A Sentence Composing Primer

When students write sentences and when authors write sentences the results are usually different, dramatically so. The purpose of the sentence-composing approach is to bridge that gap.

Two features of authors’ sentences differentiate their sentences from those of most students:

CONTENT – Can students be taught to write better content? To a limited extent yes. Authors, however, attribute content to life lessons not course lessons, acquired only through time, not textbooks. The sentence-composing approach, with its exclusive use of sentences by authors, models content, including word choice, tone, and creativity, and, at least to some extent, students learn to improve their own content.

STYLE – Although good content is essential for effective writing, it is not teachable in any significant way. The sentence-composing approach, by contrast, is not only teachable; it is teacher friendly, and refreshingly student-proof. It focuses on the differences in style and structure between authors’ sentences and student sentences.

TRY THIS: The pairs of sentences below mean essentially the same thing; however, one is styled by an author, the other more like the style of a student. Notice the differences. The sentence-composing approach narrows the gap, making students’ sentences more like authors’ sentences.

1a. I seemed forever condemned because walls ringed me.
1b. I seemed forever condemned, ringed by walls.
–Richard Wright, “Black Boy”

2a. The outlook was anything but bright because the newcomers were hopeless and forlorn, and the old team was worn out by twenty-five hundred miles of continuous trail.
2b. With the newcomers hopeless and forlorn, and the old team worn out by twenty-five hundred miles of continuous trail, the outlook was anything but bright.
–Jack London, “The Call of the Wild”

3a. The dinosaur’s pelvic bones crushed aside trees and bushes while it ran, and its taloned feet clawed damp earth to leave prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight.
3b. The dinosaur ran, its pelvic bones crushing aside trees and bushes, its taloned feet clawing damp earth, leaving prints six inches deep wherever it settled its weight.
–Ray Bradbury, “A Sound of Thunder”


Without vocabulary, students don’t have sufficient words to express themselves. Likewise, without the grammatical structures of authors, students lack power-tools to build better sentences. Through modeling authors’ power-tools for students to imitate, the sentence-composing approach gives students a toolbox for building better sentences.

Although teaching students to build sentences like those of authors is the primary goal of the sentence-composing approach, students learn indirectly much more: word choice, tone, order, vocabulary, syntax, style, elaboration. The sentence-composing approach proves that LESS IS MORE.