Primary students show age is no barrier to creativity

There was a stubborn dog and a deadly beast, a new student in the class and a sleepy language-lover – the entries in the 2016 Wordlist Writing Competition for primary school students showed some wonderful creativity and originality.

In the lead up to National Literacy and Numeracy Week between September 4 and 10, we’re looking back some of the winning entries in last year’s Wordlist competition.

In an entry titled ‘Narrative Jam’, Agna from Grade 4 presented an original and surprising interpretation of the traditional fairy tale. She wove her love of writing into the storyline, using phrasing in unexpected ways.

“10 cent coins, 20 cent coins. Maths. I prefer writing. Writing narratives. Of course, lots of people like Maths better. Then there’s Dance, Drama, Geography and History and Music. I’m going in alphabetical order, if that helps, but let’s not get too carried away.”

Later, she became part of the fairy tale as a somewhat reluctant participant. Agna challenged fairy tale norms, writing about a ‘not-so-brave knight’ and expressing dismay at the ‘pink dress with puffy sleeves’ that she was wearing.

Another impressive entry came from Alessandra from Grade 2/3, who wrote a suspenseful story that included a description of being chased by fierce animals. Alessandra described the ‘vicious fangs’ and ‘razor sharp claws’ of the animal that pursued her.

“You’re running, running to be free of the chase. You hear the roaring right behind you so you go faster but you know you can’t outrun a deadly beast like this!”

It was not action, but emotion, that was at the heart of the story by Eva from Grade 5. In ‘Notebook’ Eva wrote about her character’s first day at a new school, and a poignant and insightful speech she made to her peers, despite believing that she looked like a “shaky blob of jellyfish”.

“A new beginning at a new school – again. Another teacher calling another roll.”

Other winners took a more light-hearted approach, with Pippa from Grade 5 writing about Rex the Stubborn Dog who wore “puffy floaties and a yellow sun cap” to the beach and was “as silly as a goose”. Splashing in the waves, chasing pelicans and singing a funny song, Pippa’s story was written with humour and a sense of fun.

“Suddenly, Rex saw a dark shadow in the ocean. He dodged, dove, ducked and dipped under the cold water. I wonder … am I tough enough to catch this creature?”

Grade Prep student, Tanvi, wrote about a rabbit called ‘Alasco’, who enjoyed going on adventures with his dad. However, when he discovered his father was missing one morning, he found his own adventure involving a treasure map and pirates.

“When he work up his dad was gone. Then he looked under his bed and he found a map. It was no ordinary map. It was a treasure map.”

Finally, Archie brought a creative approach to current affairs and politics, with his story involving a president who forced ‘Mexi Bunnies’ to build a wall.

“Mr Bunny was the president of the Bunny States. He was a mean president, he shouted, “Mexi Bunny shouldn’t be able to cross to Bunny States because they are the silliest of Bunnies!”

One of the most exciting elements of the stories from the 2016 competition was their diversity – funny, heartfelt, controversial and suspenseful – they revealed the wonderful depths of young people’s creativity.

We’re looking forward to reading this year’s entries in the Children’s Word of the Year competition!


This year, teachers and guardians can enter primary school students’ writing samples in the Children’s Word of the Year writing competition. Through the competition, Oxford University Press aims to find out more about the language of Australian children, and the way they use that language in their storytelling.

A lesson plan is available to help inspire students in their writing, and some great class and individual prizes are up for grabs.



More than Mercutio – English teaching for the future

By Michael Horne

Discussion of what teachers and educational leaders really want students to get out of their schooling has recently shifted to the types of skills that they will need in the 21st century. In the face of a paradigm that still emphasises knowledge retention and memorisation, and when viewed in combination with the development of cognitive dispositions to use those skills, this is a useful shift.

