Sunday, December 6, 2020

Teaching writing by the sentence

“Two teachers show how their middle and high school students work with sentence structure using New York Times models. They also pose a sentence-writing challenge for your students”: “Sentences That Matter, Mentor and Motivate” (The New York Times).

William Carlos Williams wrote that “A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words.” So too a sentence. To become a better writer is to understand these machines: the kinds of work they can do and the contribution of each part to the whole.

I like the model of instruction described in this Times article. When I taught upper-level writing classes, we’d sometimes spend an entire fifty minutes working on a handful of student sentences in need of revision. Remove this word? Put it here? Replace it? Turn the parts around? That attention to the sentence fosters the healthy writerly self-consciousness that makes every word a choice subject to change.

[Williams: from the introduction to The Wedge (1944): “To make two bald statements: There’s nothing sentimental about a machine, and: A poem is a small (or large) machine made of words. When I say there’s nothing sentimental about a poem I mean that there can be no part, as in any other machine, that is redundant.” Omit needless words!]

comments: 3

The Crow said...

And, in some instances, letters. :)

Fresca said...

A machine made of words!
I like that.

Hey, a typo for real--an errant "n" in, funnily enough "Omnit needless words".

Michael Leddy said...

Thanks for your sharper reading, Martha and Fresca. I’m finding that editing on the phone — I added that sentence after the fact — is getting to be a dangerous game. Must. Be. More. Careful.