Common Core Standards: ELA
Knowledge of Language
L.11-12.3. Apply knowledge of language to understand how language functions in different contexts, to make effective choices for meaning or style, and to comprehend more fully when reading or listening.
- Vary syntax for effect, consulting references (e.g., Tufte’s Artful Sentences) for guidance as needed; apply an understanding of syntax to the study of complex texts when reading.
“Syntax” is the name given to the rules that govern sentence structure in any given language, including English. Varying syntax when writing shows a mastery of the language, and it allows students to emphasize or de-emphasize certain ideas based on where and how they are placed into sentences. Understanding syntax also helps students understand emphasis while reading, giving them a broader insight into what’s being said in a text.
Sample Activities for Use in Class
1. Sentence Combining
Combine students into small groups and give each group the following selections of short sentences. The groups should work together to find at least two ways to combine each selection of short sentences into a single sentence. When each group has finished, get the class together as a whole and discuss the long sentences each group came up with. What does each long sentence emphasize, and what does it conceal through de-emphasis? When would each type of sentence be the most appropriate or effective?
The books were school-books.
The books were in the attic.
The books were old.
Nobody had read the books for years.
The kittens are thin.
The kittens are black and white.
The kittens are friendly.
The motorcycle is not large.
The motorcycle is not heavy.
The motorcycle is powerful.
2. New York is a city. It is a city of things. The things are unnoticed.
(Adapted from http://grammar.about.com/od/tests/a/scnewyork.htm)
Have students read the following passage from Gay Talese’s “New York is a City of Things Unnoticed,” paying attention to how Talese constructs his sentences and how they vary. Then, have students construct their own sentences using the short sentences in the six questions below. Students may also combine numbers - or some sentences from different numbers - to create sentences.
New York is a city of things unnoticed. It is a city with cats sleeping under parked cars, two stone armadillos crawling up St. Patrick's Cathedral, and thousands of ants creeping on top of the Empire State Building. The ants probably were carried up there by wind or birds, but nobody is sure; nobody in New York knows any more about the ants than they do about the panhandler who takes taxis to the Bowery; or the dapper man who picks trash out of Sixth Avenue trash cans; or the medium in the West Seventies who claims, "I am clairvoyant, clairaudient, and clairsensuous."
New York is a city for eccentrics and a center for odd bits of information. New Yorkers blink twenty-eight times a minute, but forty when tense. Most popcorn chewers at Yankee Stadium stop chewing momentarily just before the pitch. Gum chewers on Macy's escalators stop chewing momentarily just before they get off--to concentrate on the last step. Coins, paper clips, ballpoint pens, and little girls' pocketbooks are found by workmen when they clean the sea lions' pool at the Bronx Zoo.
A saxophone player stands on the sidewalk.
He stands there each afternoon.
He is in New York.
He is rather seedy.
He plays Danny Boy.
He plays in a sad way.
He plays in a sensitive way.
He soon has half the neighborhood peeking out of windows.
They toss nickels, dimes, and quarters at his feet.
Some of the coins roll under parked cars.
Most of them are caught in his hand.
His hand is outstretched.
The saxophone player is a street musician.
He is named Joe Gabler.
He has serenaded every block in New York City.
He has been serenading for the past thirty years.
He has sometimes been tossed as much as $100 a day.
This $100 is in coins.
He is also hit with buckets of water.
He is hit with beer cans.
The cans are empty.
He is chased by wild dogs.