Even though skills such as collaboration, creative and critical thinking, and the ability to synthesise have always been the best outcomes of education and the most useful tools to carry into the world, it is clear that the explicit demand for them is up. The Foundation for Young Australians in their 2016 report ‘The New Work Mindset’[1] analysed over 2.7 million Australian job advertisements over two years and identified seven job ‘clusters’ into which specific positions and their required skills were grouped. The report argues that there are certain “enterprise skills”[2] that are consistently asked for, and transferable between clusters. These enterprise skills are consistent with what educators variously call higher-order thinking skills, “capabilities”[3], or “kinds of minds”[4]. They include:

  • synthesising
  • creating
  • collaborating
  • problem solving
  • meta-cognition.

So what does this shift in demand mean for schools, and in particular for English teaching? Two basic principles are needed to underpin an increased focus on the development of these skills:

  • a revised view of content and knowledge that sees them as the carriers and media of skill development, as well as being important in themselves; and
  • valuing the ability to meta-cognitively recognise and talk about these skills as they are being developed.

The first of these suggestions can be particularly challenging for us as English teachers. We can argue that access to great and well-known literature is part of a student’s cultural inheritance, and important for them to become socially and culturally conversant. We can argue that we want our students to experience To Kill a Mockingbird in the same transformative way that we did. Yet, slinking behind these arguments is the tacit truth that it probably doesn’t really matter if students don’t remember who Mercutio was, or what the essential themes of The Catcher in the Rye are. The texts that we cling on to, any texts really, are important as works of art and mirrors of our best and worst selves, but they are more important educationally as the media through which students develop skills.

The second of these principles suggests to English teachers the importance of developing and sharing a discourse of learning which sits above the lexicon of English. Students can only learn to identify their own thinking when they have a consistent language for it, and when examples of certain cognitive moves are pointed out to them. There is an argument here for articulating what we mean by ‘critical thinking’ in the context of textual analysis, for example, and for pausing to hover over examples when they arise in class. The depth of criticism that we look for in the best student work can be more frequently achieved if we specify both the cognitive and syntactical structures that characterise such work, rather than giving vague instructions to students like “more depth needed” or “lacks sophistication”.

These are not radical ideas, but carving out room for them within schools means thoughtfully identifying and removing redundancies – anything that doesn’t directly lead to the development of the skills and dispositions that students will need and benefit from in their post-school lives.

If we value a student’s ability to synthesise information from traditionally separate disciplines[5] within English, we might sometimes break down traditional divisions between textual and language analysis. If we want students to be able to critically evaluate a range of references and sources of information, what purpose do closed-book exams serve? Let’s let them bring in the sources and actually analyse them in an exam or test. If we want students to reflect on their own thinking and see where they need to go next, how do letter grades help to do this? (Although, of course, English teachers have always been good at specific and personalised feedback for improvement.)

Challenging and reviewing long-practised norms in English programs and assessment, and identifying those which might now be redundant, is difficult in a system where everyone has personal historical experience. But it is also necessary. If we really want to develop those skills that we profess we want students to have (and which the data shows us society wants) – critical thinking, open reflection, and collaboration – then we need to apply them to our schools and to our own practice.

[1] Foundation for Young Australians, ‘The New Work Mindset’. Melbourne: 2016. p. 10

[2] Ibid. p. 19

[3] Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Victorian Curriculum Critical and Creative Thinking. Accessed on 02/05/2017.

[4] Howard Gardner, ‘Five Minds for the Future’, summary in Plurilingüismo e Innovación Educativa 201 (4). pp. 6-7

[5] Patrick Griffin and Esther Care, ‘Test Construction’ in Patrick Griffin (ed.), Assessment for Learning. Port Melbourne: Cambridge University Press. 2014. Pp. 165-6.

Michael Horne was a co-author of Oxford MyEnglish, shortlisted in the Student Resource – Junior –  English/Humanities/Languages/Arts/Technologies/Health and Physical Education category of the Educational Publishers Award Australia.


