Monthly Archives: September 2011

Expand Your Vocabulary

Whether it’s for the ASVAB, the SAT, a promotion, or personal reasons, expanding your vocabulary doesn’t have to be painful. While there are many ways that you can approach the issue, here are a few tips that have worked out for us.

Reading the dictionary may not be the best way to expand your vocabulary! (Image Credit:

Extra, Extra!

A newspaper is full of words you’ve probably never heard of. If you already read the newspaper, this exercise can fit easily into your routine, although it may involve a departure from the comics or the sports page. Read through a few of the articles that interest you, making sure to underline, circle, or highlight any words that you don’t know. Try to work out what the word means based on the context, or the words that are surrounding it, and the message the overall sentence is trying to send. Make your best guess, and then crack open a dictionary and find the actual definition. If you do this every day, picking out a few words at a time, you’ll slowly start to incorporate new words into your vocabulary. To boost the effectiveness of this practice, try writing out all the words and their definitions in a notebook. It’s been proven that writing things down helps in the memorization process, so why not take advantage of the fact?


Another great way to keep your vocabulary learning consistent is to work your way through a large book. Again, take care to circle, underline, or highlight words you don’t know, use context clues to figure out the definition, and then consult a dictionary. If you commit to reading a chapter each day, you’ll be encountering new words on a daily basis. Writing down the words and their definitions will help them stick. Make sure to choose a book that will challenge you without overwhelming you.


In addition to writing down the words you’re learning and their definitions, try writing out a sentence of your own that incorporates the word. This will help you remember the word because you’ll have actually worked with it. Watch out for what part of speech the word is to dictate what context you use it in!

This Isn’t a Game!

Sure, you need to learn new vocabulary words, but you can still play games while doing it! A personal favorite is Free Rice, which helps you practice vocabulary while also donating rice to people in need. Scrabble can also be a way to help bolster your vocabulary if you play with a skilled player. Remember to keep writing down the words you encounter, as it will help them stick in your head better!

What are some other tools you use to increase your vocabulary?


1 Comment

Filed under Academic Advice

History Buff

Loving history has never been difficult for me. History has everything. Science, math, stories, geography, politics…you name it, and history’s got it. The way I fell in love with history was through traveling. Childhood trips to the forts that dot Western New York and southern Ontario were perhaps the most memorable, but my parents made history part of the itinerary wherever we travelled. Those historic signs that dot the roadways? My dad would make a point to stop and explore, possibly committing a few misdemeanors in the process. The interest my parents fostered was only increased as my reading ability increased. It was when I started chapter books that I found historical fiction.

Ann Rinaldi was my first love in historical fiction. With books ranging from the Salem Witch Trials to the American Revolution, Rinaldi showed me that history didn’t have to be the dry dates and facts I was learning in the classroom. On a librarian’s recommendation, I found the Dear America series. Written in the form of diaries from girls during different moments in American history, the series offered first-hand fictional accounts of real events.

The point is that history doesn’t have to be boring. History teachers can certainly incorporate new things into their curriculum, whether by building a longhouse during a unit on the Haudenosaunee or visiting a local graveyard to view local history. Parents can make a difference by taking children out to local historical sites, and by bringing history into the home, whether through books or television specials.

What makes you love (or hate!) history?

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advice, My Experiences

You’re Getting Sleepy

The past few nights I’ve spent tossing and turning, so to channel all that pent-up energy we’ll be looking at ways you can make your bedroom a peaceful respite and maximize your sleep. After all, you can’t be productive if you’re exhausted!

All Work and No Play

It’s easy to get sucked into doing work in bed. After all, it’s the most comfortable spot in the house, it has plenty of room for you to spread everything out, and it gives you a spot away from the rest of the commotion that may be distracting you in the house. But before you plug in your laptop and prop up your pillows, think twice. Bringing work into bed means that eventually, you’ll train your brain to expect work when it gets into bed, and you’ll have a much harder time sleeping. Doing work in bed also means that you’ll be more likely to take naps, and I’ve always noticed that my productivity decreases significantly whenever I move away from my desk. So rather than finishing that last chapter up in bed, get it done where you are and reward yourself with a great night’s sleep.

