kitchen table math, the sequel: Fun With Writing

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Fun With Writing

My ninth grader gave me a worksheet from her English Composition class (she thought I would like it, and she was right). That day's class had focused on writing concisely: how to combine sentences and make sentences stronger, etc. What I liked was that the exercises illustrated the lesson in a humorous way. I thought it would be fun to share a few of the examples:

The funeral director has doubts.
The doubts are grave.
The doubts are about Mortimer.

Combined sentence: The funeral director has grave doubts about Mortimer.

The baker kneaded dough.
The baker was hard-working.
The baker wanted to avoid bankruptcy.

Combined sentence: The hard-working baker kneaded dough to avoid bankruptcy.


LynnG said...

I like the approach too.

Of course, the evil demon in me wants to point out that a more active verb in the first set would add strength and interest.

Such as,

The funeral director harbored graved doubts about Mortimer.

Karen A said...

Oh, I like the addition of the more active verb! To me, that's the great fun as well--write down one's thoughts, and then edit, edit, edit!

And when I say "fun," I realize that's a relative term!

Over Christmas Break, I read "Writing with Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing" by John R. Trimble (a long-time professor of English at the University of Texas, now Emeritus). The book is fantastic! The chapter about revising is one page long and serves to make the point concisely, I think:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?
Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.
Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?
Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Karen A said...

My older kid read Farewell to Arms in her Senior Lit class, so I read her the Hemingway quote. Her response? "Well, he should have rewritten it a fortieth time, because I didn't like the way it ended." (I believe it had a rather sad ending.)

I should add that aside from the afore-mentioned chapter, the book is filled with lots of useful advice and examples.

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that in the second example (about the baker), the combined sentence says something that the three simpler sentences don't. You can't conclude from the three simple sentences that the hard working baker "kneaded dough to avoid bankruptcy." Yes, he kneaded dough. Yes, he wanted to avoid bankruptcy. But the causal link isn't present.

*) The baker kneaded dough.
*) The baker was hard working.
*) The baker wanted the Yankees to win.

So: The hard working baker kneaded dough so that the Yankees would win.

-Mark Roulo

Karen A said...


Well, that was my error, and while I noticed after I published it, I was too lazy to correct it. I don't want the fingers of blame pointed at the instructional materials.

I believe the sentence is supposed to read: "The hard-working bakder kneaded dough because he wanted to avoid bankruptcy."

I guess the moral of the story is to do what I say, not what I do. : ) This is a tough crowd! : ) But seriously, I think that the comments on this thread would enrich a classroom discussion. After all, nine-tenths of writing is re-writing. (Hey--do I get extra credit for using a fraction in a sentence about writing??)

Instructivist said...

[Combined sentence: The hard-working baker kneaded dough to avoid bankruptcy.]

I would also make sense to say:

The hard-working baker needed dough to avoid bankruptcy.

Karen A said...

Just for fun, here is another one for the KTM readers to try:

The hermit lived in an outhouse.
The living was for seven years.
The outhouse was abandoned.
He established a legal claim.
The claim was by "Squatter's Rights."

Extra credit will be given for correct punctuation.

Karen A said...


I think the exercise provides a number of opportunities for a teacher to talk about the writing process. Lynne's comment would provide the chance to ask the students to come up with stronger verbs. I would write the baker/dough sentence incorrectly (as I did the first time), and use it to make Mark's point about making causal links. I would incorporate Instructivist's suggestion as well--it provides a fun lesson about homophones (and the potential problems associated with spellcheck).

Catherine Johnson said...

I love the funeral director trio.

Anonymous said...

As a Mortimer, I have to say:

Mortimer is troubled.
Mortimer is troubled about the funeral director.
Mortimer is troubled about the funeral director's grave doubts about Mortimer.

Karen A said...

Lori--your comment gave me two benefits: I laughed out loud, and I discovered your delightful blog!

Karen A said...

This seems an appropriate spot to tell a funeral directory story. My father passed away several years ago; he had not been well for a long time, and from that standpoint, it was a blessing.

The funeral had been appropriate; striking just the right tone. My mom rode with my own family on the trip to the cemetery. The cemetery was in the middle of the countryside, and the procession was making its way down a country road when the hearse stopped.

We rolled down the window as the funeral director approached our car. He related to us that there had been a bit of a snafu and the grave itself wasn't ready. However, he already had Plan B in place for the graveside services. He then said, and I quote: "We have the bier is in the car, so we can just use that for the services."

My children's instant wide-eyed reaction caused me to realize that they had heard him to say "beer." I quickly defined "bier," which prompted laughter from my mom. The funeral director responded, "Well, after this snafu, that's what I'm going to to home and have."

The remark did serve to provide much-needed comic relief at that grave moment.

mathmom said...

These are cute. How about:

The hermit lived in an abandoned outhouse for seven years, establishing a legal claim by "Squatter's Rights."

(I don't like the way "by" reads there, but it was used in the original sentences so I kept it.)