Using humour to inspire young writers

Hey, want to hear a joke?
Novice pirates make terrible singers because they can’t hit the high seas. 
(Cue collective groan)

Sometimes humour can be in-your-face and silly (like the joke above), and other times it can be more subtle. Whether it’s a pun, a child’s knock-knock joke, a funny movie, or situation comedy on television, we all enjoy a good laugh. Given this natural human tendency to appreciate humour, how might we, as educators, leverage humour in our teaching?  This idea deserves further attention.

Consider how social humour is. Think about the last time you watched a funny movie or television show with someone. When something funny happens on screen we turn to the person beside us as if to say ‘did you get it?’ It’s almost as if sharing the joke or funny situation enhances its humour.  The same is true with children, especially with their reading. Think about when you were a child, and saw a group of other children huddled together around a book, laughing.  How did you respond to that situation? You probably wanted to know what was so funny!  We all want to know what’s so funny. We all want to be part of the joke. Humour is a social phenomenon.

I observed this firsthand when I researched how humorous children’s literature engages young readers.  My research revealed that humorous literature is a huge motivator for children to read. When they read humorous books, they want to read more in general, and more specifically they want to read books by that author or other funny authors.  Also, when they do read something funny, they want to share it with someone immediately, whether they are a friend, family member, or teacher. This has classroom implications for teachers around the globe, because humorous literature can reach both struggling and reluctant readers.

In a related research project, I found that humorous children’s literature also motivates young readers to become writers of humour.  This was more than just wanting to copy their favourite author’s style of writing, but a need to be creative and write funny stories as well.  That is why in my latest book there is an entire chapter discussing humorous texts and their value in the classroom, and what teachers can do to harness these texts in developing young writers.

Some tips to help promote writing using humorous texts:

  • Expand your definition of ‘genre’ to include humorous texts (comics, joke books, etc.).
  • Value and include comics in your classroom activities.
  • Read and learn about blended narratives (Zbaracki & Geringer 2014) such as the 13-Storey Treehouse.
  • Allow students to write their own comics, perhaps using technology, websites or apps, and read each other’s creations.
  • Use technology (such as the ‘Pun of the Day’ app) to encourage students to explore the multiple meanings of words.
  • Explore parodies of well-known fairy tales and nursery rhymes to inspire students to create their own parodies.

So, it’s important to remember that humour, in addition to being fun, has great benefits helping students in both reading and writing.   ‘Sigmund’, a grade five student in my research study summed it up best:

… all books kind of have some humour, and if you don’t, I’m not saying that you should put like all humour in the book, it’s just if you don’t it’ll be kind of dull, and it won’t … well, it’ll be like the cake without the icing.

He’s so right! Keep eating that cake with icing, and reading and writing those funny texts!

Matthew Zbaracki is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at Australia Catholic University (Melbourne) and the author of Writing Right with Text Types (2015).


Featured image credits:  [1] OUP 9780195519068; [2]Shutterstock ID 144699151


The long and the short of it

In this article, reproduced from our latest issue of Ozwords, Julia Robinson investigates Aussie terms for Chinese wonton soup and Chinese noodle soup.

Recently we received this query from a Victorian reader: ‘I am writing to ask about the term “short soup”, as in the Chinese wonton soup. Other non-Australian speakers of English are unaware of this phrase, it seems. Is it uniquely Australian and when did it originate?’ (J. Bookman)

Short soup and its companion long soup are indeed Australian terms for Chinese wonton soup and Chinese noodle soup respectively. The name long soup probably derives from an English speaker’s way of describing the kind of noodle typically found in the dish; long soup contains long, thin noodles. Short soup contains wontons, a type of small dumpling formed by wrapping small, flattened pieces of noodle dough around a savoury filling. The first evidence for both terms occurs in the 1880s, with long soup appearing a few years before short soup. In early evidence they often occur together.

