The Awesome Appositive

Posted: January 25, 2013

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I became a mean teacher this week. I told my seventh graders that, from now on, if someone turns in a paper without a name, or an assignment that isn’t stapled, it will be placed in my “circular file.” None of them knew what that meant. When I enlightened them and explained that  assignments that go in the “circular file” get an automatic zero, they objected, finding the new policy draconian.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

“But there are 20 of you,” I explained. “Your class always has more than one assignment to turn in. Assignments often take up more than one piece of paper. That means this class is sometimes giving me 60 pieces of paper at once! It takes forever to figure out who the nameless papers belong to and to match up pieces of paper correctly.”

I told them that naming papers and stapling assignments is a way of taking someone else into consideration, namely – me, their (formerly beloved) Ms. Scribbles!

It is a learning opportunity. Children are naturally self-centered. Becoming aware of other people and taking their needs into account is just a natural part of growing up. We call this “putting ourselves in other people’s shoes.”

This is a mental habit that is especially important for a writer. Young writers often write as if other people share their same brain, their same past, their same experiences, and their same body of knowledge. By “putting yourself in the reader’s shoes,” you begin to anticipate what a reader might need to fully understand what you are trying to say.

Providing helpful information, in the form of background or context, is almost always necessary, but it’s sometimes difficult to do. It can “bog down” the paper if it’s not done in a clean way. Appositives can be one of the most helpful tools when it comes to injecting a piece of writing with helpful information.

Dorothy, a farm girl who dreams of a better life, finds herself in a mysterious land called Oz.

I met her while I was traveling in Tunisia, a small country in North Africa.

Despite having very different backgrounds, Ron and Hermione both end up at Hogwarts, a school for witchcraft and wizardy.

Appositives allow the reader to get a toehold without wading through a whole paragraph of isolated background information. Use them liberally!

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