‘teaching kids how to write compelling sentences is a lost art’
That is the observation of Ta-Nehisa Coates, author and blogger for The Atlantic who spent this past semester teaching “Writing and Reading the Essay” at MIT.
As Coates suggests, today’s K-12 literacy instruction does not place much importance on sentence composition. That’s my thought every time I hear parents and educators marvel about how wonderful it is that elementary students are writing “research papers” and personal journals, instead of spending more time mastering foundational literacy skills like sentence composition, grammar, and vocabulary. These students then have to play catch-up in high school, struggling with writing essays while lacking basic skills that were never taught in the earlier grades. The most striking example I have seen are local high school juniors in honors English class who spent the first several weeks of the school year
reviewing learning basic grammar.
… explicit instruction in sentence syntax had been a staple of composition classes (dating back to classical antiquity) until just a few decades ago.
Both Corbett’s and Christensen’s methods were subject to empirical scrutiny, and studies showed that both methods not only increased the grammatical complexity of student writing, but also improved the overall writing quality (as compared with control groups and as rated by blind raters). In particular, internalizing syntactic structures, even by slavishly copying them, ultimately increased originality and creativity–presumably by giving students a wide repertoire of syntactic tools to choose from and handy ways to play around with them.
Sentence Composing is an approach to teaching improved sentence structure by using respected professional writers as mentors whose sentences become models for students. Using those models as a starting point, the approach uses four sentence manipulating activities–unscrambling, imitating, combining, and expanding–to provide practice in learning from the mentor how to write similar sentences.
The Kilgallon texts work well for afterschooling or homeschooling, with instruction aimed at all levels — ranging from elementary grades to college.