11 Shuffling sentences by Richard Durant

 
Take Five                                                                                     11   Sentences

11 Shuffling sentences by Richard Durant
                   Richard Durant, English advisor for Devon, a widely published
                   author on teaching and learning, also teaching in Queen Elizabeth’s
                   Academy in Crediton

                   I thought we’d done away with capital punishment, yet I keep seeing
                   students being sentenced to death: subordinate clauses,
co-ordinating connectives, independent main clauses, non-finite clauses etc. These
seem to be the modern executioner’s preferred instruments. They may look less
barbaric than guillotines and nooses but they all lead to the same result – a long, slow,
painful death! I favour active and exploratory approaches to sentence writing.

Richards’s five favourite all-purpose sentence shufflers

1   To help students understand the effects of a writer’s choices of sentence style and
    structure, take a tiny bit of a text you are reading and rewrite it in a few other ways
so that it contains exactly the same information but in a different style. You could, for
example, rewrite the text using only simple sentences, or one long complex sentence,
or just short sentences fronted dully by the subject. (See the attached ‘Additional
material’ section for an example relating to Jaws.).

2      Help students build a short simple sentence into a far more detailed one,
       drawing on noun and adverbial phrases, connectives etc. (e.g. ‘John sat on
the chair eventually’ becomes ‘Having looked carefully to ensure that the cat was
not already sitting there, John – wincing at the pain in his tired, old legs – sat down
gradually and tentatively on …’.).

3     Give students two columns of simple sentences. One column should lend itself
      well to being used as subordinate clauses. For example, one column might
contain ‘the cat blinked slowly’; the other might contain ‘he felt ill’. Ask students to
make complex sentences by combining two simple sentences, choosing one option
from each column and joining them together with a connective (unless, if, while,
because etc.).

4       Play a version of Countdown: by making up sets of cards for individual word
        classes (verbs, nouns etc.). The cards in the preposition pack, for example, might
include: under, against, to, from, inside. Place the sets of cards face down. Get students
into groups and give each group a turn at choosing a pre-agreed number of cards.
They can choose as many or as few from each set as they like, but they always get
the top card in the chosen pack. Students must then construct a sentence from their
chosen cards. Award points for the finished sentences, offering more points for certain
word classes: perhaps one point for a noun but three for a preposition.

5      Constrain students’ normal sentence-writing habits by periodically banning
       particular words: and, but, so, then are excellent targets for bans! Conversely,
install arbitrary rules, such as ‘you must start three sentences with an ‘-ing’ word’
(Having ..., Walking ..., Smiling ...) or with an adverb or adverb phrase: ‘With an evil
chuckle …’; ‘Later that night …’; ‘High above the clouds …’.

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Whizzy and web-based ideas                                                  Five sentence
                                                                            related tips:
       Weird Whiz (one of Teachit’s Word Whiz
1      family) is a great accompaniment or launcher
for a number of the activities suggested here.
                                                                            1. don’t encourage pompous
                                                                            sentences for their own sake
Students simply choose word classes and the Weird Whiz translates
them into actual words in weird sentences. For example, my                  2. be prepared to dispel
selection of determiner, adjective, noun, verb, adverb, preposition,        the myth that long and
determiner, noun produced: ‘The spooky paparazzi snigger sweatily           complicated sentences are
through the cuckoos.’ – make of that what you will!                         good sentences

        Magnet is another invaluable tool. It allows you to put             3. guide students in designing
2       different sentence elements on different ‘tiles’, scattering the
tiles randomly around the screen. Students can then work together
                                                                            sentences for effect

to correctly reassemble the sentence or to use some of its elements         4. encourage students to write
to create interesting new sentences. Here is how I segmented one            short, snappy sentences
sentence: Having / looked carefully / to ensure / that the cat was
not / already sitting there / John / wincing / at the pain / in his tired   5. good writing is about
old legs / sat down / gradually / and / tentatively / on the sturdy         control and knowing when to
chair / that had seen better days. You will probably discover what I        stop/how to be succinct.
did: some students can do this almost instantaneously. It makes you
realise that some students have mental skills far beyond what you
might have previously expected.

