's easy to remember how to diagram a predicate adjective or predicate nominative if you remember that it points back at its subject.

Diagramming Predicate Adjectives

When a linking verb is followed by an adjective, like "happy," we identify it as a predicate adjective. In the following example, the subject, "Sue" equals "happy."  Other linking verbs that might appear in this sentence are "seems," "feels," or "sounds."  Can you see how no matter which of these linking verbs we use, Sue = happy?

When we diagram the subject complement, we place it in the third segment of the base line, following the linking verb.  The line that separates the verb from the subject complement leans back an angle . . .

as though it is pointing back to the subject.

Diagramming Predicate Nominatives

Linking verbs can also be followed by nouns.  In this example, "Sue = nurse."  "Nurse" is the subject complement.  Because this subject complement is a noun, we identify "nurse" as a predicate nominative. 

Again, when we diagram this sentence, we place "nurse" in the third segment of the base line and draw the division between the verb and the predicate nominative at an angle pointing back toward the subject of the sentence.

Think you've got it?  Try to following quiz to self assess your understanding.

Quiz Yourself on Subject Complements

1. What are the two types of subject complements?
2. What is the subject complement in "Sal seems content"?
3. What part of speech is "content"?
4. Diagram the sentence "Jose is a teacher."
5. In which segment of the base line does the subject complement appear?

Ready to check your answers?  Scroll down a bit . . .

keep going . . . 

almost there . . . 


Click on the image to see if your answers are correct.

Want to read more about diagramming sentences?  Try

Diagramming Gerunds
What's an Object Complement?
Prepositional Phrase or Phrasal Verb?
Wise Words Wednesday

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Yarn as Memory and Memory as a Gift

My WIP is a "Stashbuster"

I'm an avid crocheter, and my most recent work-in-progress (WIP)  is a "stashbuster," a project where I use up as much of my scrap and leftover yarn as I can to clean up my "stash."  

Digging down into the depths of one of my storage containers today to find a few more scraps for my project, I came across a warm red yarn, soft and crooked from end to end from years and years of being packed underneath new skeins.

This warm red yarn, soft and crooked from end to end from years of being packed underneath new skeins was given to me by my grandmother when I was about 10 years old, back in the 1980's, at a time when I was a beginning avid crocheter. I was constantly making clothes for my dolls, little crocheted animals, bracelets, and little granny squares; so often, in fact, my dad and stepmother expressed concern about the amount of time I spent crocheting. This yarn, I remember, I used to make a dress for my Crystal Barbie, my favorite Barbie doll at the time.  I made her a knee-length dress with a square neckline and poofy off-the-shoulder sleeves out of that red yarn.

I made that dress for my Crystal Barbie at a time when I was determined to be as good a crocheter as my grandmother, and as I said, I crocheted nonstop. I crocheted so much I began having nightmares about everything in the real world being made of crochet, including, as I vividly remember, my teeth and my toothbrush.  As horrifying as it was at the time, I can now share that memory with my husband and laugh about it.

I'm not sure what prompted me to look in that container today and find yarn I've carried with me, packed in a storage container for 30 years, but I did, and finding it was a gift.  It's two years to the day my grandmother died, and at least for a few minutes today, I was able to hold onto real evidence of that time in my life and those memories, and I was able to laugh.  As the yarn slipped through my fingers, soft and growing smaller while the work grew larger, it felt like a hug from my grandmother, and I was encouraged to pass that hug on to you.

Want to read more about crochet?  Try

Arts and Crafts and Healing
Learn to Crochet for Stress Relief
Product Review: Lion Brand Yarn Ergonomic Crochet Hook Set

Want to leave a comment about crochet?  

Please leave a comment below, and I will respond in a day or two.  : )  Thank you!

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Power of Story: The Power of Narrative

Stories invite people in.

Stories are powerful.  Stories can paint detailed pictures of lives, places, people, and events.  They convey character, insights, motives, and give us the opportunity to feel complex emotions or empathize with others.  Stories can help us remember, and stories can help us heal.

Several times over the past month I have been reminded of the power of stories, and I have also had a few realizations about how we use stories and narratives in our day-to-day lives.   Stories are an important part of successful business practices, interpersonal communications, and spiritual health.

Narrative as Part of Successful Business Practices

The purpose of narrative in business is to help businesses shift from selling widgets or services to selling possibilities.  I have been hearing about the power of storytelling in business for several years, but I think I finally understand it.  Instead of a business trying to persuade a customer or client to part with money in exchange for an item or a service, a business can use the power of story to to help the customer or client become a character in a "success narrative."  In such a "success narrative" the business creates for the customer a scenario in which all the customer's hopes and desires are fulfilled.  The fulfillment of those hopes and desires is somehow linked to the product or service offered by the business.