A longtime resident of Sydney’s Chinatown, Norman Lee, explained the difference between the soups, in recalling the people who frequented Chinese ‘cook shops’ in the early part of the 20th century: ‘It was good food—genuine stuff. Most of the customers were Chinese; only the Australian drunks came then. When they ordered plain soup with noodles, they called it long soup. With won tons, it was short soup.’ (Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January 2007)

Much of the early written evidence occurs in the context of Melbourne’s Little Bourke Street, Australia’s first Chinatown, established in the 1850s. An early reference appears in the Australasian newspaper, in a full-page illustrated special on ‘The Chinese Quarter in Melbourne’. It is written as an anthropological investigation, and as with many similar newspaper reports of the period, the tone is frequently racist:

Very curious was it to watch them at their meal. In front of each was a bowl of soup of which, by the way, the Chinese distinguish two kinds—‘long’ soup and ‘short’ soup. This was ‘long’ soup, and it seemed to be a kind of chicken broth, thickened with flour. ‘Short’ soup is different—we do not exactly understand in what way. However, the gentlemen pictured above were busy with their ‘long’ soup, drinking it with little earthenware ladles. (21 April 1888)

This and many other contemporary references show that by the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the names of these dishes were becoming familiar to non-Chinese Australians, and were seen as typical of Chinese cuisine.

A good number of references to short soup and long soup are found in court reports of the period. This may suggest that Chinese food was cheap, and that Chinese cooks were catering to a larrikin clientele who could not afford to eat at other restaurants. Fights and arguments between customers and staff were liable to break out over a bowl of soup:

Brawl in a Cook Shop. … Three men went to [Quon Cheong’s] cook shop in Heffernan’s-lane about midnight last Saturday, and after being served with ‘long soup’ broke a saucer and a soup basin, for which they declined to pay. Then they blackened his eye, split his lip open and gave him a severe mauling. (Melbourne Age, 30 June 1910)

In one case short soup was used as code for a sly grog operation: ‘Melbourne, August 24. Two Chinese cook shop proprietors were to-day fined £40 each on a charge of sly grog selling. Two revenue officers called at the establishment and asked for “Short Soup”, and were supplied with several bottles of ale.’ (Hobart Mercury, 25 August 1909)

Later evidence confirms that short soup and long soup were increasingly recognised as standard fare in Chinese eateries, if still considered exotic by many. In the late 1920s the Goulburn Evening Penny Post claims that there are ‘hundreds of Melbourne citizens who regularly relish the Oriental dishes of Little Bourke-street short soup joints’. (13 April 1927) The taste for Chinese food was well-established by mid-century. In the 1960s the Australian Women’s Weekly published a recipe for long soup (with chicken stock, vermicelli noodles, and shallots), and in an article on the favourite food of local pop groups, the Weekly records the lead guitarist of the Strangers commenting in the lingo of the time: ‘I could live on Chinese food. … Fried rice and short soup are rather groovy.’ (14 May 1969)

But what is ‘short’ about short soup? It is not the most obvious way to describe a wonton. Is short soup perhaps a calque—that is, a literal translation from Chinese?

Australian long soup and short soup are dishes in the style of southern China, because most Chinese immigrants who came to Australia in the 19th century came from the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian, either directly or via Singapore. Chinese linguist colleagues tell us there are no corresponding terms in Mandarin or Cantonese for long soup or short soup, but one scholar who is familiar with southern dialects has anecdotal evidence from Fujian of a term for wonton soup that translates literally as ‘flat food soup’. She notes that although the word for ‘flat’ may imply ‘thin’ and ‘small’, it does not directly correspond to ‘short’.*

Short soup does not appear to be a translation from Chinese, even from the most likely southern dialectal regions. In Guangdong province there is a term for soup containing long noodles that translates as ‘long noodle soup’. But this is descriptive, and does not precisely correspond to long soup. We think that these Australian English terms are a binary pair, and that short soup was named in contrast to long soup, in order to distinguish one from the other. Thus short soup does not really describe its ingredients, but rather tells us it is not long soup.