Turn off the TV!

If you aren’t doing work in bed, you shouldn’t be watching TV in bed either! The more you can keep your bed as strictly a space for sleeping, the more sleep you’ll get in it. Rather than crawling into bed to watch Iron Chef America, put on your pajamas and enjoy an episode on the couch before hitting the hay.

Never Leave for Tomorrow…

One of the major reasons I find myself losing out on shut eye is because I’m anxious about getting something done. There comes a point when you have to set  work aside in order to get sleep, but if you have a big project coming up make more time in the evenings to get work done, which will help you sleep better because you aren’t up working or worrying about getting the job done.

Get in the Groove

If you consistently have trouble sleeping, try setting up a routine for yourself that cues your body it’s time to shut off. I enjoy a cup of tea in my pajamas and a half-hour of something relaxing, whether it’s a TV show or a magazine article, and then I brush my teeth, set my alarm, and drift away. Your routine doesn’t have to be something elaborate, but you should try and keep it consistent.

Work it Out!

Getting some excess energy out, which tends to build up if you’re stuck writing papers or reading books all day, can be necessary in order to sleep. You don’t have to run a marathon; a simple walk will do just fine. Try and do this sometime after dinner, and make sure to leave yourself enough time to come down off your physical exercise high so you’ll be able to sleep.

What are some other tips you have for people who just can’t fall asleep?

Leave a comment

Filed under My Experiences

With a Little Help From My Friends

There are a lot of steps in the writing process that get ignored when a deadline starts looming. However, there are some steps of the writing process that can prove especially helpful. For me, the most beneficial step is often peer review. Sure, it might take a little work to find someone to read over what you wrote and provide feedback, but the reward for doing so is great. Having another reader means that you’ll get a fresh set of eyes picking over not only the basic mechanics of your writing (e.g. finding typos and comma splices), but also someone to help you locate organization, transition, or idea issues.

After all, the point of writing is communication, and what better way to test its effectiveness than allowing it to go into the world and be read? While it’s always a good idea to read your own writing over before final submission with a set of fresh eyes, I find that I sometimes gloss over my errors because I know what it is that I’m trying to say. While some of you may be lucky enough to already have people in your life who enjoy reading your work and are willing to do the work to help you improve it, others may not have such an easy time. If your writing is for work, try asking a co-worker. If it’s for school, ask a classmate. You can sweeten the deal by offering to read your editor’s writing in exchange. Another great resource for university students is the writing center. Nearly every school has one, and the people who work there are usually selected for their skill at writing.

There are plenty of forms online that give you ideas of what to look for when peer reviewing. Before subjecting someone else to your work, however, make sure you’ve done a preliminary round of editing and revising yourself. You don’t want your reviewer hung up on correcting misspelled words and missing out on your overall message, or else the peer editing process won’t live up to its full potential.

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advice

Dumb Questions

There’s no such thing as a dumb question. We’ve all heard it, at some point or another. The reality, as I see it, is that although there may be no such thing as a dumb question, some questions are certainly more intelligent than others. For example, asking for clarification on a point you missed because you were too busy texting on your phone to listen the first time is kind of a dumb question. Asking for clarification on the requirements for an essay that’s due in two weeks because you want to get the best grade possible on it is not a dumb question at all, and is in fact a very smart question. Even with the first situation, however, perhaps it is recognizing that you missed an important point and cared enough to rectify the situation makes it not a dumb question.

See? You aren't the only one with a question! (Image Credit:

Shoot. I really hate it when cliches somehow manage to stand their ground.

But if there really is no such thing as a dumb question, why do we so often sit in silence and refuse to break the flow of something by asking a perfectly valid question. For me, one of the most stressful times of the school year is when the teacher goes over the syllabus. As we fly through an entire semester’s worth of material, questions start popping into my head. The fact that I’m too nervous to ask any of these questions, unwilling to draw any sort of negative attention to myself as the girl who can’t understand the syllabus, keeps me preoccupied so that I become confused by even more items on the syllabus. By the end of the first class I feel defeated already.

