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Teaching

Sentence Fluency

 

Read Aloud

It’s simple, but it works - IF you choose fluent samples. Oh, and by the way, don’t go for just the literary, creative side. Poetry, for instance, is highly fluent-and you should use it often. But many nonfiction samples have their own version of fluency-which often means shorter, more direct structure. In your discussions, talk about the different faces of fluency, and how (as with all traits), they’re highly influenced by purpose and audience.

 

Ask Students to Read Aloud

Reading aloud encourages students to read interpretively, and with expression. When students read with expression, they’re far more likely to write with expression, too. So encourage them to read to one another, in pairs, in small groups-or sometimes, as a whole class.

 

Variations on a Theme

Students may enjoy engaging in readers’ theater (small group enactments of selected passages) or choral readings. College bookstores and theater gift shops abound with books that feature short dramatic passages in which students can interact and dramatically interpret text from various plays as they read aloud. Numerous books lend themselves to choral reading, in which students may participate in small groups to do an interpretive reading through single or multiple voices - or any mix thereof.

 

Read - Arounds

Choose one passage that allows for expressive reading. Fiction or nonfiction - doesn’t matter. Divide students into groups of three or four - no more. Give each group the passage to read aloud (each should read it silently first), and let them take turns. Only, for this game, the rules are a little different from what they might expect. They must know at the outset the order in which they’ll read. The first reader begins the passage but can stop at any time (even after only a line, or after two paragraphs) - and the second reader must immediately jump in. He or she can then read for as long as he or she wishes, and reader 3 jumps in - and so on. The reading does not end when the passage is finished. Oh, no. The idea is to keep going, keep adding more expression, more nuances of meaning - and for each reader to eventually get a crack at each part of the passage since the starting-stopping points are completely arbitrary. Each time around, readers should feel they’re performing slightly better. Allow about ten minutes - or as much time as is needed for the group to go through their passage a minimum of three or four times. See if any group will do an oral presentation at this point to the class.

 

Lots of Ways to Say It

Pick one sentence –e.g., Change often results in stress. Give students two minutes to rewrite this sentence in as many ways as possible without altering the meaning. Put a few on the chalkboard or overhead to compare.

 

First Words Count

Have students list, on a separate sheet of paper, the first four words in each sentence they have written.

Do they see a pattern? Could be time for some variety. Are all the beginnings different? Readers usually like that!

 

Word Tallies

Have students actually count the words in each sentence and make a list. If they’re all the same (say, 10 or 11 words), the rhythm is likely to be a little monotonous. It doesn’t hurt to have some 15s and 16s mixed in with some 4s and 5s. On the other hand, if many sentences are VERY long, writers may wish to check whether meaning is clear. Gary Paulsen gets by with that, and so does Garrison Keillor - but most of us need to take a breath now and then. Purpose counts, too. In a highly technical piece, 8 - word sentences may be just right to keep the reader on track. But in a narrative piece, stubby sentences like that could sound choppy and irritating. As with all traits, think purpose!

 

Get Rid of Wordiness

Wordiness is a pesky problem that hurts performance in virtually all traits. Want strong writers? Give them at least one wordy sentence per day to rework: e.g., Of all the many things that bother me about bad writing, the fault that really annoys me most is wordiness - the tendency to put in more words than you need. This can be shortened to read: Of all possible writing faults, none is more annoying that wordiness.

 

Hunt Up the Transitions

Turn your students into sleuths, hunting for the transitional words and phrases that link sentences and ideas together: e.g., however, therefore, moreover, on the other hand, nevertheless, next, because of this, and so on. Ask students to circle or otherwise note these transitions first in the work of others, then in their own. Talk about how much transitions influence fluency. If you want to get really tricky, you can rewrite a piece, leaving all the transitional words out; just leave blanks to fill in. Can your students come up with transitions that make sense?

 

Basal Breaks

Basal readers are often deliberately written in a choppy, repetitive style so that young readers won’t get "lost" (assuming they can stay awake). Turn your writers loose in teams of two or three to see what they can do to smooth the fluency in 2-3 pages of basal text. Read the results aloud.

 

You Can Do It, Too!

Anything can be written in basal style. Students can learn a lot by taking the fluency out of a passage. Depending on the age of the students, you might begin with Roald Dahl’s The Twits, Winnie the Pooh, and Edgar Allan Poe story, some Walt Whitman - even Shakespeare-and re-do it in basal style. Talk about what had to be given up in achieving that style.

 

A Trip to the Symphony

Fluency isn’t just one thing; it’s a whole symphony of sounds. Have students gather information on one topic - gardening, building a deck, driving, or whatever. Then, rewrite it in at least three completely different modes, noting how the fluency changes: e.g., a dialogue as part of a film script, a poem, a newspaper article, an advertisement, the opening page of a novel.

 

Collect

Look through Shakespeare, Walt Whitman, Sandra Cisneros, Toni Morrison, Gary Paulsen, A. A. Milne (how about your own writing?) for samples of fluency - a line or two will do. You don’t need a whole book. Create a display of Fluency Comes Alive.

 

Fluency Comes Alive - Aloud!

Ask each student to select one short passage to read aloud as an illustration of fluency. Form a big circle, and go through the readings quickly, but with plenty of time to allow for expression. Hear the many voices of fluent writing?

 

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