*With thanks to Wendi Xue and Dr Zhengdao Ye for their help. All errors are my own.

Julia-RobinsonJulia Robinson is a researcher and editor at the Australian National Dictionary Centre (ANDC). She has contributed to a number of Australian Oxford dictionaries and ANDC publications, and is one of the editorial team currently working on the second edition of The Australian National Dictionary (forthcoming 2016).

ozwords-logoOur biannual newsletter Ozwords contains articles on various aspects of English, especially Australian English, in partnership with the Australian National Dictionary Centre. If you are interested in reading more on Australian English and hearing news from the Australian National Dictionary Centre, why not subscribe?

Read this edition of OzWords and find previous volumes here.

Oxford Word of the Month – September: CUB

CUB – noun: an affluent bogan.

In an article in the Australian newspaper under the headline ‘Bogan is not a dirty word’, Terry Barnes wrote about the people who live in his south-east Melbourne suburb of Patterson Lakes:

‘Patto’s’ culture is dominated by so-called cashed-up bogans (CUBs), people mostly educated in the University of Life, predominantly tradies and their families who are very good at earning money and enjoy conspicuously the material comforts that it buys. (11 January 2013)

CUB is an acronym from cashed-up bogan. In Australian English cashed-up is an adjective meaning ‘well supplied with money’, and dates from the 1920s. At that time it was often applied to men who had received their pay cheques and had the money to splurge on alcohol and a night on the town. The second element, bogan, emerged in mid-1980s Australian youth slang, and referred to a person, especially one from a working-class background, regarded as uneducated and unsophisticated.

For much of bogan’s history it has been a pejorative word, directed, for example, at people receiving welfare payments, or those considered to be ‘dole bludgers’. Added to this was the perception of bogans as lacking in taste; the typical bogan was associated with flannelette shirts, ugg-boots, and the mullet hairstyle.  But in recent years the pejorative nature of bogan has lost its edge. Now it is often used with some affection, applied to a person more traditionally considered a larrikin in Australia—that is, someone having a healthy disregard for authority and convention. Our attitude to bogan has changed, with television series such as Bogan Pride (2008) and Upper Middle Bogan (2013) acknowledging the role and identity of bogans in mainstream Australian culture.

When CUB first appeared in the early years of this century the term carried the negative associations of bogan. In the earliest evidence CUBs are regarded as Australia’s nouveau riche, with all the snobbery that term implies:

Crawford does his best to debunk the theory that footy players are nothing more than CUBS—Cashed up bogans. (Melbourne Herald Sun, 14 July 2004)

The amelioration of the older term bogan may also be happening to CUB. Terry Barnes’ newspaper article quoted above is suggestive of this. He describes CUBs in sympathetic terms as having the traditional working-class values of hard work and family life, but aspiring to the material wealth and upward mobility more often associated with the middle class:

CUBs in places like Patto can be conspicuous consumers because they earn enough, not just to pay the mortgage and meet household expenses, but to have decent discretionary incomes to buy the indulgences they crave. They work their socks off building businesses, creating jobs for others, toiling long and irregular hours to increase their own and their employees’ prosperity and to keep themselves and their families supplied with creature comforts. That’s pretty honourable. (Australian, 11 January 2013)

In this account CUB is not a pejorative term but a label applied to those aspirational workers who succeeded in reaping the rewards of the economic boom of the early 21st century. It is too soon to tell whether the process of amelioration will continue.

CUB is included in the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary (forthcoming 2016).

