TECHNIQUE #38: Art of the Sentence
Oh I love grammar, but even more, I adore an articulate, complex, well constructed sentence. Continuing within Chapter 8, Building Ratio Through Writing, #38 is all about developing ONE well written sentence. Focusing on the value or quality of one sentence at a time, in time, leads to a better paragraph, a better essay. Art of the Sentence asks students to integrate a complex idea into a single well-developed sentence. “The discipline of having to make one sentence do all the work pushes students to use new syntactical forms…Learning to write sentences with [nuanced syntactical structures] is learning not only to write effectively but also to develop and refine ideas by expressing their relationships through the structures of language. It is the key to great paragraphs…and is arguably far more central to rigorous writing (and thinking) than the admonition to have three sentences with supporting details from the text.” (p. 286)¹.
Art of the Sentence is just that, one sentence. So the task at hand is to assign, one sentence at a time, the challenge to synthesize multiple ideas into one statement. Here are some examples of student tasks/challenges:
- “Summarize the data from this graph in one complete, well written sentence.”
- “Explain in one well-crafted sentence…”
- “In one beautiful sentence, explain…”
- “Describe your reaction in one artfully crafted statement”
- “Distill and clarify the key idea of this chapter into one bold sentence”
- “Using powerful words and language, in one sentence, explain the central theme”
Art of the Sentence requires that the teacher provide students with Sentence Starters and Sentence Parameters. In an attempt to move students away from the use of “wooden” statements, (or as I refer to them as: Vanilla Sentences), like, “Jonas thinks A. Jonas thinks B. C happens to Jonas.”, teachers can provide single word or short phrase prompts towards the development of facile iterations. Providing a variety of sentence starters, in effect, expands students’ repertoire of syntactical structures. Developing better nuanced syntactical structures begins with prompts! Here are some examples for different content areas:
- Art: “Looking beneath the surface…”
- English: “Using the word ambiguous, ….”/Or provide a list of higher level vocabulary words from the current unit from which student may choose.
- Science: “To test this hypothesis…”
- Math: “Growing exponentially…”, “The curve that expresses the function…”, “The relationship between”, “Not just increasing, but…”, “Demonstrating here, the function…”
- “Write a sentence using a subordinate clause with the word despite,”
- “Write a sentence beginning with a participial phrase”
- “In your statement, use the 3rd person or the pronoun one, as in, ‘One notices…’
Some generic Sentences Starter samples from the Teach Like a Champion website: http://teachlikeachampion.com/resources/grab-and-go/
- In light of all the evidence…
- After considering the options…
- Upon further reflection…
- In contrast to…
- To illustrate…
The text briefly insinuates that providing students with prompts or “scaffolding” jeopardizes their ability to independently develop creative written thoughts. In a sense, perhaps this might be a form of “enabling” young writers? Lemov believes other wise, as the prompts cause the students to delve into “…new syntactical territory, territory they now have to write their way out of.” (p.287)¹. It is recommended to use Art of the Sentence as a means to end or close a lesson, as an Exit Ticket or a Do Now. The ever hyperbolic Doug Lemov writes, “Imagine a school where every lesson is every subject ended with students writing (and revising!) a single, artfully crafted sentence capturing with nuance and sophistication the most important or challenging idea from that lesson.”, (p.289)¹.
The expectation in using Art of the Sentence is that students are working towards building well-constructed, artfully articulated ideas into a single sentence. Refining, consolidating and synthesizing central concepts into one statement is an invaluable skill. Forward thinking, if our main goal is the path to college, (as is very clearly the aim of Teach Like a Champion 2.0 pedagogy); this is an essential skill to instruct students on the art of developing a thesis. Thesis development is the gateway toward excellence in essay writing, college essay applications, professional paper writing, grant and business loan applications, et cetera.