Sentence Composing Practices

After learning the characteristics of a sentence-composing tool (appositive phrase in the examples below), students practice using that tool through activities in matching, unscrambling, combining, imitating, exchanging, and expanding.
Given a list of sentences, and a list of tools excerpted from those sentences, students match the tool with the sentence. Placed first in the sequence of practices, it reinforces students’ new understanding of the characteristics of the particular tool. 
Purpose: to introduce the new tool by seeing many examples, and then inserting each tool logically  into the sentence.
DIRECTIONS: Match the appositive tools with the sentences.
There was no one in The Hot Spot store but Mr. Shiftlet and the boy behind the counter, ^ . 
                    Flannery O’Connor, “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”

2. Once they were in her office, ^ , Professor McGonagall motioned to Harry and Hermione to sit down.
              J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

In our clenched fists, we held our working cards from the shop, ^ .  
            Gerda Weissmann Klein, “All But My Life”

4. Watanabe, ^ , leaned over and spoke the words in Japanese to his employer.
	            Ann Patchett, Bel Canto

         5. A gray cat crept across the lawn, and a black one, ^ , trailed after.	
                    Katherine Mansfield, “Bliss”
Appositive Phrases: 
a. a small room with a large, welcoming fire
b. the young man who worked as Mr. Hosokawa’s translator
c. its shadow
d. those sacred cards that we thought meant security
a pale youth with a greasy rag hung over his shoulder
_________________________________________________________________________U N S C R A M B L I N G	
A model sentence is presented, then a scrambled imitation of that model. Students rearrange the scrambled list of sentence parts to match the structure of the model, then write an imitation of the model and identify the focus tool in the model and their imitations (here, the appositive tool).  Students then see the correspondence between sentence parts in the model and those in the scrambled list. 
Purpose: to break down the imitation task into manageable steps by isolating the sentence parts of the model.
DIRECTIONS: Unscramble the sentence parts to match the sentence parts in the model.
MODEL: The proprietor, a little gray man with an unkempt mustache and watery eyes, leaned on the counter, reading a newspaper.			
                            John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
        a. a tall thin blonde
        b. walked down the runway
        c. with a long mane and long legs
        d. the model
        e. eyeing the audience
C O M B I N I N G	
A model sentence is presented, then a list of short sentences for students to combine into one sentence that imitates the model. They then write an imitation of the model, and identify the focus tool in the model and their imitations (here, the appositive phrase).  Students transform short sentences from the list into the equivalent sentence parts of the model being imitated. 
Purpose: to convert sentences into sentence parts equivalent to those in the model and thereby imitate the structure of the model. 
DIRECTIONS: Change the sentences in the list into sentence parts to match the model.
MODEL: A veteran bronc rider, Tom Black has ridden nine horses to death in the rodeo arena, and at every performance the spectators expect him to kill another one.
 			                Hal Borland, When the Legends Die 
a. This sentence is about a fascinating historical speaker, Professor Southwick.
b. He has visited many museums.
c. He visits them for study of the medieval period.
d. And at every visit the curators want him to give another lecture.
I M I T A T I N G	
With just a model sentence  plus a sample imitation of that model, students write their own imitations of the same model. Here, students imitate the model with no help other than a sample imitation.
Purpose: to practice using structures found in professionally written sentences to internalize those structures for use independently. _________________________________________________________________________
DIRECTIONS: Study the way the model is built, then build your own sentence to imitate the model.
MODEL: A golden female moth, a biggish one with a two-inch wingspread, flapped in the fire of the candle, drooped abdomen into the wet wax, stuck, flamed, and frazzled in a second.
			                    Annie Dillard, “Death of a Moth”
Sample Imitation: A green garter snake, a skittish one with a six-inch length, slid toward the foot of the tree, parted grass in the wet yard, stopped, sensed, and disappeared in a flash.
E X C H A N G I N G 
Given an author’s sentence containing the focus tool (here, the appositive phrase), students substitute their own tool for the one in the author’s sentence. This practice, a collaboration between students and authors,  encourages high-level replacements to maintain the high quality of the author’s sentence. 
Purpose: to create an original focus tool that blends, in content and style, with an author'’s sentence and to set a high standard for students’ use of that tool in their own writing. _________________________________________________________________________
DIRECTIONS: Create an appositive phrase to replace the appositive phrase in the author’s sentence.
Author’s Appositive Phrase: 
A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, the women and men with work-gnarled hands.	
					Langston Hughes, The Big Sea

Your Appositive Phrase: 
A great many old people came and knelt around us and prayed, the retirees and grandparents with lots of extra time.
Students partner with an author to create an appositive phrase. 

Purpose: to practice adding grammatical structures found in authors’ sentences. _________________________________________________________________________
DIRECTIONS: At the caret (^), create an appositive phrase to insert into the author’s sentence.
The speech at her funeral was brief but warm about the life of Nettie Cobb, a woman who ^ , a woman who ^ .
			                Stephen King, Needful Things
English teachers teach their students
 how to read authors’ sentences.
  With the sentence-composing approach,
 they also teach their students 
how to write authors’ sentences.  

Don and Jenny Killgallon’s Sentence Composing textbooks are great resources.  Students are asked to imitate particularly effective sentences from texts that are commonly taught in English class (To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, “Shooting an Elephant”). There are different versions of the textbook for different grade levels (elementary, middle, high, college). I think grammar instruction is important because it gives us (teachers and their students) a common language to talk about writing, and the structure of the Killgallon books allows students to imitate models of effective sentence writing without getting overwhelmed by intricate rules. The modeling strategy works well because it is structured, but at the same time allows for creativity.  When students practice writing effective sentences, it is easier for them to transfer their new skills to writing paragraphs and essays.