Communication skills: tips for working in groups

Most university courses incorporate teamwork projects as part of their students’ learning process. Teamwork projects have dual aims: (1) for a team of students to complete a piece of work that could not be done in the time by an individual working alone, and (2) for individual students to learn and practise the skills of working with others in an organised cooperative process that is essential for many tasks in business and research. Here are 5 tips for working in a group and making sure your team is effective:

  1. Get acquainted. Take some time to get to know each other. At your first meeting, introduce yourselves, talk about the task, have coffee together, and discuss your feelings about teamwork and the project you are working on. Make sure that everyone has a list of names, contact phone numbers, and appropriate contact times for every member of the team.
  1. Allocate roles. Allocate roles to different group members at your first or second meeting. At the very least you will need a chairperson to direct your meetings and a note-taker who will record decisions made and tasks to be done along with their deadlines. Other roles may include: a progress-chaser, an investigator and an evaluator.
  1. Organise your time. Organise your time right from the beginning. Have regular structured meetings, set deadlines for stages of your project and set up a timetable for the whole project.
  1. Problems with working in teams. You will probably encounter a number of problems working on any team project. A common problem and suggested solution is outlined here. Problem: individuals may not do their assigned part of the work. Solution: you must be prepared to confront the individual and have firm rules in place (e.g. have a written statement of each person’s tasks and check on individuals’ progress at each meeting).
  1. Making a team presentation. Sit down as a team, review the material and plan what to say and how to say it. Decide who will speak. You can divide up the presentation among the group members, or, if one of your members is a talented speaker, ask him or her to carry the main responsibility.

communication-skills-guidebookThis extract is taken from the Communication Skills Guidebook. This book is designed to equip students with the essential communications skills they need to succeed at university, including: essay writing, researching, referencing your work, public speaking and exam techniques. It is easy to navigate, with lots of tips and examples, and will be students’ trusted resource throughout their entire degree.
9780190302450 | AU$39.95

Oxford Word of the Month – August: Tip turkey

tip turkey – noun: the white ibis, Threskiornis moluccus, often regarded as a pest in urban areas because of its scavenging at tips, etc.

The Australian white ibis, Threskiornis moluccus, is widespread across Australia, and naturally inhabits wetlands where it feeds on small invertebrates, especially crustaceans. As part of the ibis family the white ibis has a characteristic long downward-curved bill. Since the 1970s the bird has increasingly been found in urban centres, largely as a result of the decline in the bird’s natural habitat due to intensive farming, urban sprawl, and periods of drought. It has successfully adapted to the urban environment by scavenging on the food refuse of the human population. This scavenging habit has seen numbers increase in many city centres including Sydney’s:

‘The species is a wetland forager’, wildlife officer John Martin, from the Royal Botanic Gardens, says. ‘Now it forages in inland parks and landfill’. During the peak of its spring breeding season, more than 9000 of the birds call Sydney home. (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 2013)

The interaction between humans and white ibises in urban areas in recent years has led to an increasingly disparaging view of this bird with a correspondingly negative vocabulary to describe it. Tip turkey is just one of a number of terms now used to describe the Australian white ibis. Others include bin chicken, dump chook, dumpster diver, and flying rat. Tip turkey, like bin chicken and dump chook, associates the ibis with stupidity, as well as with garbage and refuse.

The unflattering description of the ibis as a tip turkey is a relatively recent appellation, but one that has grown in frequency since the first evidence for the term in 2009. This has perhaps matched the growing presence of the birds and their scavenging habits:

Known as the tip turkey, the bird’s reputation for ferreting through inner-city bins and scavenging street garbage has not endeared it to the public. (Sydney Morning Herald, 27 April 2013)

But no matter how much these birds have been denigrated in recent times they now occupy a permanent place in the Australian urban landscape:

They’re the bird Sydneysiders love to hate, but the native white ibis, or tip turkey as they’re sometimes known, are true city slickers. (Sydney Sun-Herald, 20 October 2013)

In March 2015, artist Robert Hains won second place in Brisbane City Council’s Recycling Art competition with a kinetic sculpture inspired by the white ibis and built out of items found at the tip. He gave his creation the name Tip Turkey.

