Before I start writing this blog, I need to thank Anne Williams and Kerry Pulleyn for allowing me to put these sentences on here. Plus, I need to thank all the other teachers who have added a sentence to this little project. This whole thing couldn’t have been done without their help. A big thank you from me!
Last year, I was inspired by Alan Peat and his great little book, ‘Writing Exciting Sentences’. He inspired me, and a lot of other people, with a very clear approach: teach students to write better by teaching explicit grammar structures and identifying different structures with a different name. I didn’t just blog about it once, but about several times. I was amazed at how much it transformed the writing of students for me. It gave some of my students the push above others in creativity and variety.
The problem with English is the misconception of what the subject is. Most people, outside education, think English teaching is simply about teaching about reading and writing skills. However, the more I teach, the more I realise it something more. For me at the moment, it is about teaching students to think. To solidify a thought. To develop an idea. To express a point of view. Aside, from the usual guff (necessary of course) of reminding students of proofreading, checking spelling and making work neat, I now ask students to show me their thinking in their writing. I want them to show me original thought and how clever they are. The autonomy of some aspects of teaching has meant that students are brilliant at repeating things parrot-fashion, but try to get them to come up with a thought of their own and it can be like searching for Wally in a party full of people dressed as ‘Where’s Wally?’. It becomes hard to distinguish original thought with thoughts gained from others. For me, what makes an A* is somebody that has thought about something. In depth. In detail. Made their head hurts a bit with the thinking. And then a bit more.
The reason why I think David Didau’s ‘Slow Writing’ is so popular, and effective, is that it is based on the notion of crafting and thinking. When did writing become an autonomous process? Is technology to blame? Or, more importantly, when did we stop thinking when we write? This autonomy is at the heart of some aspects of literacy teaching. Yes, we want them to make some skills autonomous, like proofreading and making sure apostrophes are in the right place, but when did it become acceptable that all pieces of writing have AFOREST in them?
I was at a meeting for Heads of English this week. We were shown some examples from AQA of the writing questions on the Unit 1 exam paper – exciting stuff! Anyway, each one started with a rhetorical question. Yes, each one. Even the one with full marks. And the one with only a few marks. All of them blooming started with a rhetorical question. I was even tempted to start this blog with a rhetorical question; it is so infectious. But, where is the original thought? Where is the expression of a person’s ideas? It is writing like dot-to-dot. It makes ‘beige writing’. I want my students to be colourful. In fact, one student this week wrote my favourite opening to a question.
The question was a ultra-bland-exam-type question: write a persuasive magazine article persuading teenagers that eating healthy is important.
He wrote: Young people are going to die.
I loved it because it was so simple but effective, and because it did not go anywhere near a rhetorical question. It showed me more thought in that one sentence than fifty questions put together. It was the right thing for doing the job at that moment.
Look at ‘sentence stems’. I like them. I use them. I teach around them, but they are quite limiting to the most able. They are limiting to the able as well. The writer shows…. The reader feels… The experiment shows… Will we ever progress to real thinking if we rely on these starting blocks of ideas? Don’t get me wrong: I think they are invaluable at times, but do we rely on them too much? Teaching other ways of expressing a thought is surely much better than a rigid form of writing? Look at an A* piece of writing and you will notice that they will use a range of structures in their writing and not just rely on the simple few obvious ones. They experiment and play around with the sentences. In fact, the only thing that is autonomous is their ability to vary and play around with ideas.
So, what am I saying? Sorry – started with a rhetorical question: it is ‘really’ infectious. Sentence stems or openers should be lower down on our arsenal of tools to develop writing. The grammar structures we use should be paramount. The stems just help students to get going, but the sentence structures enable students to think and make concrete an idea or thought. I don’t want to be too negative about sentence stems, but they are the writing equivalent of a cloze exercise: writing by filling the gaps in. We want students to engage with the writing and the ideas. Filling the gaps is a nice starter, but it doesn’t have the meat and bones to develop things further.
Therefore, I am sharing the project with you to help other students think better in the classroom. The sentences below are from a variety of sources and they have been kindly been shared by other teachers. You can use them in a number of different ways
The sentences here can be taught explicitly as a starter or plenary. Or, the students could be given the sentence and they work out the structure on their own.
- Use as a poster for students to go to for inspiration.
- Print it out and stick on your desk and point to a sentence, when you want a student to include a particular structure.
- Print out and cut up sentences. Stick a sentence on a table and get students to move around a room and write a sentence at each table.
We, Kerry, Anne and I, are aiming to create a resource for teachers to use when teaching writing in lessons. The teaching of sentence structure is often underrated by teachers and this document will hopefully address this issue. We are searching for new and interesting sentences. As you find one, add it to our list. Variations on a theme are allowed.
Please feel free to add another one in the comments. Anne and Kerry will add some more sentences to their blogs at a later stage.
Thanks for reading,Xris
P.S. Please leave a sentence at the end.
Comma sandwich : a sentence with an embedded clause (which is surrounded by commas).
The sun, which had been absent for days, shone steadily in the sky.
The more, more, more sentence
The more he worried, the more he felt uncomfortable, the more he wanted to leave the room.
The less, less, less sentence
The less I tried, the less I cared, the less I got.
Sentence, comma and list of verbs ending in –ing
The road unspooled on and on, rising, falling, rising, turning, falling.
