Quotations: Embedding

There is nothing that I dislike more than the following sample of writing, something, that I’m ashamed to admit, I receive all the time from students at the start of the year:

Thoreau really thought we should follow our dreams.  He says, “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Thoreau 1). 

Or worse:

Thoreau really thought we should follow our dreams.  “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.” (Thoreau 1). 

What?  Who wants to read a quotation just plunked into a paragraph?  There’s no craft to that.  No thought.  It’s a complete disruption of voice in the essay.   Clearly the voice writing “Thoreau really thought” is different from the voice writing “if one advances confidently.”  Most students know they have to include quotations to support their ideas, but they forget that these quotations must be embedded fluidly as to integrate it into the voice of the essay, not detract from the established voice.  My favorite way to teach how to embed quotations is for students to “play” with the quotations by giving them the essential elements.  Basically, I give them multiple pieces to a sentence and they put the pieces together to form complete sentences that use a quotation.  In pairs, students are given an envelope with a variety of slips of paper in different colors.  Below is a condensed list of phrases and clauses I use with “America and I” by Anzia Yezierska.

 

Color of Paper Grammatical Construct Phrase/Clause
Gold Punctuation marks and citation (Yezierska 872)  ,  ,  .  .  “  “  ”  ”
Yellow A full quotation With every seeking, every reaching out I lost myself deeper and deeper in a vast sea of sand
Blue Brief phrases and clauses
  • becoming a slave to American ideals
  • which created disillusionment
  • because of false hope and unrealistic expectations
  • until she no longer had an identity
  • American expectations causes the main character to feels as though she
  • immigrants that try to better their lives end up losing themselves
  • until they have lost their identity and culture completely
  • forgetting why she came to America in the first place
Green Introductory phrases
  • as described in Yezierska’s short story America and I
  • in the short story America and I

 

Steps:

  1. The students dump the contents of the envelope onto their desk and turn each slip of paper upright.
  2. We practice properly punctuating the quotation by itself with a parenthetical citation.
  3. We discuss the importance of choosing the most essential pieces of information from the quotation to make it meaningful and easy to work with.  My theory is that so many students struggle to effectively embed a quotation because they have such lengthy quotations and feel the need to use an entire sentence from a piece, not a partial quotation.  For this activity I encourage them to bend the yellow piece of paper to suit their needs.  I stress that it is easiest to begin a quotation at the predicate and provide the subject of the sentence in their own writing.
  4. Students are then asked to incorporate quotations in 3 separate ways:
    1. Tag it by putting the writer’s own words (in this case blue pieces of paper) after the quotation (in this case the yellow piece of paper).  I instruct students to create one full, complete, and clear sentence that has a yellow piece of paper and then a blue piece of paper.  Example:  “With every seeking, every reaching out [she] lost [herself] deeper and deeper in a vast sea of sand” until she no longer had an identity (Yezierska 872).
    2. Introduce it by putting the writer’s own words in front of the quotation.  Basically, they will then create a sentence using a blue piece of paper then a yellow.  Example:  Immigrants that try to better their lives end up losing themselves “deeper and deeper in a vast sea of sand” (Yezierska 872).
    3. Embed it by putting blue pieces of paper both before and after the quotation.  They will create a puzzle that goes blue, yellow, blue on their desk.  Example:  Immigrants that try to better their lives end up losing themselves “deeper and deeper in a vast sea of sand” until they no longer have an identity (Yezierska 872).
  5. I also ask the students to incorporate green pieces of paper in front of the quotation to illustrate that, since the introductory phrase, is relatively non-essential, the quotation could still stand by itself. 
  6. Class ends with them practicing by embedding a quotation for their essay into a complete sentence.

While this takes some work to print, copy, and cut all of the pieces, I have had so much success with this activity.  Seriously, it makes me want to hug my students after reading their essays (and I hate hugging and the invasion of personal space).  The hands-on practice really helps the students realize the difference between using a quotation and fluidly incorporating a quotation into their writing.  This also gives the students the opportunity to play around with style a bit more, practice punctuation, and parenthetical citations.  Also, because “says” is nowhere to be found in the provided phrases, I rarely read the earlier quotations.  Instead, they become beauties like:

People should be ambitious and “advance confidently in their direction of his dreams” if they hope to “meet with a success unexpected in common hours” (Thoreau 1). 

Ahh…much better.

Information for the “tag,” “intro,” and “embed” found from a great resource by Michelle Garbis.

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