 Tip turkey will be included in the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Oxford Word of the Month – July: Hoon operation

hoon-operationHoon operation (also anti-hoon operation, hooning operation) – noun: a police campaign targeting dangerous drivers.

A 2015 media release by the Queensland Police Service stated:

Police are investigating after a vehicle allegedly evaded them and later crashed at Yatala following a targeted hoon operation late last night. (Australian Government News, 12 April)

The term hoon operation, a targeted police campaign against hoon drivers, has recently developed in Australian English, often with the variants anti-hoon operation or hooning operation. Anti-hoon operation was first recorded in 2002, hoon operation in 2003, and hooning operation in 2009.

The terms seem to be chiefly used in Queensland, suggesting the Queensland police use them to describe their campaigns against dangerous drivers:

In conjunction with the [school holiday] campaign Rockhampton police staged a hooning operation last Thursday night. (Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, 15 April 2008)

Seven cars have been impounded after their drivers were allegedly drag-racing and doing burnouts on busy main roads. The vehicles were seized for 48 hours when traffic police patrolled the city in unmarked cars as part of an anti-hoon operation codenamed Brighton on Thursday night. (Cairns Post, 6 December 2008)

More recent evidence suggests such campaigns are also being held elsewhere:

A Bullsbrook man (19) had his car seized and was one of 11 people charged in a police anti-hoon operation in Perth’s northern suburbs last week. (Perth Advocate, 14 March 2012)

The term derives from hoon as a noun meaning ‘a young hooligan, especially one who drives a car dangerously or at reckless speed’, and as a verb meaning ‘to drive or ride recklessly, especially to show off’; both were first recorded in 1988. The word has a longer history in Australian English with several senses developing in the twentieth century. The first sense to develop was that of ‘a lout, an exhibitionist’, first recorded in 1938 and from which the car-driving sense likely has evolved. The other sense current in twentieth-century Australian English was ‘a pimp’, first recorded in 1950.

Hoon has been a productive word in Australian English: hoondom and hoonery refer to hoon-like behaviour, which can also be described as hoonish; and a hoon’s car is sometimes referred to as a hoonmobile. Aside from hoon operations as a means to curtail dangerous driving, some States have introduced hoon laws (also anti-hoon laws).

A number of terms relating to hoon will be included in the second edition of the Australian National Dictionary.

Communication skills: tips for essay writing

In educational contexts, an essay is a concise, organised, written discussion of your considered ideas on a specific topic. It is commonly based on a synthesis of evidence and ideas drawn from previously published sources (e.g. journal articles, books, or government reports) and supported by examples obtained from the sources. Essays are often used by lecturers to develop and judge your mastery or comprehension of material, as well as your ability to communicate ideas clearly in written form. Here we give some general advice for writing a good essay, taken from the Communication Skills Guidebook.

  1. Quality of argument. It is crucial that the argument fully addresses the question. If you do not deal specifically with the question set, your assessor might assume that you do not understand the course material or that you have not bothered to read the question carefully. Look closely at the wording of your essay topic: for example, what does ‘describe’ mean? How about ‘analyse’ or ‘contrast’?
  2. Working out a structure for your argument. Before you begin writing, work out a series of broad headings that will form the framework on which your essay will be constructed. Then add increasingly detailed material under those headings until your essay is written. Alternatively, if you encounter ‘writer’s block’ or are writing on a topic that does not lend itself to an essay plan, brainstorm and without hesitation write anything related to the topic until you have some paragraphs on the screen or page in front of you.
  3. Check the structure. When you have written the first draft of your essay, check the structure. In almost all cases, good academic writing will have an introduction, a discussion, and a conclusion. It is helpful to visualise structure in the form of an hourglass. The central discussion tapers in to cover the detail of the specific issue(s) you are exploring. The conclusion sets your findings back into the context from which the subject is derived and may point to directions for future enquiry.
  4. The topic. The material you present in your essay should be clearly and explicitly linked to the topic being discussed. When you have finished writing a draft of your essay, read each paragraph and ask yourself two questions: does all of the information in this paragraph help answer the question? How does this information help answer the question? Ensure you have explored all the issues emerging from the topic.
  5. Sources/referencing. Keep a full record of the bibliographic details of all the references you use. This can include information such as: who is the author, when was the work published, where, and by whom? Be sure to insert citations as you are writing. Is it very difficult-and stressful-to come back to an essay and try to insert the correct references.

