letter to a b student robert oliphant l.
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Letter to a B Student Robert Oliphant. Teaching Points. Pre-reading Questions About the Author Structural Analysis Language Points Key Words and Phrases. Pre-reading Questions.

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slide2

Teaching Points

  • Pre-reading Questions
  • About the Author
  • Structural Analysis
  • Language Points
  • Key Words and Phrases
pre reading questions
Pre-reading Questions

1. What grades do you mostly get for the English courses you have been taking? Are you happy or are you disappointed with the grades you get?

2. Imagine yourself to be a teacher and that you are to write a letter to a student who is disappointed with the grades he gets. What would you say to him in the letter?

about the author
About the Author

Robert Oliphant is an English professor at California State University at Northridge. The text is an excerpt of a sensitive and thoughtful letter to a student on keeping a sense of perspective on grades. It appeared in Liberal Education in 1986.

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And the author’s purpose is to tell the student what a grade really means and what it doesn’t.
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Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Oliphant studied Commerce and Finance at the University of Toronto, graduating in 1978, with a Bachelor of Commerce. While at university he rowed on the Men’s Varsity Rowing Crew, was involved in music and student politics. Upon graduating from U of T, he returned to Sault Ste. Marie and worked at Algoma Steel as an accountant in computer systems development. Oliphant lives in Cabbagetown, Toronto with his husband, Marco Fiola, a Professor of Applied Linguistics at Ryerson University. Oliphant married Fiola in 2005, soon after same sex marriage was legalized in Canada.
structural analysis
Structural Analysis

The text is taken from a letter which is

from a teacher to a student. But it is

incomplete with only the first half of it.

It is composed of four parts and the main

idea of each part is as follows:

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Part 1(Paragraph 1):

Introduction to the topic of the letter

Pert II (Paragraph 2-5):

Grades do not mean anything

Part III (Paragraph 6-8):

Getting a B in class does not mean one will always

be a B performer in life.

Part IV (Paragraph 9-10):

In a complex society like ours, labels are

necessary but they should be kept in perspective.

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The 1st paragraph serves as an introduction, which introduces the topic of the letter. The rest of the text falls into three parts, each of which is marked at the beginning by a key word or words.
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1. What change about grades has the writer mentioned briefly?
  • 2. What, according to the writer, has caused the change?
  • 3. Has the writer stated his purpose of writing in this paragraph? Where is it?
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Part 2 (Paragraph 2-5)
  • These four paragraphs constitute the first main part of the letter.
  • The writer’ purpose of writing in the first sentence the 3rd paragraph :
  • to put your disappointment in perspective by considering exactly what your grade means and does not mean.
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1. What does the phrase “put something in perspective” mean?
  • 2. How does the writer explain the notion of disappointment?
  • 3. “…the essence of success is that…” what does this mean?
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There does not exist the situation in which all those who are involved will turn out successful and no one feels disappointed. Whenever there are winners, there are losers. When someone feels happy about his success, there must be someone else or some others who feel disappointed. In a highly competitive society where the importance of winning is emphasized so much, it is inevitable that whose who fail in the competition will feel disappointed.
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4. What does a grade mean and what does it not mean?
  • It means the successful completion of a specific course at a certain level of proficiency. It is an indication of the level of the student’s performance of some conventional tasks. It may also be an indication of the knowledge the student has acquired.
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It may not be a truthful indication of the student’s knowledge, It does not represent a judgment of the student’s basic ability or of his character.
  • Para 5: his critical attitude to the school curriculum and the importance he attaches to character building.
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Part 3 (Paragraph 6-8)
  • What the writer aims to do in this part is to show that there is a distinction between the student as a performer in the classroom and the student as a human being. He uses his personal experience to illustrate his distinction.
  • Now, can you relate the writer’s experience?
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Part 4 (Paragraph 9-10)
  • The focal point of this part is “perspective”, i.e. the way we should regard grades.
  • Now, please think about the following questions:
  • 1. What is the writer’s view concerning social labels?
  • 2. How does the writer relate a student’s academic performance with his future life?
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far superior to:better in quality than;better, more powerful, more effective etc than a similar person or thing, especially one that you are competing against [≠ inferior]

The visiting team turned out to be far superior to the host team in teamwork.

a superior officer / court

Mother superior( in charge of convent)

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very good: excellent, fantastic, wonderful, great, terrific, neat, superb, amazing, outstanding, brilliant, impressive, fine, first-class, out of this world
  • of good quality: high quality, top quality, superior, deluxe, classy
  • morally good: decent, virtuous, respectable, honorable upright, beyond reproach
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2. Gentleman’s C:a decent grade.

A gentleman is supposed to be a man of decency, i.e. decent in speech and behavior, so Gentleman’s C simply means a decent grade (尚可的、过得去的分数).