One example of a successful business narrative comes from John Hagel.  Hagel's example is based on Apple and their slogan "Think different" (2013, para. 7):

Very few companies have in fact developed powerful narratives. One of the best, in my mind, is Apple.  Their narrative is condensed into the slogan, 'think different.' Unpack the narrative and it goes something like this: there’s a new generation of technology that for the first time in history has the potential to free us from the constraints and pressures to fit into mass society and that makes it possible for us to express our unique individuality and achieve more of our potential.  But this is not a given – it depends on one thing: you have to think different. Are you willing to do that? Apple’s narrative is about us and what we need to do; it’s not about Apple.  

Narrative in Interpersonal Communications

Have you ever been at a loss when you've tried to tell someone else exactly what it was like to be in a particular situation or to feel a certain way?  That actually happens a lot. There is no one-to-one correlation between the meaning of a word or phrase and what that word or phrase represents.  For example, if I say "fish," you could think of a salmon swimming upstream, a card game, or a microwaved fish stick.  I have to be more specific and detailed in order for you to understand I mean a 4-inch long butterfly koi fish with white, orange, and black markings.  Now, what if I say "love?"  Do you know exactly what I mean?

Narratives, stories, allow us to not only explain rational ideas in detail, like "fish," but irrational ideas, like "love."  When we tell stories, we can use figurative language and detailed descriptions of events to help us explain irrational ideas more deliberately and thoroughly than we can with other types of writing.  Can you imagine if all we ever understood about "love" was its dictionary definition?  In order to understand what different people mean by "love," we need to hear their stories, feel their descriptions, and place ourselves in their various situations.  Narrative allows for this and allows us to better understand one another's experiences and emotions.

Narrative for Maintaining Spiritual Health

Something I read lately about spiritual health and the power of narrative really resonated with me, as well.  Dr. Alan Wolfelt (n.d., para. 16) writes:

Part of your self-identity comes from the relationships you have created with others. When someone with whom you have a relationship dies, your self-identity naturally changes. As bereaved persons move forward in their grief journeys, many discover that some aspects of their self-identities have positively changed. For example, you may feel more confident or more open to life’s challenges.

Not only does this imply we can overcome grief and loss by rewriting our own narratives, it implies that in order to heal our spirits after experiencing other traumas or life-changing events, we can rewrite our own narratives and adapt our characters.

Furthermore, when our spirits or souls are ill, we can change the stories we tell from stories that paint negative pictures of the world to positive pictures of the world.  For example, if I tell you a story about a traumatic event, I can choose to emphasize regret, rage, bitterness, or sadness (a negative emotion), or I can choose to emphasize awareness, forgiveness, or perseverance (a positive emotion).  Of course, the event still occurred, and the emotions surrounding the event were probably at least a little negative.  However, focusing on positive emotions as we tell our stories of those events can help heal our souls.

In sum, applying the power of story to aspects of our daily lives can help us lead more successful lives.  The power of story can help us run more successful business, have deeper and more meaningful relationships with others, and help us regain or maintain our spiritual selves.

Want to read more about narrative?  Try


Hagel, J. (2013).  The Untapped Potential of Corporate Narratives.  Retrieved from http://edgeperspectives.typepad.com/edge_perspectives/2013/10/the-untapped-potential-of-corporate-narratives.html

Wolfelt, A D. Ph.D (n.d.). Helping Yourself When Someone You Love Has Died. Retrieved from http://www.catholicmortuaries.com/en-us/library/article/name/gml-when-someone-you-love-has-died

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Student Engagement and Writing

Student Engagement in Literature and Writing

In a 2011 blog post called "Death to High School English," writer Kim Brooks argues that middle and high school English classes, as they are now taught, are ineffective.  

She implies that focusing on "fun" projects, like acting out scenes from books and plays or keeping journals to the exclusion of a focus on the hard work of writing a paper, is doing our college-level students no favors. They enter college with no knowledge of basic grammar and mechanics, no knowledge of how to evaluate or incorporate source content, and no understanding of basic organizational structures.  These students, with skills lacking that used to be taught from grade school through high school, are then placed in a composition class at the college level with so many skills lacking that faculty don't even know where to begin teaching.

The question Brooks investigated was why this isn't happening.  Why aren't these skills being taught?  To paraphrase the answer: Students don't view writing as fun, which means administrators who think "fun" is the same as "engaging" encourage "fun" over research and writing, which means teachers are so overwhelmed with fun remediation of basic skills they never get around to teaching research and writing. Oh, and class sizes have grown so large that the individualized attention the students need in order for remediation to stick has become an impossibility.

