After reading thirty-five writing assignments that contained 26 consecutive sentences of 5 to 8 words, I decided to do something about it. I piled the aforementioned assignments in the recycling bin, soaked them in lighter fluid, lit a match, and watched them burn.
An Accidental Discovery
After teaching students how to create lively characters, convert telling sentences into showing ones, how to write dialogue, and how to use imagery, I felt good about myself...until I read their next assignment and realized their sentence structure added an aura of monotony and listlessness heretofore unknown. I lacked the energy to move. Seconds before soiling myself, I thought of some lesson plans for sentence structure. I ran to the restroom, came back to my classroom, called my wife, and told her I'd be home late.
I had work to do. I had to create sentence structure lesson plans. Here's the best one I came up with:
The Simplest of Sentence Structure Lesson Plans
Write the following paragraphs, which lack sentence variety, on the board or simply create your own. The first one uses all simple sentences; the second one uses all complex sentences:
Poetry is difficult. I don't write it very well. My English professor in college agrees with me. He sent me a book. He sent me Poetry for Dummies. I felt stupid after seeing it. I still talk to the professor. We don't talk much about poetry. He sent me that book, after all. We do talk about our children. I asked for his recommendation on poetry books for children. He suggested something to me. He suggested they teach me poetry. He really humiliated me. I am over it now. I talked to my therapist about it. I decided to do a poetry extravaganza. I went to the library with my kids. I chose 20 poetry books. They voted on the top 5. That's why I'm writing this.
Poetry, the bane of my existence, is an activity enjoyed by my English professor that tormented me, a college graduate, for many years. My professor, still a good friend of mine who converses with me from time to time about literature and other tidbits, told me I was not very good at poetry, going as far as to send me a copy of a book, a rather useful yet insulting book, entitled Poetry for Dummies, which, although intended as humor, hurt my feelings. I talked to my therapist, a rather good man who, like me, has a general disdain for poetry, and he told me I should have a poetry extravaganza with my children--Tom, Joe, and Mary--and let them see if they enjoy poetry.
Discuss the Following
- A good writer varies sentence types and lengths to hold the readers' attention. Writing the same types of sentences over and over and over and over makes for dull writing and forces the reader to either stop reading or hop on a plane to British Columbia and bury his head in a snowdrift.
- Sentence length is used to create emphasis. Short sentences create emphasis following long sentences. Try it.
Three main types of sentences exist.
- Simple sentences: one independent clause consisting of a subject and predicate.
- Compound sentences: two independent clauses joined by a comma and a conjunction or a semicolon.
Complex sentences: an independent clause preceded by or followed by a dependent clause.
- Good writing should have all three types.
Don't worry. I haven't forgotten about the two sample paragraphs.
- Read each paragraph aloud.
- Underline each sentence in alternating colors. This is to make it clear that neither paragraph varies sentence type or length.
- Display a list, or have students take notes on different ways to vary sentence patterns. I have included suggestions for sentence revision in the next part of this series.
- Instruct students to revise the first paragraph using suggestions for sentence revision. Use the second paragraph as a warning to those who feel the need to revise every sentence. Remember, sentence variety creates interest, flow, and emphasis. I promise.
- Put a few samples on the board or on an overhead.
- Highlight sentences in alternating colors and check for variety.
- If you are working on the writing process, have students do the same activity with their rough drafts.
* This lesson has been adapted from Mini Lessons for Revision by Susan Geye, 1997, Absey & Co. Spring, TX.