Grammar Practice for Crafting an Effective Writer MOOC


I am currently in week three of Coursera’s Crafting an Effective Writer: Tools of the Trade (check out #CEWTT on Twitter). I am enjoying the class and find it just what I need to re-boot and re-learn long forgotten  writing skills.

If you want a refresher in English grammar and writing, I recommend you check out this Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Oh, the things I have forgotten

Each video module of CEWTT ends with an ungraded quiz that offers the viewer practice on what they have learned. However, each quiz only includes a few questions. The readings in course materials also have a few examples for each part of speech under discussion.

The graded quiz at the end of each week allows one attempt; although once submitted, there is a short explanation after each question that provides a good reference.

Online module writing assignments also offer the student the chance to practice and a final writing assignment for each unit results in peer review feedback. Or, at least, I hope it does; as of this writing, we haven’t hit the deadline for the first round of peer review.

Given the amount of rust on my grammar and writing skills, these quizzes and assignments are not enough for my practice needs. I still find my self struggling to pick out the individual parts of speech in a particular sentence. Like many folks, I tend to write intuitively, not consciously thinking about sentence structure. That process is probably a good thing for getting down the first draft, but when switching to editing mode I quickly get into trouble.

I’d like to change that.

Time for a Question Bank

A search for a source of good, grammatically correct sentences in the public domain led me to John Muir and the rich descriptions in his book, The Yosemite. Muir’s book is available at Project Gutenberg and is free to download and distribute in accordance with the Project Gutenberg license.

I downloaded the plain text version, re-formatted the book’s text file into separate sentences, and ran a pseudo-random sort so I would not get distracted into reading Muir’s superb prose instead of concentrating on the individual sentences. This re-formatting effort left me with over 1,800 separate sentences. That should keep me busy for awhile.

Here is my first practice session using my question Mr. Muir’s sentence bank.

Please let me know in the comments if you see any mistakes.

Nouns and Pronouns

Find the nouns (common nouns and proper nouns) and pronouns.

  • After waiting still another day the expedition started for the Valley.
  • The most familiar and best known of all is the common robin, who may be seen every day, hopping about briskly on the meadows and uttering his cheery, enlivening call.
  • The correspondence between the Hetch Hetchy walls in their trends, sculpture, physical structure, and general arrangement of the main rock-masses and those of the Yosemite Valley has excited the wondering admiration of every observer.
  • There are many other comparatively small falls and cascades in the Valley.
  • But I was unable to find a ship bound for South America–fortunately perhaps, for I had incredibly little money for so long a trip and had not yet fully recovered from a fever caught in the Florida swamps.
  • The most influential of the Valley trees is the yellow pine (Pinus ponderosa).
  • Groups of two or three are often found standing close together, the seeds from which they sprang having probably grown on ground cleared for their reception by the fall of a large tree of a former generation.
  • Ever since the establishment of the Yosemite National Park, strife has been going on around its borders and I suppose this will go on as part of the universal battle between right and wrong, however much its boundaries may be shorn, or its wild beauty destroyed.
  • Thus, in three days the round trip had been made to the Valley, most of it had been explored in a general way and some of its principal features had been named.
  • Two of the largest specimens, as we have seen, are in Yosemite; one of these, more than eight feet in diameter, is growing on a moraine; the other, nearly as large, on angular blocks of granite.