Good Bad Sentences

In a stack of papers called Writing.

  • Feb
  • 12
  • 2007

My juniors have several pieces of scratch paper: STAR Test Prep, Sentence Combining, SAT Writing, Grammar. We added Good Bad Sentences today, a new series I’m starting in class. With sentences on the overhead that come from the writing they just turned in, we work on rewriting them and pointing out the problems that exist with the original. Example: “Also not many people read the bible they follow what they were raised to believe.”

“All of these sentences come from your one-paragraph rewrites of the last essay. That’s right, these are the product of me giving you more time to perfect what you’d already written. These are all from your rewrite. But these sentences are so bad [pause for dramatic effect] that they are good. These give us something to work on and help improve our own writing.” Example: “Chillingworth’s sin is worst then Hester’s sin.”

That rewrite was due at the end of last semester. Since that time, 20 random copies of the rewritten paragraphs sat in a stack at home. Yesterday, I highlighted sentences that were incorrect in order to create a worksheet for students. Work on correcting authentic errors, I thought, and the students will buy in. That part worked and several students were puzzling over how to make sentences clearer. What I didn’t count on was the number of sentences I’d end up with. Example: “From the novel, Chillingworth revenges and takes on Dimmesdale.”

From 20 papers, I pulled 37 sentences. Do the math: that’s close to an average of 2 incorrect sentences per paragraph. I’m not even talking about factual errors that would result from my poor instruction on the novel. I’m just talking about misspellings, improper grammar, incorrect word usage, incoherent phrasing, and the like. Example: “When one person or nor thing pays back.”

We worked on 3 sentences today, to which most students said, “I don’t understand that.” “Yeah, how do you think I felt?” I replied. There are some pretty bad ones here. Example: “Chillingworth took a while to reveal himself but his desires to hurt others in many ways to Hester and Dimmesdale.”

We’ve got some sentence combining happening, some grammar review, the technicolor paragraph as a scaffold for writing, short literature we read mostly in class (“The Lottery” and “The End of Something” so far). I hope that their writing will improve. I fear that it won’t.

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