EGGs and NEGGs: instructors need bad student sentences

A core principle in precision teaching — in any effective teaching — is that instruction must begin by teaching the novice to discriminate good performance from bad.

Correct from incorrect.

This principle is true of conceptual learning as well as procedural: in order to know what a concept is, the student must also know what the concept is not.

That’s where you start.

“Yes/no” knowledge comes first because we can’t know whether we’ve done something well if we don’t know what doing something well looks like. We all have an internal inspector who judges performance, and our internal inspector must be trained.

To learn the difference between correct and incorrect, students must be given examples and nonexamples. EGGs and NEGGs in precision-teaching parlance.

EGGs alone won’t do.

When it comes to teaching writing, the need for NEGGs is a problem because examples of bad student sentences are surprisingly hard to come by. I’ve spent hours scouring the web, looking for the genuine article. There’s not much out there.

Sure, your own students write bad sentences, but using students’ own work to illustrate bad sentence writing is rude. At least, it would be rude for me; I can imagine there are instructors out there who could pull it off with humor and esprit de corps.

And even if you do use your own students’ sentences to illustrate what bad sentences need like, you still need an organizing principle.

What different kinds of bad are there?

Bad student sentences in creative writing

After yet another hour this afternoon, I’ve come up with this list of “worst student sentences,” reportedly saved by a professor of creative writing:

Worst_student_sentences_-_imgur_-_10_21_png 5
The sentences on this list sound like they were written by real students to me. I’m sure they were if only because it’s quite difficult to write a bad student sentence on purpose.

I can certainly write bad sentences of my own. Everyone can.

But I don’t make the same mistakes students do, and I don’t understand their mistakes well enough to be able to imitate them.

What makes a bad sentence bad?

Another problem: this particular list doesn’t really include the type of bad student sentence we instructors see in nonfiction college writing. I’m thinking of sentences that start off fine, but then go off the rails as the word count adds up. During my first semester teaching, I took to calling these constructions train-wreck sentences, a metaphor that had no instructional value whatsoever. Very frustrating.

We need a robust, teachable collection of bad student sentences, and we need a corpus linguist to analyze them for us.

Writing instructors need a taxonomy of student error.

In the wake of today’s Google expedition, I see that there exists a field of written-language study called “error analysis, as well as a body of work on automated scoring of writing. They may have something useful to offer.

But if so, it’s going to take many more hours to ferret out.

Speaking of the Norman Conquest

Which the other Katharine just was…

Probably the most regrettable effect of the conquest was the total eclipse of the English vernacular as the language of literature, law, and administration. Superseded in official documents and other records by Latin and then increasingly in all areas by Anglo-Norman, written English hardly reappeared until the 13th century.

Encyclopedia Britannica: Norman Conquest 

And see:
Has English been dialing down the effects of the Norman Conquest?

Has English been dialing down the effects of the Norman Conquest?

The Norman Conquest involved words as well as weapons: an invading army of over 10,000 Old French vocabulary words. About 75 percent of these are still in current use. But while their endurance is impressive, a sinister question emerges: what happened to the other 25 percent?

And are still more French words on their way out?

I see a new invader, a fifth column deriving from within the pre-Norman Germanic core of English. Its M.O.? Two quintessentially English tools: verb + adverb = verb; and verb + adverb = noun. Its purpose? To banish from everyday speech (and from everyday writing, and even from more formal communications) any remaining whiff of French elitism.


  •  “blow back” for “repercussion”
  •  “dig in” for “entrench”
  • “drill down” for “analyze”
  •  “push back” for “resist”
  • “take away” for “conclusion”
  •  “walk [it] back” for “retract”/“retreat”

In other words, when I drill down into everyday English, this is my takeaway: the linguistic blow back from the Norman Conquest involves a gradual walk back from words of French origin—part of our more general push back against elitism and digging in against privilege.

Hmm… involve, origin, general, elitism, privilege… We’ve still got a few words to go.

And see:
Speaking of the Norman Conquest

ACT results: 82nd percentile to 96th

Timed practice test
6/9/2017 ACT  9/8/2017 ACT
 English  27 – 85th %  34 – 98th %  35 – 99th %
 Reading  23 – 66th %  30 – 88th %  31 – 91st %
 Comp. 1  26 (est.) – 82nd %  29 – 92nd %  31 – 96th %

National Distributions of Cumulative Percents for ACT Test Scores ACT-Tested High School Graduates from 2015, 2016 and 2017

1. The composite score includes all four sections of the ACT: English, reading, math, science. 

Also very raccoony

I think I’m going to declare National Raccoon Week here at C&K:

‘He had big eyes, and looked straight at me’: Family’s home ransacked by racoon

A couple’s family home has been ransacked by a raccoon after it crawled in through their cat-flap.

Father-of-one Marek Chapanionek, 44, was defrosting his freezer at around 11.30pm on Monday night when the woodland critter entered his house.

The animal then “terrorised” the account manager’s property, eating a Nutri-Grain bar from the handbag of wife Caroline, 47, and terrifying two-year-old cat Dotty.


“We thought he must have been someone’s pet because he seemed to know how to open doors. He was an incredibly inquisitive creature, and kept on following me.

And see:
Very raccoony