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gentleman's agreement
  • an agreement that is not written down, made between people who trust each other
  • country gentleman
  • gentleman farmer: a man belonging to a high social class who owns and runs a farm, but who usually hires people to do the work
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3.Norm: 1)the usual or normal situation, way of doing something etc
  • Joyce's style of writing was a striking departure from the literary norm.
  • 2)generally accepted standards of social behavior social/cultural norms
  • above/below the norm
  • normal( n.) the usual state, level, or amount: abnormal
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4. remove: to take away

Reference books are not to be removed from the library.

The doctors decided to remove the tumor on his liver immediately.

Do you mind if I ask you to remove your hat so that I can have a better view of the screen.

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5. eligibility:the qualifications or abilities required for doing something

eligible a.to be eligible to do something: to be able or allowed to do something

Citizens above the age of 18 are eligible to vote and to be voted

Only those who have worked in this company for at least three years are eligible for housing allowance.

go round
Go round

merry-go-round: a machine that turns around and around, and has model animals or cars for children to sit on ( carousel )

  • the endless Washington merry-go-round of parties and socializing
  • a series of similar events that happen very quickly one after another
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enough/plenty to go around enough for each person:
  • Is there enough ice-cream to go around?
  • There were never enough textbooks to go around.
  • 前来听讲座的人数远远超出原来的估计,分发给大家的讲义不够了。
  • As many more people came to the lecture than expected, there were not enough handouts to go round.
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6. A zero-sum game:

a situation in which if one person gains an advantage from it, someone else involved in it must suffer an equivalent disadvantage.

a situation in which you receive as much money or advantages as you give away

slide29
零和游戏/博弈
  • Diplomatic negotiations often aim at a zero-sum game.
  • Job loss is not a zero-sum game, where they win and we lose.
  • This appears to be a zero-sum game, because what one developing country gains is at the expense of another.
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Zero-sum game theory and win-win game theory-On the relations between the peasant's increasing revenues and the security of grain
  • 变零和博弈为双赢博弈——试论农民增收与粮食安全的关系
  • A two-person zero-sum game is a game with two players in which the sum of the players' payoffs is identically zero.
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7. offset:to counterbalance or compensate for ; if the cost or amount of something offsets another cost or amount, the two things have an opposite effect so that the situation remains the same

The extra cost for traveling to work is offset by the lower rent here.

What the company donates to charity can be offset against tax.

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offset something against something
  • to make something look better by being close to it and different:
  • His blonde hair offset a deep tan.
  • Offset mortgage a type of mortgage given by banks, in which the money someone has in their bank account is taken away from the amount they owe, reducing the total amount of interest they have to pay
  • 免息型房贷
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8. .…winning is not the most important thing—it’s the only thing:

This is a special type of negation. The author is not negating the importance of winning; rather, with the sentence that follows the negative one, the author gives the utmost emphasis to the importance of winning.

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Similar examples:

1.I have to admit that he is a smart guy.—He is not smart, he is very smart.

2.You’d better bring enough food because we will have to have a long journey.—It’s not a long journey, it is a very long journey.

3.To improve your oral English, practicing is not the most important thing—it’s the only thing.

4. I heard that Professor Li is a difficult teacher.—He is not difficult, he is very difficult

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9. Perspective:1)a way of thinking about something, especially one which is influenced by the type of person you are or by your experiences [↪ viewpoint]
  • His father's death gave him a whole new perspective on life.
  • The novel is written from a child's perspective.
  • from a feminist/Christian/global etc perspective
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wider/broader perspective
  • historical perspective
  • 2)a sensible way of judging and comparing situations so that you do not imagine that something is more serious than it really is:
  • The figures have to be put into perspective.
  • get/keep something in perspective (=judge the importance of something correctly)
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10. take something at face value:1)to accept a situation or accept what someone says, without thinking there may be a hidden meaning:
  • I took their offer at face value and did not suspect at all that they were trying to trick me.
  • You should never take what he says at face value.
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他的话你得好好想想,千万不要他说什么你就信什么。他的话你得好好想想,千万不要他说什么你就信什么。
  • Never take what he says at face value.

Think it over yourself.

  • 2) the value or cost shown on the front of something such as a stamp or coin
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11. be apt to:to have the tendency to

The river is apt to over flow when there is a heavy rain.

He is apt to get excited when people start to talk about football.

This year we had quite a few apt students in our class.

He made an apt comment that nicely summed up what every one of us had in mind.

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'Love at first sight' is a very apt description of how he felt when he saw her.
  • 第一次来到异国的人往往感到自己周围的一切及陌生,又有趣。
  • Anyone who has come to a foreign country for the first time is apt to find everything around him both strange and interesting.
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12. transcript: 1)a written or printed copy of a speech, conversation etc
  • A transcript of the tapes was presented in court.
  • 2)an official college document that shows a list of a student's classes and the results they received
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13. correspond to:to match, to be similar or equal to

The American FBI corresponds to the British M15.