     For a copy of The Red Room (referenced in the top five
3    resource section of this chapter), simply go to http://www.
gutenberg.org/ebooks/23218.

      Learn English is a site aimed at those learning English as an
4     additional language but has sentence exercises that could be
useful for all: http://www.ecenglish.com/learnenglish/.
                                                                                 See the site
      BBC Skillswise is a website aimed at adult numeracy and
5     literacy tutors and students. It contains printable worksheets
and factsheets and online games, videos and quizzes that can be
                                                                                 Find the editable
                                                                            resources, links, interactive
                                                                               materials and special
used in class or by students at home. Although aimed at adult                   versions of Magnet,
learners, the website is clear, simple and easy to navigate. The               Cruncher and Syntex
                                                                              at www.teachit.co.uk/
section on sentence structure is well worth a look: http://www.bbc.
                                                                                      takefive
co.uk/skillswise/topic-group/sentence-grammar.

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Richards’s top sentence resource

 1       (redr239) Figurative language and sentence structure in ghost story writing

How it works                        Five things to try
Students are offered five

                                    1
snippets of text. One of                 To make this exercise more accessible for less able students,
them is taken from H. G.                 reduce the versions to just three – the real one and two fakes.
Wells’ The Red Room; the            You may want to rewrite the two fakes so that they are even easier
other four are rewrites of          than any of the versions offered here. For example you might offer
that extract giving exactly         these ‘fakes’:
the same information but in            • The scary shadows closed in again. They stepped towards me,
different styles (e.g. a series           first on one side and then on the other, creeping up on me.
of simple sentences fronted               They kept blowing out the candles, even though I kept striking
by the subject, or one long               matches.
complex sentence). Students            • I kept striking matches. The candles kept going out. The scary,
look at the differences and               enemy shadows came back. They closed in on me slowly. They
choose the most effective one             closed in slowly on one side of me. Then they closed in slowly
before exploring the effect               on the other.
of the extract in the story.
Finally, they write their own       These fake versions still offer different structures to compare with
continuation of a ghost story       the real version.
with particular emphasis on

                                    2
sentence design and figurative             Of course if you make the fake versions simpler then you
language.                                  will need to do the same with the real one or else it will give
                                    itself away. That doesn’t matter because you might want to write a
                                    simplified version of the whole story anyway, and you can still keep
                                    the original structure of the real extract while altering its vocabulary.

                                    3
                                          Give students a copy of the section of the story where the
                                          extract appears, inserting one of the rewritten versions of text
                                    into the extract’s place. Ask students to identify the fake bit and then
                                    rewrite it so it is more in keeping with Wells’ style and quality. You
                                    can extend this by sowing the story with occasional fake bits and
                                    getting students to watch out for them.

          Tip!
                                    4
                                          To simplify suggestion 3 (above), give students the five
         To get your own                  alternative versions plus the story with a gap where the real
      free copy of The Red          extract should go. Ask students to discuss which version is most
     Room, see the Project          effective and authentic when placed in the gap. To make this process
        Gutenberg link on           much more challenging, don’t offer any of the five alternatives – just
             page 79.               ask students to fill the gap effectively and authentically. (First, you
                                    might want to tell them what happens in that short section.)

                                    5
                                          Use this ‘alternative version’ approach in other contexts: get
                                          groups to explore and choose between different versions of a
                                    poem (final and earlier draft); different adverts for the same product;
                                    different synonyms in a newspaper report (e.g. ‘mob’ vs. ‘group’ vs.
                                    ‘gang’). Don’t be afraid to ‘mock up’ your own alternative versions if
                                    no genuine ones exist. It’s a great feeling when students prefer yours!
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And four more choice sentence shuffling resources

 2     (1749) Main and subordinate clauses PowerPoint
       This resource invites students to suggest suitable subordinate clauses to add to main
clauses. It builds on students’ intuitive understanding of syntax. This approach – ‘sentence
combining’ – can be extended creatively. For example, how might students complete the
sentence stem, ‘Because it was raining ...’? ‘I took my umbrella’ would help to reinforce
the grammar and give students practice in fronting sentences with a subordinate clause.
However, they could complete it with ‘... I joined the army’ or ‘... the sun crept away and
sulked’ – or almost anything else that is grammatically plausible.

 3     (4769) Clause analysis
       This offers some simple exercises to help students recognise different sorts of
sentence and clause. The approach is relatively safe and systematic but you could make
it more exploratory. For example, take the section on complex sentences and list all the
main clauses in random order in one column, and all the subordinate clauses in random
order in an adjacent column. Then get students to experiment with selecting one item
from each column before splicing them together to see what sense they can make (e.g.
‘Although he knows the language well, Bob refuses to marry Bettina.’).

 4      (4098) Grammar dice
        This activity helps students understand and use word classes (noun, verb
etc.). Students roll a dice and write down an example of the class the dice chooses
(e.g. noun/table). An extension to this is to make sets of word cards for each class.
Students don’t roll a dice. Instead, they ask for word classes in the style of the game
show Countdown. For example, if they ask for a verb, the top verb card is turned over
and reveals a word. Continue revealing words in this vein and tell students they must
make a sentence from these words. You can specify the number of cards to be selected
and you can award different scores to different word classes to encourage more
adventurous choices.

 5     (15466) Tips and tricks for success in writing exams
       As the title suggests, this ranges from ‘Try not to use the words “and then”’
to ‘Start two sentences with “-ing” words.’ It is an emergency approach to improving
writing but can be a starting point for mischievous activities: such as writing the
words ‘and then’ on large sheets of paper and ritually tearing them in half. You could
display the banned, ripped words as a reminder. You’ll find students listening to your
every word as you try to avoid the banned ones! You could also deliberately use
the recommended connectives in all sorts of unlikely contexts so that students will
remember them in the future: ‘Although I realise you are peckish, please desist from
secret sandwich-munching!’

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The photocopiable resource – (redr239) Figurative language and sentence
structure in ghost story writing

 Figurative language and sentence structure in ghost story writing                tweakit
                                                                                  resource guide
How it works

Students explore the effect of a single sentence from H. G. Wells’ The Red
Room before looking at the effect of that sentence in the story. Finally they
write their own bit of a ghost story with particular emphasis on sentence
design and figurative language.

Try this!

The starter is a very good way for students to engage with the effects of
syntax (sentence design). It is important not to encourage students to guess
the right (published) version; instead they should first try to observe and
describe the differences between the versions and then discuss which one
they like best (and least). Able students do very well with this exercise. In
my experience, less able students get overwhelmed by having five options.
It works better if you take two options away, leaving the right one (the
fourth) and two others. I would recommend that these are number one (a
single, perfunctory sentence) and number five (a series of simple sentences
with the same monotonous structure). This reduction in the options helps
average to less able students to focus on clear differences in style and effect.

Or this!

The resource suggests that this exercise should be conducted in student
pairs, but I think it works better in trios so that there is plenty of room for
constructive, exploratory disagreement. And on that note: any group talk
task works best if the ‘rules of engagement’ are already well-known to
students and they are used to working in groups. This starter facilitates
group work by doing away with the need for writing and by providing a
relatively limited focus.

Or this!

This ‘alternative version’ approach works well in a lot of contexts. Get
groups to explore and choose between different versions of a poem (final
and earlier draft); different adverts for the same product; different synonyms
in a newspaper report (e.g. ‘mob’ vs. ‘group’ vs. ‘gang’). Don’t be afraid to
‘mock up’ your own alternative versions if no genuine ones exist. It’s a great
feeling when students prefer yours!

                                                                     Richard Durant

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 Starter:

     • establish the first objective

     • hand out sets of sentence cards to pairs and ask students to rank order them by
       how effective they are for building tension in a ghost story. Tell them they should be
       prepared to justify their first and last choices

     • take feedback.

 Main:

     • establish the second objective, and explain that you want to explore how Wells uses
       the skills in both objectives

     • show OHT and begin to model analysing the extract (see teacher guide sheet). Discuss
       the effect of Wells’ sentence that was included in the starter sentences

     • now ask pairs to find how Wells continues the personification of the shadows after the
       first line

     • take feedback. Compile a list of language features that Wells uses to build tension.
       Concentrate on description, figurative language (especially personification) and
       sentence variety to control tempo

     • tell the class that you have been trying to write your own ghost story about a person
       shut in a dark room where someone diced recently. Tell the class you want to start the
       story with tension but you could do with some help

     • demo-write the start of your story (see suggestion), thinking aloud about using the
       listed features

     • stop and ask pairs to write the next sentence on their mini-wipeboards

     • hear some suggestions and continue your story, incorporating suggestions and
       explaining why you are accepting some but rejecting others.

 Development:

     • ask pairs to continue the story you have been writing (note: forbid anyone from
       copying down your work – it is copyright!). Prompt pairs to use the listed features.

 Review:

     • ask pairs to read out their writing with the rest of the class listening out for the listed
       features

     • after each reading, ask volunteers to offer constructive criticisms

     • keep returning the class’ attention to the objectives whenever relevant.

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                                                         expand onto A3 for display

We are learning to:

explore the impact of a variety of sentence structures

experiment with figurative language in conveying a sense of character
and setting

                                                         expand onto A3 for display

simile – comparing two things: saying that one thing is like something
else (e.g. the sea is like a hungry dog)

metaphor – saying that one thing is something else
(e.g. the sea is a hungry dog)

personification – making a thing sound like a person or an animal
(e.g. the sea is a hungry dog)

Similes, metaphors and personifications are all figurative language.

Literal means you describe something exactly as it is
(e.g. the sea is wet and rough)

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Sentence cards

Cut into strips

    The steady process of the extinction of the candles and the
    steady closing in of the shadows went on alarmingly even
    though I had avoided the delay of striking matches.

    The shadows I feared and fought against returned. First they
    took a step towards me on one side, and then on the other. In
    this way they crept up. They steadily extinguished the candles,
    even though I had avoided the delay of striking matches.

    By dropping the matches on the iron-bound deedbox in the
    corner I had avoided the delay of striking matches, but even
    so, creeping up on me, first with a step towards me on one
    side and then a step towards me on the other, in a steady
    process of extinction, the shadows I feared and fought against
    returned.

    With this I avoided the delay of striking matches; but for
    all that the steady process of extinction went on, and the
    shadows I feared and fought against returned, and crept in
    upon me, first a step gained on this side of me and then on
    that.

    This let me avoid the delay of striking matches. The extinction
    of the candles went on steadily. The frightening, enemy
    shadows returned. They closed in on me slowly. They
    advanced a little on one side of me. Then they advanced
    a little on the other.

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                                                                   OHT

As I stood undecided, an invisible hand seemed to sweep
out the two candles on the table. With a cry of terror, I
dashed at the alcove, then into the corner, and then into
the window, relighting three, as two more vanished by
the fireplace; then, perceiving a better way, I dropped the
matches on the iron-bound deedbox in the corner, and
caught up the bedroom candlestick. With this I avoided
the delay of striking matches; but for all that the steady
process of extinction went on, and the shadows I feared
and fought against returned, and crept in upon me, first a
step gained on this side of me and then on that. It was like
a ragged storm-cloud sweeping out of the stars. Now and
then one returned for a minute, and was lost again. I was
now almost frantic with the horror of the coming darkness,
and my self-possession deserted me. I leaped panting and
dishevelled from candle to candle in a vain struggle against
that remorseless advance.

The Red Room by H. G. Wells

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To make the extinguishing of the candles and the darkening shadow sound menacing, Wells describes the process as though
                        it is an invisible enemy – he personifies the process.

