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Writing Strategies to Help Your Students Keep It Simple

Posted by Marygrove MAT on Oct 16, 2012 9:29:00 AM

Writing StrategiesTelling your students to be more concise or simplify their writing is probably going to confuse them—especially considering that we’re always asking our beginning writers to give us more detail. These writing strategies will eventually make sense to them, but save them the heartache of having to find out the hard way: begin by demystifying the age-old myth that “once you get to college, you have to write like a college student.”

When we tell our students this, we’re doing them a huge disservice.

Why? Because it leads them to believe that essays sound “better” when they are replete with big words, cryptic syntax and flowery language. They really don’t…

Concise writing is easier to read; it also gives essays grace and authority and keeps writers from hiding behind overwrought sentences that confuse—as opposed to engage—readers. To drive home the point, try showing them a few of these overwrought sentences; then show them how to simplify them (these have been taken from a book by Michael Harvey):

Writing Strategies to Help Your Students Keep It Simple 

Example #1: Prospero is faced with the necessity of deciding whether to grant forgiveness for the actions of his brother or remain in a state of hostility. (25 words)

Why not simply say, Prospero must decide whether or not he will forgive his brother. (11 words)

Example #2: To satisfy her hunger for nutrition, she ate the bread. (10 words)

Why not simply say, She was hungry; she ate bread. (6 words)

In-class Writing Strategies
To help your students craft strong, economical sentences, try putting them into groups of four (assign a note taker who will write down the group’s answers) and have them read over the following six sentences, making each as economical as they can without compromising the meaning. Once they are done, come back together as a class and have every group share their sentences. Turn it into a competition (students love this) to see which group can create the most direct sentence with the least amount of words. You’ll be surprised at how much fun you can have with this.

1. It was persuasively argued in this reading by the writer, Anne Tannon, that…

    Tannon argues that…

    2. If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be   
        glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

        If you have questions, call us.

      3. It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then 
          complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way
          of the envelope provided.

          Read, complete and mail the form to the Council in the envelope we provided.

        4. High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and
            enhancement of the ongoing learning process in children.

            Children need quality learning environments to succeed. 

          5. The scene is extremely important because it helps the viewer to understand Cleopatra’s
              character very early on in the play.

                This scene helps us understand Cleopatra.

            6. Your enquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying
                posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the
                question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters
                and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and
                Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of
                a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.

                Materials displayed in the library’s entrance area are considered on an individual basis.

              If you are looking for more exercises and writing strategies, check out our recent post, Teach Grammar…Without Teaching Grammar: The Labyrinthine Sentence Assignment.

              *Photo courtesy of Hey Paul Studios


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              Tags: writing strategies, Writing, writing fluency, writing skills

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