Tiny Teaching Stories: Idioms

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Today's Tiny Teaching Story is by Jordan Hill, composition instructor in the Global First Year program at Florida International University. A recently-selected Fulbright Scholar, he will soon move to Italy to research a short story collection.


I tell my class of international students that a certain American literary character is “an odd duck.” They stare at me with tilted heads and confused smiles. I imagine what they must be imagining—Jay Gatsby as a strange waterfowl. I clear my throat. “Sorry, everyone,” I say. “An ‘odd duck’ is an idiom. An expression.” How can I explain this? “An odd duck is sort of like a black sheep.” Again, the quizzical faces. Too late, I register my second, unintentional idiom. I sigh and explain what happened. They laugh, and I try again.


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About the Author
Nancy Sommers, who has taught composition and directed writing programs for more than thirty years, now teaches in Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. A two-time Braddock Award winner, Sommers is well known for her research and publications on student writing. Her articles “Revision Strategies of Student and Experienced Writers” and “Responding to Student Writing” are two of the most widely read and anthologized articles in the field of composition. She has also created three films—Shaped by Writing, Across the Drafts, and Beyond the Red Ink—to bring the voices of student writers into a larger discussion about writing instruction. Nancy Sommers is currently the coauthor of Diana Hacker’s best-selling handbooks: The Bedford Handbook, A Writer’s Reference, Rules for Writers, A Pocket Style Manual, and Writer’s Help (see hackerhandbooks.com). Her newest instructor resource, Responding to Student Writers, offers a model for thinking about response as a dialogue between students and teachers.