The Elements of Riley

My favorite little book on English usage is Strunk and White’s “The Elements of Style.” I’ve used it a lot through the years in my teaching. There is a lot in there about misspelled homophones and multiple meaning words. In my graduate program I used to work at the Cerritos Community College writing center where I was hired to help entering language students correct basic usage and composition errors on their papers. They were required to spend a given amount of time in the writing center and I would sign them off when they’d seen me a few times. It was a great job for a 26 year old thinking about becoming a college teacher. I got to see what a lot of the job would consist of. Working with people so closely was nice too. After correcting some of the same mistakes over and over by the hundreds, I had developed little doodles and vocabulary to help them see the correct way to spell homophones like to/too/two. I don’t have a way o doodle here “stream of consciousness” but I’ll try and remember some of the ways I used to teach these. I still use some of these little ideas to teach these homophones to my 4th graders.

to is a preposition. It announces where you are going. “I am going to the store.” It has one “o” unlike the other two spellings. too is a modifier of degree. I taught this one by saying when it’s explaining there are “too many” you don’t use just one “o” you use “too many o’s” or “2” o’s as opposed to one. Get it? It’s simple and cheesy but when you are starting out in college or anything you do as a serious writer, these little tips are golden and they were always appreciated. I made handouts and I copied a LOT of them. The final word that sounds the same but is spelled different is the number. two, the number, is spelled with a “w.” I would coach them to memorize the spelling of the number first and then use the trick of “degree” being too many “o’s.” And that’s how I would teach the homophones of to/too/two.

Author: Damien Riley

I'm a blogger, film critic, & podcaster with an MA in English from California State University, Fullerton. I teach public school, 4th grade as my primary occupation. My views on films and life are usually headstrong and often 'left of center' on movies and life, but I have respect for the other side. I married my high-desert princess (now my queen). We have 3 children.

4 thoughts on “The Elements of Riley”

  1. I always felt that little tricks like this were harder to learn and more time consuming than just learning the thing itself, but I know it helps other people. I just wish people cared enough to get it right. LOL. I think I care a little too much. Great post! :)

        1. True. I tell people a small amount of discipline goes a long way and there are only a few common errors to work at. to/too/two is definitely a big one. My common mistakes result from being a search and plunk typist (the shame) so I know we all have our challenges.

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