A list of prepositions after a verb
I look outside, down, away, beneath, near the dazzling presents under the table
Comparative (-er), more, more sentence
Every day, Kitty felt smaller, more ugly, more useless.
Sentences with a semi-colon in the middle to connect two clauses.
Spider-Man was in trouble; he was surrounded by his enemies.
No but sentence
True, he had no calm, but she shattered whatever calm there was to look forward to in the future.
Three adjective ‘of’ sentence
I felt full, full of food, full of bad television, full of incessant chat.
Colons to clarify
A strange hint of something filled his nostrils and made his stomach lurch: it was blood.
Two similes sentence
It could have been Esther’s, as black as jet, as dark as the night.
It’s hard to describe how I felt - like an object no longer of use, like a parcel packed up in string and brown paper.
Distance (closer, nearer, further) / More sentence
The further we went, the more anxious I felt.
The size, the (blank) sentence
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
The doubting sentence (end with an if clause)
I had finished the essay, if the teacher was happy with it.
The three verb sentence
The monster pushed, crashed, smashed its way through.
Not, nor, nor sentences
Nobody, not the postman, nor the housekeeper, nor Jim himself knew how the letter had got onto the doormat.
Fortunately / Unfortunately paired sentences
Unfortunately, the door was locked. Fortunately, there was a catflap just big enough for him to fit through.
Start with a prepositional (position word - under, by, near, beneath, over) phrase
Under the moon, the river snaked its way to the sea.
Never did... ,than...
Never did the sun go down with a brighter glory in the quiet corner in Soho, than one memorable evening when the Doctor and his daughter sat under the plane-tree together.
The writer’s aside sentence
The computer, as you know, is quite slow.
I think, to be honest, it will never work.
Two -ings at the start sentence
Raising a hand to my brow, shielding my eyes from the rain once more, I saw no monster.
So so sentence
There was one item, so small, so unrecognisable, it didn’t register.
Subject first sentence
Lamp posts and trees reared up at him, splintering his shins.
The Big Bad Because sentence
Because it was the last day of term, Martin felt relieved.
But none more than sentence
But none more than Tom would agree that smoking is bad for you.
Verb -ed opening
Verb -ed opening
Wracked with fear, Tommy crept slowly towards the door.
Scared for her life, Anna searched frantically for the key.
Whoever/ Whenever/ Whichever two of these...
Whoever had been at the scene, whenever they had been there, it was clear something very sinister had taken place.
x wasn’t/isn’t the word
Disgusting wasn’t the word. There were no words to describe what lay before her.
Riveting just isn’t the word. There’s nothing to say that can do this thing justice.
Adjectives at the start sentence
Cold and hungry, Martin waited for someone to take pity on him.
End loaded sentence - dramatic ending
After working every day of his life and saving lots of money for his retirement, Tom died suddenly.
Not only but also sentence
Not only was he cold, hungry and tired, but the chance of him being discovered would also increase.
The deliberation sentence
Sandwich, hot dog, salad - which would he choose?
‘It was’ semi colon ‘it was’ sentence
It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.
Verb followed by detail sentence
He shrugged, heavy shouldered.
-ing clause before the main sentence
Having no choice about it, Chris decided to agree with her.
However after the first word sentence
People, however, were watching gobsmacked
Second Conditional Sentence: It’s still possible If I were to......
If I were to win the lottery, I would buy a Lamborghini Gallardo.
Third Conditional Sentence : Also known as the ‘Too late’ sentence If I had..... I would have.....
If I had left the house earlier, I would have been on time for registration
The ‘as if verb’ sentence
He pulled absently at some grass, as if searching for memories.
The as if and three verb sentence
It was as if the cold was pulling at Tansey, breaking her up, trying to take her away from them, back somewhere.
Three adjectives at the start sentence
Ruthless, dangerous, lethal, the animal leaps for its prey.
It was one of those, one of those when sentence
It was one of those days, one of those when the air was cold and crisp and the birds’ melodious singing pierced the air.
Almost, almost, when sentence
I was almost there, almost asleep, when I heard footsteps coming, then the sound of someone breathing close by.
One simile and three evers sentence
The silhouette standing on the hill, looking out, keeping watch like the North Star at night, ever present, ever caring, ever there.
Shakespearean I wish I was.... sentence Would that I were....
Would that I were a glove upon that hand.
Repeat and develop ideas sentence
The teacher’s decision to set double homework was both surprising and distressing - surprising in that she had never set homework before, distressing in that it was to be completed in one day.
I did something twice sentence
I was born twice: first as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960;and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.
The Loose Sentence (an independent clause followed by a series of phrases)
It was a happy summer at the zoo, the zebras romping, the giraffes grazing, the elephants trumpeting, and the lure of a drippy popsicle on a hot day beckoning me to the snack bar.
The personification, 5 commas and 3 tos sentence:
Harsh white walls frown at the monotone uniformed prisoners, men with bleached faces and no eyes threaten, guns hoover, thunderously muted, waiting for someone to move, to think,
Start with a simile sentence
Like a ghost caught in a fan, he spun round and round on the roundabout.
Using dashes instead of brackets sentence
The roof - the straw thatch - was gone.
Or, and, or sentence
They flew in circles, or else there were many of them, and the whole group passed in and our of the light on their way to settle on a rooftop, or on some tree that asked to have its branches filled, at least until winter was as far away as it could be.
Without a, without a sentence
Without a how, without a why, Sid fell up towards the sky.