communication-skills-guidebookThese essay writing tips have been taken from the Communication Skills Guidebook. This book is designed to equip students with the essential communications skills they need to succeed at university, including: presenting research findings, referencing your work, working in groups, public speaking and exam techniques. It is easy to navigate, with lots of tips and examples, the Communication Skills Guidebook will be their trusted resource throughout their entire degree.

Oxford Word of the Month – June: Hubbard

hubbardhubbard – noun: an inexperienced, unskilled, or unfashionably attired cyclist.

Warning: this article contains explicit language.

A posting on the Urban Dictionary website from February 2008 proposed a definition for the word hubbard:

An uncool, slow, unfashionable, annoying, awkward or stupid cyclist. Often identified by wearing a helmet that is more than 15 years old, poor judgement on the road or by the ridiculous cargo they carry on their bike. In a racing context hubbards are identified by having unshaven legs, riding a Giant or by an inability to go round a corner with the peleton [sic] without almost causing a crash. Recumbent cyclists are automatically hubbards.

The posting marks the first written evidence for this term, although it likely dates back to at least the early 2000s. The next significant evidence for hubbard occurred in 2012 when several Australian websites featured the term, including this forum posting on the Bicycles Network Australia site:

I’m a hubbard because: 1. I ride a touring bike, with pannier, for my daily commute. 2. I wear a (wool) t-shirt and shy shorts. 3. My average speed rarely cracks 25km/hr. 4. My bike has a mirror, lots of lights and a horn.

Further comments in this forum highlight some of the characteristics that might be associated with a hubbard, including: the use of mudguards, the use of recumbent or old bicycles, commuting to work, and unshaven legs. They also suggest a hubbard may be understood as someone who is an incompetent and potentially dangerous rider.

The common thread in the evidence for hubbard is the perceived lack of commitment to the fashion and etiquette of road cycling. An article in The Australian newspaper sums up this perception:

Mock if you will, but ignore the look and you risk the ultimate cycling insult: you will be referred to as a ‘Hubbard’. Worse still, nobody will want to ride with you. You will be deemed uncool and, more important, unsafe. (12 October 2012)

The evidence for hubbard after 2012 indicates that the word is chiefly used in Australian English. In the same Australian article the origin of hubbard is stated simply: ‘Derived from the nursery rhyme Old Mother Hubbard’. This possible origin is mentioned in one of the online forums as well. The problem with such an etymology is that there is no evidence to link it directly with the nursery rhyme—the 1805 nursery rhyme seemingly has nothing to do with the cycling sense of hubbard, although there could be some arbitrary use of Old Mother Hubbard in the sense of ‘old fuddy-duddy’. Another candidate for the origin of hubbard is the originally US slang term mother-hubber, and its variant mother hubbard, which is used as a euphemism for motherfucker, ‘a despicable or very unpleasant person or thing’. Again there is no direct link to the cycling term. One other possibility is that hubbard is derived from hub, meaning the ‘central part of a wheel, rotating on or with the axle, and from which the spokes radiate’. More specifically hubbard may derive from hub gear, often associated with commuting and city bicycles, as opposed to the derailleur gear system found on most racing bicycles. Further evidence may shed more light on the origin of this term.

The Australian National Dictionary Centre team would love to hear about your experience and understanding of the term hubbard. Editors will be researching hubbard for possible future inclusion in the Australian National Dictionary.