Across the almost 16 years I worked in New York City, I sought to teach students how to write cogently and grammatically. I won’t go into my “philosophy” of teaching writing, which really isn’t much of a philosophy other than to use methods and materials appropriate for the students in front of me. That said, very early on I recognized the importance of teaching English usage. Put another way, writing is using the English language, and we owe it to our students to assist them in developing their understanding of how to use the language as effectively as possible.
So I was encouraged when several years ago I was reviewing the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts for grades 11-12 and found, under “Conventions of Standard English,” this expectation: “Standard (L.11-12.1b)-Resolve issues of complex or contested usage, consulting references, (e.g., Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage, Garner’s Modern American Usage) as needed.” The first of the two titles listed, the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage is first rate, like everything else I’ve seen from that publishing house. That said, the Merriam-Webster’s may be a bit too technical for struggling learners, emergent readers, and English language learners.
By the same token, I have little doubt that Garner’s Modern American Usage is too technical for all but the most advanced readers and writers. This is a book, in my estimation, written for professional writers. Brian Garner is a linguist and lexicographer par excellence, and he writes, for the most part in a register for his peers. If it means anything, while I admire Mr. Garner’s work, I myself tend to lean more heavily on Merriam-Webster’s usage dictionary.
But what to do for students, particularly struggling students? By chance, I hit on using Paul Brians’ fine book, Common Errors in English Usage (Portland, OR: William James & Co., 2013). Amazingly, Professor Brians appears to have made the whole book available for free under that hyperlink, and if you want a PDF of it, it is also available here for free. That solves my problem of presenting his material in worksheet form without infringing on his copyright.
I chose about 200 entries from Common Errors in English Usage as the basis of a new set of short exercises to teach usage. Another 50 or so entries from the book will show up here as homophone worksheets. Today, however, I offer the first Common Errors in English Usage on the nouns admission and admittance. As I write these, I find that they are a way not so much of dealing with the words themselves–though they do that too–but about exploring the concept of proper usage in prose. Because of that, I expect that there will be a good deal of class discussion of the context of these sentences and which word fits most appropriately in them.
Remember that this is a new kind of document at Mark’s Text Terminal. I feel some chagrin in admitting that I have not used the worksheet appended here in the classroom. I use a lot of materials like it, so I can say with the modest confidence of experience that this is probably sound material. That said, if you have ever considered offering your comments on the material on Mark’s Text Terminal, I would particularly appreciate your assessment of this worksheet–before I set out to write 200 more of them.
If you find typos in this document, I would appreciate a notification. And, as always, if you find this material useful in your practice, I would be grateful to hear what you think of it. I seek your peer review.