His story of what happened that night does not correspond with the witness’s version.

The date written on the letter does not correspond with that stamped on the envelope.

correspond with: to communicate with by writing letters

For many years they have never stopped corresponding with each other.

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14. fuzzy:if a sound or picture is fuzzy, it is unclear [↪ blurred]
  • Some of the photos were so fuzzy it was hard to tell who was who.
  • unclear or confused [≠ clear]
  • There's a fuzzy line between parents' and schools' responsibilities.
  • fuzzy hair is very curly and sticks straight up
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15. …when I got out of the service…:

when I got out of the army…

Usually the plural form “services” is used to refer to the three armed forces, i.e. the army, the navy, and the air force.

Military services: the system in which every adult, or every male adult, in a country has to spend a period of time in the army, navy, or air force [↪ draft]

Cf: armed forces, the military, the services

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people in the army: soldier, troops, infantry, G.I. ( AE) squaddy ( BE)
  • to join the army: join up/enlist
  • to leave the army: be discharged, desert without permission, get out of the services
  • to make people serve in the armed forces: call up, draft
  • customer services
  • Voluntary Service Overseas
slide46
16. handle: to deal with something or someone; to control with hands; to be in charge of

He knows best how to handle a problem of

this type.

He found great fun in handling a yacht.

We have got to speak to the person who handles the company’s accounts.

to deal with a person or behave towards them in a particular way, especially in order to keep them happy

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Some customers are quite difficult to handle.
  • She can't handle it when people criticize her.
  • 世界各国都有失业问题,但各国政府处理这个问题的方法不尽相同。
  • Unemployment exists in all countries, but the governments vary in their way to handle the problem.
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17. make a point of doing something:

to take particular care to do something

He makes a point of jogging 6 miles every morning, rainy or shiny.

To prevent loss of data, I always make a point of making a copy on a floppy disk of what I have done during the day.

不管他一天工作有多忙,他在睡觉前总要看一下电子信箱里有没有新邮件。

No matter what a long day he has, he makes a point of checking his E-mail box…

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18. GI-Bill students:

GI (pl. GIs or GI’s) is an American soldier, especially an enlisted one. GI-Bill or the GI-Bill of Rights is the popular name for the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944, which provided US World War II veterans with special assistance.

退伍军人权利法案

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19. …men who had but recently put away their uniforms and identities:…

Here “men who had…and identities” refers to former GIs, who, like the author himself, had taken off their army uniforms and changed their identities from servicemen to civilians. Many of these men had been officers of various ranks.

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20. Flunk: 1) to give someone low marks on a test so that they fail it [= fail]
  • She hadn't done the work so I flunked her.
  • 2) to fail a test
  • Tony flunked chemistry last semester.
  • flunk out : to be forced to leave a school or college because your work is not good enough
  • Ben flunked out of college.
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21. resent:to feel bitter or indignant at; to feel angry or upset about a situation or about something that someone has done, especially because you think that it is not fair

He resented having to get up early to catch the

first train.

I strongly resent his snobbish manner in dealing with different people.

She bitterly resented his mother's influence over him.

Paul resented the fact that Carol didn't trust him.

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22. …shifting suddenly from a friendly gear to a coercive one:

The word “gear” originally means a device in a vehicle which controls the rate at which the energy being used is converted into motion. While driving, a driver sometimes shifts or changes gear. In our sentence, the shifting or gear refers to the change in the instructor’s manner of dealing with his students. When drinking with the students in the pub, he was easy going and friendly; but in the classroom, he became stern and severe.

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23. Coercive: using threats or orders to make someone do something they do not want to do
  • This exercise of economic power could be coercive, in the sense that A might prevent B from enjoying certain economic benefits.
  • coercive measures to reduce absenteeism
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24. coordinate: 1)to make match.

When wear clothing, you want to coordinate your pant and your shirt, so you don't look silly.

2) n. one of a pair of numbers or letters that show the exact position of a point on a map or graph座标

These coordinates should show you your position.这些座标将为你显示出你所在的位置。

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3) to make the parts of your body move and work together well
  • I couldn't get my brain to function or coordinate my muscles.
  • Her movements were beautifully co-ordinated.
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25 .make a distinction:to say what the difference is between two or more similar persons or things

Most societies make a distinction between the status of an unmarried woman and a married one.

In the government’s education proposals there is a clear distinction made between academic and practical training.

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26. hamper: to cause difficulty in activity, to make it difficult for someone to do sth

Search efforts were hampered by strong winds and fifteen-foot waves.

Staff problems are seriously hampering the work of the government central computers.

She tried to run, but was hampered by her heavy suitcase.

n. a large basket that you put dirty clothes in until they can be washed

a basket with a lid, which is used for carrying food or sending it to someone as a present: