Wish I had more time to post extracurricular things on this blog, but oh well…
October 15, 2007
Journal Entry on Lindemann’s “Teaching about Sentences” (from A Rhetoric for Writing Teachers 163-174)
Lindemann suggests three ways to teach about sentences: 1) use examples to discuss how readers perceive sentences (e.g., how the beginning or end of sentences indicates emphasis), 2) do sentence-combining exercises, and 3) generate cumulative sentences.
The first idea seems workable, especially since it would probably be the first time students had thought at all about what difference placement might make within sentences. And I wonder if a good way to teach it would be to get the students to tune into their own reactions to the paragraphs. I would read two example paragraphs aloud (or have them read them quickly). The first one would be like Lindemann’s first example, one that displaces the actor(s) to the middle or end of sentences (165). I would then ask the class to give their quick impressions of the paragraph: “What’s the strongest thing or action you get from this paragraph?” Hopefully, they’d come up with varying answers, because the center or focus of the paragraph is less clear in this example. Then I’d read the second example aloud, one like Lindemann’s which firmly places actor(s) as active subjects, but I think I would choose an example so that the first and second examples have different topics (in order to avoid one example “tainting” the results of the other). Again, I would ask the class to give a gut-level response to the paragraph. Hopefully, with this one, their answers would agree more with each other. Then I could point out what it was about the sentences that gave them those different reactions.
On the other hand, I was a little skeptical about the effectiveness of sentence-combining. From what I observed of students at YVCC, doing sentence-combining exercises didn’t seem to help their own sentences. It makes a lot of sense that sentence-combining should/would help students increase their syntactical repertoire, help with punctuation, and help them develop “an eye and ear for prose rhythms” (167), especially since they can do it without having to learn grammatical terms. But I just didn’t see that happen. I’m wondering now though whether the key in Lindemann’s advice is her point that “students need regular sentence-combining practice over a long period” (169). That may be exactly what some instructors at YVCC didn’t do; maybe they were trying to do too many different things over the ten weeks and so gave only a few sentence-combining exercises. And it occurred to me that perhaps learning new syntactical structures, even for native speakers, is like learning English as a second language, at least in that it takes repetition over time to sink in.
I’ve never seen it done, but I really like the cumulative-sentence exercise that Lindemann creates (from Francis Christensen’s principles) (170-173). I think it would work mainly because it’s fun (much more fun than taking an already-written cumulative sentence and dissecting it) and because the discussion Lindemann couches it in would make it applicable to the students’ writing and keep from feeling like busywork (even if fun busywork). I think it would be the first time most students had seen the main clause so highlighted (first time they’d “seen” it at all perhaps) and then buried in modifiers. It would be like, “Here it is. Whoops, it’s gone! Where’d it go?” And I can easily imagine students, after creating a “monstrosity” like the one Lindemann shows (171), wanting to know what to call the things they have added to the main clause. They created them; they will have more ownership and want to know what to name their creations. And, of course, once they created – and had fun with – cumulative sentences, they’ll feel as if they could do it again in their own papers. Unlike the sentence-combining exercises, the cumulative-sentence exercise requires them to think up their own modifiers/additions, and that probably makes it easier for them to apply the learning to their own sentences later.