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By Nancy Devine co-director Red River Valley Writing Project Blog: http://nancydevine.blogspot.com Twitter username: nancydevine
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Work at the sentence level can help writers generate content by giving them the procedural knowledge to do so. Procedural knowledge is knowing how to do something.
Work at the sentence level should not comprise all of writing instruction but, because it does help students with the kind of procedural knowledge necessary to generate content, it can be helpful at the beginning of writing as well as during revision.
Work at the sentence level is most productive (and enjoyable) if it’s playful and fun. The strategies and activities to follow are designed to help writers generate content and having fun doing so. (I wouldn’t want a student to think he or she is being sentenced to death!)
An apt verb can replace a so-so verb and its accompanying adverb. So writers can improve their work by knowing a lot of verbs. Example: I moved slowly at the mall. Becomes: I lollygagged at the mall. In order to deliberately increase their verb vocabulary, writers can collect, in the form of a personal dictionary, verbs they want to make a part of their working vocabularies. Verb dictionary model: Verb: My definition: My sentence using this verb: Why I include this verb in my dictionary: Sample entry: Verb: lollygag My definition: to move slowly while deliberately wasting time My sentence using this verb: My friend likes to lollygag when I wait for her. Why I include this verb in my dictionary: I like the sound of it.
Word painting is a simple, straightforward activity to help writers generate content for sentences. Writers simply create (or their teachers can) a frame on a sheet of paper. Students pick a topic about which to write (something they can describe) and then fill the inside of the frame with words that help the reader “see” the subject of the painting. Those words then can be put together to form a sentence or sentences. Word painting can also be used with ELL students. I suggest taking ELL students to a particular place where they won’t know all the English vocabulary necessary to name what’s at the place. Working with Native English speakers, ELL students can point out particular aspects of the places while their Native English speakers peers can show them the English word for things. Additionally, ELL students can teach their Native English speaking peers new non-English vocabulary.
A writer can--Define someone or something; say what it/he/she is. Distinguish someone or something; call attention to it/he/she from a field of others. Describe something about someone or something; reveal one of its his/her traits. Define: Tofu is soybean curd. A do-do bird is an extinct animal. Distinguish: Tofu is the product sitting on my table. A do-do bird is the animal I most admire. Describe: Tofu is firm. A do-do bird was flightless.
Since, as we read, we tend to associate things and/or things that are close together, it often makes sense to include one, two or three of the D’s right after the noun or pronoun with which you are associating it. Here are two sentences that will get a boost from 3-D writing 1. I hate tofu. 2. Scientists study the do-do bird. Define. I hate tofu, soybean curd. Scientists study the do-do bird, an extinct animal. Distinguish I hate tofu, the product sitting on my table. Scientists study the do-do bird, the animal I most admire. Describe I hate tofu, firm. Scientists study the do-do bird, flightless. Three-D sentence I hate tofu, firm and white, its texture creepy, shivering on the plate in the refrigerator, the one food I refuse to eat.
The Can Strategy
In A New Rhetoric, Francis and Bonniejean Christensen write “when you want to sharpen the image of the objected designated by a noun, you can do only the same three things” (24). You can “describe” a noun, “point to some part” or “go beyond the object” and “suggest[ing] its likeness to something else” (24). From this, I devised the CAN Strategy. CAN stands for Consider A Noun. It names what someone does when he or she using the strategy. Can also stands for what a writer does with this strategy: Compare, Assign action, Note detail and description. Using the noun Heron, the CAN strategy in action looks something like this: Compare it: like a dive-bomber Assign it action: swoops near the water Note----detail: its wing span more than eight feet description: fast, agile, swift
Next, ask students to try to put all the information they generated in the CAN Strategy in a sentence or two. You might want to provide a model sentence, but not providing them with one gives you a chance to see what your students can do alone.
The Can Strategy
A heron, like a dive-bomber, swift and agile, swoops near the water, its wing span more than eight feet. Like a dive-bomber, swift and agile, a heron swoops near the water, its wing span more than eight feet. If necessary label the parts not with grammatical terms but by the job or function each part does: A heron, like a dive-bomber (comparison) swift and agile (description) swoops near the water (action) its wing span more than eight feet. (detail). Like a dive-bomber, (comparison) swift and agile, (description) a heron swoops near the water (action), its wing span more than eight feet. (detail). Here are student examples from high school age writers: Like a salesperson, a telephone marketer, tall and dresses fancy (sic) bribes his customers, his voice loud and clear. Like a mythical creature, the moose, elusive and majestic, lumbers slowly through the tall marsh grasses, his legs sloshing in the shallow waters. Like a coat rack, his antlers, branched and elongated, extend from his massive head, their prongs draped with marsh grasses.
The Can Strategy
Because students know the structure of CAN and what CAN encourages them to do, they seek out details and descriptions to satisfy CAN’s categories. “Once can see what he knows how to say” (Christensen 13). Also the strategy helps students create an accurate rendering of reality. From another student: Like most, the snow, white and textured, clings to the trees outside, its crystals frozen to touch.
In the sentence Like moss, the snow white and textured, clings to the trees outside, its crystals frozen to touch. the action, detail and description are all part of one moment; the structure of the sentence gives the writer a chance to say it that way so the reader will perceive it that way.
To write: The snow was like moss. It was white and textured. It clings to the trees outside. Its crystals were frozen to touch. says that the action, description and detail came one after the other, in a kind of succession that doesn’t really get at this image (Christensen 23).
Sentence Ruining involves playing around with language because writing well requires just that. Wilhelm, Baker and Dube quote Vygotsky, who said of play: “In play, the child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself” (24). Using whatever text we can find in my classroom, students find complete sentences to ruin. To ruin a sentence, they (and now you) simply remove one word so that what results is no longer a sentence.
Sentence Ruining is exactly what it sounds like: taking a complete sentence and making it not a complete sentence. The requirement with sentence ruining is that you can remove only one word from a sentence in order to ruin it.
The main goal of Sentence Ruining is to demonstrate to students that they probably know what a complete sentence is just because they use complete sentences every single day in order to do what they need to do.
Sentence: My dog runs around the block.
Ruined version: My dog around the block.
Christensen, Bonniejean and Francis. A New Rhetori c. Harper and Row: New York, 1976. Wilhelm, Jeffrey D, Baker, Tanya N and Julie Dube Strat eg ic Readi ng Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001