But the story doesn't end there: The students can't write cover letters, resumes, or professional email messages.  They fail to communicate effectively.  They cannot comprehend trade magazine articles or essays.  They come to college and fail, not because they don't have the capacity to understand college-level material, but because they can't read or write about college-level material at a college level.

Engage With the Material

What a mess, right?  But Brook's reaction to "We don't teach writing because it's not fun," is priceless: "Sometimes we do things not because they’re fun but because they’re important."  And therein might be part of the solution.  Even if I don't want to do the dishes, they need to be done, so I do them.  I engage with the dishes.  Once they are done, I am fulfilled - at least a little.

There are two different dictionary definitions of  "engage."  One definition is to capture someone else's attention, and the other is to get involved (understood you).  In other words, the first is what the course material should do (with some help from the teacher), and the second is what a student should do.  In the classroom, both of those definitions must be met for real engagement to take place.

Students must engage with the course content, not just the teacher.

As a college-level composition teacher, I cannot change what my students did or did not experience in high school, but I can make sure I remediate the skills necessary to make writing engaging, if not always fun.  I can help my students learn something about writing, find some success, and therefore be fulfilled - if only a little. That's the essence of engaging. They, the students, must engage with the material in a way that is fulfilling.

Beyond the Dictionary: Defining "Engagement"

If engagement was as easy as opening the dictionary, however, good writing wouldn't be an issue, so what else can we do?  How can we dig deeper?

The University of Exeter has what is called a "Student Engagement and Skills Hub" online.  They offer worksheets and examples for institutions to use to help define engagement and engagement strategies at the department and university level.  The worksheets and prompts can also be used to help teachers define personal philosophies of engagement on a class-by-class basis.  For example, in my introductory literature course, I take silent students and furrowed brows as a sign students are engaged in the material.  Personally, I do not want to capture a student's attention in that class; I want the material to capture a student's attention.  I am not the star of the class, the literature is the star in that class.

Here are the roles we all play:

1. I choose and present literature I believe will capture the attention of the specific group of students in a particular section of my course.  In order to do that I must pay attention to my students; I must engage with them.
2. The students then engage with the material through the step-by-step process of active reading. They put their heads down, furrow their brows, and ponder the greater meaning of what they've read. They tell me and one another, in writing, how they've engaged with each reading.
3. I allow students to engage with each other and with me (to a lesser degree) when we discuss the literature.

Here is an anecdote: A student once actually told me he wasn't looking forward to taking my classes because he had seen these behaviors, silence and perseverating looks, from previous students through my classroom windows.  Once he was in the class, however, he admitted his preconception and laughed.  "They were just genuinely interested in learning something," he said.  "They were thinking about the stories."  In just that moment, he said something momentous: Engagement is not about entertainment or "fun-ness." Engagement is about being genuinely interested in the class content, in the act of learning something. Students are engaged with the material and the process of learning because learning the material, pondering or contemplating it, is also somehow fulfilling.

An outsider may believe furrowed brows and silent students are signs of a disengaged class, but in my very particular class these are generally signs students are engaged with the material, even when the students are not being entertained by the teacher, videos, multi-media presentations, cartoon characters on worksheets, songs, dances, games, or other fun stuff.

The trick, if it can be called a trick, is to make certain the students not only understand the material, but know, on some level, that understanding the material and learning about the material will somehow be fulfilling to them.  Some call this the "What's-in-it-for-me?" (WIIFM?) principle, others refer to this idea as "making the content relevant" to students' lives, some study this concept as a method of contemplative education, and still others make it happen without ever referring to it directly.

And the neat thing?  All of this can happen in writing classes when we make the learning, the hard work of writing a research paper, worth the effort.  We have to make the students want to contemplate the material, ponder their own questions, remember the impetus or genuine inquiry that made them choose a particular writing topic in the first place.   There's no amount of song and dance or fun and games that can help a student engage in his or her own writing material.  Songs, dances, fun, and games, help students engage with a teacher, but they can't take the teacher with them to the next class, the next job interview, or through a degree program.

Need some more ideas for student engagement? Try

Motivate the WIIFM? Student With a Learning Audit Assignment
Student-Centered or Curriculum-Centered?
The Benefit of Play in the Composition Classroom


  • Brooks, K. (2011). Death to High School English.  Retrieved from [Blog]
  • University of Exeter. (n.d.). Student Engagement and Skills Hub. Retrieved from [Exeter Web Site]

Copyright Amy Lynn Hess.  Please contact the author for permission to republish.