Story Grammar for Elementary School: Sentence-Composing Approach
What better way to convince young writers that "grammar" is a significant component of quality writing than to illustrate the concept over and over again with examples from some of their favorite authors? That is exactly the premise of this unusual elementary school grammar worktext. "Without grammar there would be no sentences. Without sentences, there would be no stories." Actually, it might be more fair to call this little course a writing worktext. The format is actually rather simple, but it may take a little while to really appreciate what is happening here. Starting with instruction in how to break sentences down into various components (chunking) and continuing through an examination of those components, the student is first shown examples always taken from the stories of well-known authors (we'll talk more about that later). Then they are led step-by-step through replication exercises until they have mastered a basic skill, then on to the next. Sentence parts (subjects and predicates), then those elements that give variety to sentences (clauses and phrases), and lastly, how one fits a collection of sentences together to form a story (parts of a story). At first the student is merely copying sentences without slashes or inserting slashes, but then they progress to inserting words, rearranging clauses or sentence parts, and inserting clauses or phrases. Always, always with an eye to a particular sentence model to follow or imitate. The ultimate goal, of course, is the student writing their own sentences and combining them into their own story. By the time they reach those types of assignments (in the last unit), they are familiar with a wide variety of sentence types and are ready to compose an interesting story.
The exercises in this worktext use sentences from hundreds of stories, surrounding the student with authors who are really good at writing, learning how good writers build their sentences, and developing practical ways to emulate what they do. You'll find examples from your student's favorite books The Hobbit, Trumpet of the Swan, Hardy Boys, Secret Garden, Velveteen Rabbit, Harry Potter to name just a few. (The index at the back of the worktext lists 157 titles.) A few authors are used extensively as examples and in those cases, the instructional wordplay parallels the author's work. For example, the final unit showcases sentences from the Harry Potter novels and tells the student "you'll conjure up everything you've learned to compose your own magic sentences." Because often the "answers will vary," there is no answer key. This is a bit disappointing in a few instances, but you'll soon get the "feel" of what the course is all about and not miss it at all. 111 pgs, pb ~ Janice
A perfect melding of grammar, composition, and literature, the sentence-composing method starts with high quality sentence models from literary masters and then carefully gives students specific tools and the opportunity to practice using those tools throughout a series of books. As you would expect with any organic methodology, there is both a cohesion and an expansion through the Elementary, Middle School, and High School courses. Each are targeted with a progression of skill-building that focuses on and starts with sentences, dissects and uses grammar, and builds into composing coherent communications.
Central to all levels, is the use of writing models – sentence examples from a huge collection of best-loved and critically acclaimed writers. Think of these writers as mentors and the process of unpacking, manipulating, and imitating their sentences as a personal tutorial in the art of composition. Sentences from hundreds of writers are matched to grade level by familiarity with their works. For instance, in elementary courses you might see Katherine Patterson or Roald Dahl. In middle school it might be Jack London, Madeleine L’Engle, JK Rowling, or even Stephen King. In high school you will find Harper Lee, George Orwell, or Maya Angelou.
Multiple techniques (tools) are taught and practiced. Some of these include matching, exchanging, unscrambling, combining, imitating, expanding, and multiplying. Each tool/technique is explained and illustrated using sample sentences. Often, the underlying grammatical constructs are examined as well. The student undertakes step-by-step tasks and benefits from the clearly stated imitating expectations – and may well be surprised by the high quality of compositional results. Where possible and useful, “reference” sections in the back of books serve as an answer key.
This series has grown and matured over time. Sentence Composing was the first (late 90s); Getting Started and the other courses are a parallel series that emerged over the next two decades (2006-2020). These later sets of series expand concepts introduced in the original Sentence Composing. The Grammar series delves a little deeper into the grammar aspects (2006-2008). Paragraphs (2012-14) and Nonfiction (2015-2017) expands sentence composing techniques to particular types of composition. The newest series is the Getting Started series (2018-2020) which serves as an introduction to the sentence composing method. All volumes are by Don and Jenny Killgallon and share a focus on sentence composing (the most neglected aspect of written composition). All use model/mentors based on the belief that imitation is the conduit to originality; a needed link in creation.
It may be a little confusing to know when to use what course. In general, use the original Sentence Composing course as a summary course for a student that is in the upper level of the grade range. For instance, 4th/5th grade for the Elementary; 7th/8th grade for the Middle School. If your student is in the lower levels of the grade range (i.e. 2nd/3rd; 5th/6th) use the Getting Started book and work through the series.
Each of the sentence composing method worktexts is a stand-alone course designed to produce sentence maturity and variety and would serve as the composition/applied grammar portion of a language arts program. For elementary years, add phonics/reading, spelling, and handwriting. For middle school years, add literature and possibly a systematic grammar. For the high school years, if coupled with a literature program, the series serves as an English credit. ~ Janice
These materials contain both instruction and writing assignments but are not as broad in scope (types of writing) as the comprehensive programs.
- Janice Staff on Feb 5, 2020