I used the same approach that I tried in Fall 2010 for reinforcing form classes and the valuable content they provide: labeling all the nonsense words in Lewis Carroll’s poem “Jabberwocky.” I doubt I’m the first or even the 207th to come up with the idea, but I like it 🙂
I wanted a different activity to drive comprehension of the seven structure classes as outlined in Rhetorical Grammar:
To be prepared for a full class, I crafted four sentences, each 12 words long, that included as many of the structure classes as possible:
- If she passes the somewhat challenging exam Joanna might get reading time.
- Marcus did ask him for help but the assignment was too difficult.
- Put the phone down so you listen very carefully to the lecture.
- When we see unfamiliar words we look them up in the dictionary.
I then wrote each word on a post-it note, careful to put them out of order and to not identify the first word in the sentence with a capital letter. I was prepared to reveal the first word if groups needed a boost.
I ended up passing out just three of the sentences and picked the ones with particles. Students got out of their seats and started rearranging and resticking the notes. Once they were satisfied with their sentences, they had to label all structure class words.
The first group to finish had the dictionary sentence, so maybe that one was too obvious. Then again, it may have been because they didn’t have an auxiliary verb. The group with the Marcus sentence wanted to use “did” as an intransitive verb rather than a helping verb, which threw off their structure. The group with the phone sentence wasn’t expecting to start with “put.” It’s one of those activities where suddenly everything just falls into place. With labeling, qualifiers seemed to cause the most confusion.
We then discussed switching the sentence clauses. Would it work to say “The assignment was too difficult but Marcus did ask him for help”? What about “Listen very carefully to the lecture so you put the phone down”?
My goals in this course include a deeper thinking about the choices we make as writers. Yes, it’s great to recognize a particle or auxiliary, but can we use them effectively? Which sentences sound the most impressive to which readers?