Sentence variety. Aaaah. As much as I love understanding how sentences are constructed, for some reason (cough-cough) my students simply do not find it terribly exciting. But with my unique teaching style, I am comfortable totally nerding out over sentence construction. This year, I managed to take it farther than ever before.
For starters, I use Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing to teach many writing skills. The man is a genius, and his books have been some of my best investments. And he has already done so much of the work that I really only have to put my presentations together.
This past week, we worked on writing with coordinating and subordinating conjunctions for their sentence revisions. I had the kids copy the mini-poster slides and examples in their resource journals while I explained the basic structures of the sentences. So far, so not-very-exciting. Then I pulled out the metaphor!
I have used this for years now, and it works. At first, I get the you-are-such-a-nerd look (to which I respond with my own duh-I-have-a-poster-of-Darth-Vader-on-the-wall look). It doesn't take long, however, for the kids to become pretty impressed with my genius on this one - or maybe it is just what I am showing them and connecting to sentence building.
What is this magical metaphor, you ask? Let me leave you in suspense no longer. The magic is in the Lego. I teach my students that sentences are simply Legos in word form. Different pieces are different types of Lego blocks, and we can put those blocks together in multiple ways to create unbelievable creations and works of art. You will see in my presentation that there are even boxes around different elements, and when the kids write for me, they draw these "blocks" to show how they build their sentences.
Now, explanation alone is not good enough for the kids to get this. This is a true "a picture speaks a thousand words" moment. This year, I showed a recent article from The Huffington Post that I ran across just a couple of days before I taught this lesson (you can also find a gazillion amazing Lego creations with an image search). I compared the different levels of design to the different levels of sentences that one can write. I explained that some students would write dessert-level creation sentences and some would write castle-level creation sentences. Either way, both would be fantastic. The group I have this year is highly competitive, and they were not about to settle for dessert-level writing. I have to admit that I was shocked by how some of their eyes lit up when I read their work and responded with, "You wrote a castle!"
Don't be afraid to get your nerdy on. It is all about the passion you express. Let it be contagious.