So what is the point of this? Speak up! Ask your questions without shame! An intelligent question can never go awry, although you may want to work on your timing. Sometimes, interrupting the flow of someone’s thought with a question can be distracting. Instead, take a moment to jot down your question, which you can pose to them after they’ve finished. In some cases, it’s worth it to interrupt and seek clarification. Even if you feel silly after asking a question, you can usually take solace in knowing you’re not the only one who had the same question, or the only one who would have had a question in that circumstance. So query on!

Leave a comment

Filed under Academic Advice

Thesaurus: Friend or Foe?

Ah, the thesaurus. Friend of stumped writers the world over. You may think that cracking open a thesaurus when you’re having a hard time figuring out a different way to say a word you’ve already used seventeen times in the last paragraph, and you would probably be right. However, the thesaurus comes with some strong warnings.

While two words may have almost the same dictionary definition, they can have very different connotations when used. For example, cheap and thrifty both mean that someone is careful with money. However, while you may want to be called thrifty, being called cheap isn’t nearly as flattering. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use a thesaurus for any situation; in fact, you can often find exciting new synonyms that will help make your writing that much more powerful. However, make sure you know the exact meaning of the words you put into your writing.

A good rule I’ve found for my own writing is that I won’t use a word unless I know what it means. Sometimes, I have to look up words in the dictionary (or, admittedly, do a quick Google search), but by the time I let anyone else see my paper I’m positive that my word choices are the best that they can be. To many people who frequently read written work (i.e. teachers, publishers, etc.), overuse of a thesaurus is readily evident but also easily remedied. Save your thesaurus words for the times when you really need an extra oomph, not just when you’re trying to sound intelligent. The ideas you put into your writing will make you sound far more intelligent than misusing a thesaurus.


Filed under Academic Advice

Farewell, Summer!

I think it’s officially safe to say that summer has passed. As we move into fall, many people are left feeling nostalgic for summer. Even as October looms closer on the horizon, there are still ways you can hold onto that summer feeling!

Bring Green Into Your Home

Part of what many people love about summer is being able to spend time in the great outdoors. Well, why not try bringing a piece of the outdoors in? Just because the gardening season is drawing to a close doesn’t mean you can’t continue growing! A really simple way to garden that can also spice up your menu is to have a few window sill herbs. Whether it’s basil, rosemary, chives, or parsley, you can have fresh greenery and ingredients right at your fingertips. If a few small herbs aren’t enough for you, why not try bringing another plant into your home? A few personal favorites include African violets (which thrive quite well in bathrooms), spider plants (which thrive just about anywhere), and potted trees. So head to your local nursery and pick up a little bit of summer! As a bonus, you can get the whole family involved in your indoor garden which incorporates lessons about responsibility.

Fire Up the Grill!

Just because the temperatures are starting to drop doesn’t mean you can’t have the taste of summer anymore! While it may be a little chilly to eat outside, the grill is still readily accessible and the bounty of fall provides plenty of grilling opportunities. An easy and fun way to get kids involved is to make shish kabobs. Make sure an adult wields the knife, but kids can help put the cut-up veggies on skewers for a colorful (and nutritious!) meal.

Dive Right In

While the outdoor pool may be covered up, there are still plenty of ways you can enjoy the water. If your local school district has a pool, they may offer family swim nights or swim lessons that you can take advantage of. Otherwise, why not check out a local YMCA or other community center? Although nothing can beat swimming in the great outdoors, an Olympic-sized indoor pool comes pretty close, and keeps your entire body fit throughout the year.

Take a Hike (Or Bring a Bike!)

Get out the hiking boots and jackets, because fall can be the best time of year to really enjoy the outdoors. The air has cooled off, the ground tends to be dry, and the scenery can be breathtaking. Take your family outside and get your fill of Vitamin D to sustain you through the long winter months ahead!

Picking Ain’t Easy

Just because summer produce is over doesn’t mean that u-pick opportunities are gone! In fact, fall offers one of the most exciting kinds of crop-apples! Find a local farm that offers u-pick apples and bring the whole family along to increase your bounty! If you find you have too many apples to eat, why not try baking with them?

What are some other ways you and your family keep that summer feeling going as the weather cools off?

Leave a comment

Filed under My Experiences