about /contributor / title / genre / course / search / program in writing & rhetoric / sunysb home page


Sentence Variety Structure

Assignment Summary

For this preliminary, motivational exercise, I take four or five sentences (one for each small group in the writing workshop) from works of fiction and nonfiction by contemporary writers. I deconstruct the complx sentences I have selected, rewriting them as simple ones. Then I type up the deconstructed sentences, indicating the title and author in parenthesis, and distribute them to the class. Usually, I ask the class if they recognize any of the titles or authors before explaining what I have done to the sentences. I encourage the groups to experiment, come up with various possibilities, and choose the sentence they like best. If a group finishes its sentence ahead of time, it can try another sentence. When all the groups are finished, I have one person from each group put its sentence on the blackboard. We discuss it and correct or refine it as necessary. Finally, I give the class a second handout with the original sentences as the authors wrote them. I emphasize that these sentences are not necessarily better than theirs and that the writers probably experimented like they did.

This exercise, which takes about thirty minutes, precedes an editing workshop where students work on their own revised drafts. The purpose is to encourage writers to go beyond proofreading to correct problems in grammar and ursage and to work on style. I follow this exercise by asking students to find a passage in their essays which has simple, repetitive, or "empty" sentences and to rewrite it. Students can share their rewritten passages and/or copy them on separate paper to hand in

Instructor's Comments

This is a fun exercise, a nice interlude before continuing the hard work of revision, and my students usually enjoy "playing" with the sentences of famous writers. Also, I think it's a good way to get students to really pay attention to language, while exposing them to some well-written prose. It's important to use contemporary writers (forget your favorite classics for this one) since we need to underline current usage. I like to use texts that the students might recognize or find interesting. Sometimes I ask students to name favorite authors at the start of the semester, so I can pick sentences from their works. I've also used Oprah selections and books that were made into films.

genre correctness and style
course WRT 101
activity type group revision exercise
skills sentence-level revision
duration 1 class
instructor's prepared worksheet (see above)
handouts: not available
contributor: Kathleen Kern