My old colleague Glenn Ames devised this system for making kids learn to write excellent sentences. He may have gotten the idea from somewhere else; I’m not sure. It works like this…
- Read a paragraph.
- Select five to seven core vocabulary that express that paragraph’s main ideas
- Provide those words with some blank lines for writing a summary sentence
- Optional: Allow the sentence to be 25 words if all seven keywords are used; 22 words if only six keywords are used; 20 words if only five keywords are used; 18 words if only four keywords are used.
In practice, it looks like this. (From William H. Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico):
AGRICULTURE in Mexico was in the same advanced state as the other arts of social life. In few countries, indeed, has it been more respected. It was closely interwoven with the civil and religious institutions of the nation. There were peculiar deities to preside over it; the names of the months and of the religious festivals had more or less reference to it. The public taxes, as we have seen, were often paid in agricultural produce. All, except the soldiers and great nobles, even the inhabitants of the cities, cultivated the soil. The work was chiefly done by the men; the women scattering the seed, husking the corn, and taking part only in the lighter labors of the field.
Read Page 1, Paragraph 1
Then write a summary sentence using at least five of these seven words.
1. agriculture; civil; religious; taxes; cultivate; institutions; nation
Feel free to play along at home. What sentence would you write? What sentence would you get from your kids? Leave your answer in a comment.
For extra credit, I asked my sixth graders to rate their first sentence (this one). I haven’t seen the sentences yet, but a lot of them rated their first effort as a 3, or a 4, out of 10. I pointed out that this left them a lot of room for improvement.