Grammar Wednesday…

…a day late.  Sorry, Everyone; Mrs. Chili is having what we in the northeast call a “wicked busy” week, and I completely forgot about Wednesday until it wasn’t Wednesday anymore.

My focus for this week is more a style issue than a strictly grammatical one.  My question is this; what it it about this generation of students that they feel it necessary to start their sentences with “in” or “with” or “by”?  Some examples:

In Vowell’s story, she eventually tries to make peace with her dad and be a better daughter after a lifetime of arguments.

By giving a lot of description it helped Orwell put the real picture in our heads about the elephant dying.

With all the dialogue it makes it easy to understand how ninth graders talk and made it easy to understand what Cooper was going through.

I have no issue with beginning sentences with dependent clauses, but these kids – and by “these kids” I mean darned near all of my students, both at Local U. and TCC – have no idea how to put them in their sentences in ways that don’t seem forced or clunky.  I’ve been listening hard to see if they speak that way, but I’ve not noticed that particular pattern in their speech (though one girl, who came to me for a writing conference this morning, said “like” so many times that I’m ashamed to say that actually stopped listening to what she was saying).

We’re in the part of the semester where I’m not worrying too much about the students’ writing style.  What I’m interested in right now is how well they are able to get their ideas on the page, not by how pretty those pages look when they’re handed in and, so far, they’re doing pretty okay.  I’m trying to figure out the best way to address this by/in/with structure that the kids seem so enamored of, though, so that when we do start talking about voice and style, I’ll have an idea of how to teach them a more natural-sounding way of expressing themselves.

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2 Comments

Filed under concerns, frustrations, General Griping, Grammar, Teaching

2 responses to “Grammar Wednesday…

  1. All three of these examples irk me somewhat, and I think I know why.

    The topicalised prepositional phrase has nothing to do with it; structures like this are completely commonplace. What’s wrong with each of them is the pronoun missing its antecedent. That is, in the first example, who is ‘she’? In the second, what helped Orwell? And what makes what easy in the third?

    You can say that well, the prepositional phrase makes it clear what the antecedent is, but it’s a rather awkward way to put it. I would reformulate the second to:
    Giving a lot of description helped Orwell put the real picture in our heads about the elephant dying.
    That is, if I were to come up with such a sentence, which I probably wouldn’t. It’d be much better put:
    Orwell’s description of the shooting of the elephant invokes highly emotive and vivid imagery on the part of the reader
    or some such spinnery.

  2. Pingback: Grammar Wednesday | A Teacher’s Education

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