Needful Things for a Young Writer
I recently received this letter from a former student:
Dear English Teacher,
When I was young, I had great ideas for stories but could never hold my readers’ attention. I was about to give up writing forever.
One night. while hanging out at the pet cemetary, my friend Carrie, on her way to the prom, walked by, wearing a shining dreamcatcher around her neck. She looked tired, so I invited her to sit down. It looked liked she’d already walked a green mile or two.
“What’s the problem? Why are you hanging out here? Trouble with Christine?” she asked.
“Oh no,” I responded, “I just don’t understand how to create variations in my writing. It’s like all my sentences sound the same. I even asked Dolores Claiborne for help but she didn’t know what to do.”
“I know this really cool teacher. He has some really great lessons. One in particular deals with parts of speech and varying sentence beginnings. So stop sitting here like a bag of bones and find him.”
“CUJO!” I replied, “I’m going to find him Monday morning!”
Well sir, that teacher was you and you taught me the best way to vary sentence beginnings using parts of speech that I have ever seen.”
I don’t remember Stephen, but I do remember the parts of speech lesson plan. Here it is:
- Instruct students to take out a piece of writing.
- Tell them to highlight the first few words of each sentence.
- Instruct them to take out a slice of paper and fold it in half lengthwise.
- In the left hand column, have them write the first few words of each sentence.
Discuss the following:
- Neophyte writers tend to begin all their sentences the same way.
- Beginning sentences in the same manner lessens the impact of their writing.
- Write down some student sentence beginnings on the board.
- Review the parts of speech and types of phrases/clauses used to begin sentences (see next section).
- Identify the types of sentence beginnings from the student samples.
- Circle repetitive words, parts of speech, or types of clauses from the student examples.
- Model how to change sentence beginnings.
- Instruct each student to do the same on his previously lengthwise folded paper.
- Keep in mind that due to structure or intended meanings not all revised sentences will improve the original draft. Allow students to make the final decision.
Using parts of speech sentences is not restricted to revising essays. It can stand alone as one of your parts of speech lesson plans. Here are variations of sentence beginnings using your knowledge of grammar:
- Noun: Bob works out at the airport when travelling on business.
- Pronoun: He‘s a little obsessive about it.
- Article: The other passengers make fun of him.
- Infinitive: To sing Karaoke at his wedding is his lifelong dream.
- Gerund: Singing and dancing are his favorite exercises.
- Adverb: Loudly, someone makes fun of him.
- Participial Phrase: Howling in pain, Bob’s pretty sure he ruptured his achilles
- Adverb Clause As Bob screams, security is called.
- Prepositional Phrase In minutes, Bob is arrested and removed from the flight to Jamaica.
- Adjective: Fat people laugh.
This post is part of the series: Better Grammar Equals Better Writing
- Teaching Students How to Combine Sentences and Improve their Writing
- Lesson Plan: Eliminate Weak Verb-Adverb Combinations
- Lesson Plan: Eliminate "To Be" Verbs
- Lesson Plan: Write With Strong Verbs
- Lesson Plan: Active Voice vs. Passive Voice
- Revising Pronouns and Antecedents with this Lesson Plan
- Pronoun-Antecedent Agreement Made Easy
- Lesson Plan: Understanding Independent and Dependent Clauses
- Teach Your Kids to Eliminate Fragments and Run-ons in Their Writing
- Lesson Plan: Use Parts of Speech to Improve Sentence Beginnings