                                                                                       Wells compares the process to
                                                                                                                                                               Take Five

                                                                                       a violent person: he is using a

2012 Teachit (UK) Ltd
                                                                                       mixture of metaphor and simile
                        The main clause (‘I
                        dashed at the alcove’)                                                                                        Keeps adding ‘then’.
                        does not start the           As I stood undecided, an invisible hand seemed to sweep out the two              This is very simple
                        sentence. Starting with                                                                                       but suggests the
                                                     candles on the table. With a cry of terror, I dashed at the alcove, then
                        an adverbial subordinate                                                                                      breathless rush of
                                                     into the corner, and then into the window, relighting three, as two more         what the narrator is
                        clause emphasises how
                        the narrator is feeling,     vanished by the fireplace; then, perceiving a better way, I dropped              doing
                        rather than what he is       the matches on the iron-bound deedbox in the corner, and caught
                        doing                        up the bedroom candlestick. With this I avoided the delay of striking
                                                     matches; but for all that the steady process of extinction went on, and
                                                                                                                                      This word is closely
                                                     the shadows I feared and fought against returned, and crept in upon              associated with death
                        This long sentence is
                        designed to flow with        me, first a step gained on this side of me and then on that. It was like         and killing
                        bits constantly being        a ragged storm-cloud sweeping out of the stars. Now and then one
                        added on: this suggests      returned for a minute, and was lost again. I was now almost frantic with
                        the narrator’s panic,
                        loss of control (or ‘self-
                                                     the horror of the coming darkness, and my self-possession deserted
                        possession’)                 me. I leaped panting and dishevelled from candle to candle in a vain
                                                                                                                                      ‘fought against’,
                                                     struggle against that remorseless advance.                                       ‘crept’, ‘step’,
                         Simile: why has the                                                            The Red Room by H. G. Wells   ‘remorseless
                                                                                                                                                               11

                         narrator switched from                                                                                       advance’ all continue
                         personification? Is                                                                                          the personification of
                         this a weakness in the                                                                                       the shadows
                         writing?                       This is quite literal. Throughout
                                                        this section Wells describes his

87
                                                                                                                                                               Sentences

                                                        own appearance and reactions
                                                        emphatically but literally.
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     I heard the scratching sound again. This time it
     sounded like sharp finger-nails being scraped across the
     window-pane. I sat perfectly still, staring through the
     darkness to the murky, cracked window where a little
     bit of light from the streetlamp was able to wriggle in.
     The curtains were no more than dusty rags with great
     rips in them. Just beyond them the shaggy, bear-like fir
     tree leant again towards the house and tapped angrily
     on the window, trying to burst the cracked pane, trying
     to reach through to me. Darkness and draughts gusted
     around my rigid body.

Ask pairs to continue the writing. Discourage them from rushing ahead with
the story: their job is to build up the atmosphere.

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Additional material

 Jaws: which is the real bit of Jaws?

                        Extract                   What do you notice about each version?

 A                                          Example: this is a series of short simple sentences.
 The shark was below the surface. It shook It sounds very factual…
 the body violently. It tore with its sharp
 teeth. The body came apart. The shark
 swallowed. Then it turned back for more.

 B
 Below the water, shaking its head from
 side to side, the shark ripped the body
 with its rough, serrated teeth, tearing it
 apart, before swallowing and then turning
 back for more.

 C
 Below the surface, the fish shook its head
 from side to side, its serrated triangular
 teeth sawing through what little sinew
 still resisted. The corpse fell apart. The
 fish swallowed, then turned to continue
 feeding.

 D
 “Now I’ve got you!” the great evil fish
 thought to itself as it gripped the little
 woman’s body in its sharp teeth and shook
 her violently until her internal organs burst
 out - livers, kidneys and lungs flying in
 different directions. “Yum, yum! Now let’s
 see what’s for afters!”

 E
 Below the surface, the fish shook its head
 violently from side to side, its sharp,
 jagged teeth tearing greedily through the
 few remaining sinews. The ripped and
 shredded corpse fell apart. With a great
 and hungry gulp, the fish swallowed,
 before thrashing back for more.

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