Over the years, visitors to the KISS web site have regularly asked for the location of the "instructional materials." The material is there, but the problem is that it takes up far less space than the "instructional materials" in most grammar books. Enabling students to explain how any word in any sentence is syntactically related to a main subject / verb pattern does not require much instructional material. What it requires is the application, basically through parsing exercises, of that material to texts. Such parsing exercises have often been criticized, and, I would suggest, rightfully so. The KISS difference is that, instead of limiting the parsing to ten or fifteen sentences in a grammar workbook, the KISS Approach extends that parsing to the students' own writing and to randomly selected published writing. Such parsing exercises are more challenging, both for students and teachers, but they are also more effective because they bridge the gap between learning grammatical terminology and applying it. In addition to some suggestions on how to use the approach, this chapter explores the question of how much classroom time such instruction might require.
The Teacher's Role
If it is not already obvious, in a KISS Approach, teachers play a very important role. For decades, however, we have given teachers little, if any, practical training in teaching grammar, and then put them in the classroom where they are expected to "know the right answers." As a result, many teachers depend on the textbooks -- and the answer keys in them. The KISS Approach does not work that way. Instead, it uses randomly selected short paragraphs (including the students' own writing) as the exercise material. In teaching prepositional phrases, for example, a teacher would simply take a short paper from a previous student, ditto it, and have the current students find all the prepositional phrases in it. Many teachers are not prepared to do this themselves. Major trauma! That entire trauma, however, can easily be avoided by a shift in perspective.
A Change in Perspective --"I don't know."
If a KISS Approach is to be used
effectively, the teacher should not be considered the authority,
the source of the right answers. Teachers will have to master the basic
instructional material, but that is minimal -- no more than three pages
per level, often less. Beyond that, the teacher should aggressively take
the attitude of "I don't know." Suppose, for example, that a student
wants to consider "all the men" as a prepositional phrase, and suppose
that the teacher is not sure if it is or isn't. Even if the teacher is
sure that it is not, the best response is to ask the student (or students)
if "all" is on the instructional list of prepositions. The teacher's job,
beyond knowing the basic instructional material, is to guide the class
in its exploration of how grammar, specifically syntax, works in real texts.
But it is the students' responsibility to study the instructional material, learn how to apply it, and learn how to come to their own answers. The best way for the students to learn to accept this responsibility is for the teacher to take the attitude of "I don't know." KISS instruction should be considered as a game. The brief instructional material presents the rules of the game. The object of the game is to use those rules to explain how any word in any text is syntactically related to a main subject / verb / complement pattern. In many cases, more than one explanation is possible. In some cases, students propose some very "far out" explanations. In such cases, I turn to the authority of the class itself. I have the student present the explanation to the class, have the class discuss it, and then ask for a vote. If the class accepts the explanation, I accept it, even if I myself seriously doubt it. This happens, I should note, very rarely, but I would rather accept a "wrong" explanation for one isolated and unusual case than impose my authority over the collective judgment of the class.
Perhaps the most stressful aspect of the KISS Approach for teachers is that students are being invited to analyze randomly selected texts, including samples of their own writing. What happens when the class hits a construction that you can't explain -- and there are no answer keys?! This brings us back to the basic KISS approach for teachers -- "I Don't Know!" As their guide, of course, it would be nice if you tried to find out. The first step is to have the class discuss it. If they can't arrive at an acceptable explanation, you can ask your colleagues in your own school.
If you would prefer not to do that, or if they can't help, ask the question on the ATEG and/or KISS list server. The members of ATEG (http://www.ateg.org) enjoy answering such questions, but you need to remember that they represent a very wide range of grammars and grammatical theories. You will, however, almost certainly receive responses from the ATEG list, and if the responses differ, you can bring a number of them back to your students. Unless you claim to be an expert in grammar (which I myself never do), this should not be a problem, especially since such questions will be relatively rare. If you are worried about questioning of your "authority" as a guide, simply point the students' attention to the 99% of the relevant constructions that you (and they) can explain. That success, which students can see and appreciate, validates your authority. Teachers should never feel as if they are expected to know all the right answers. And, once that responsibility as "the authority" has been lifted from one's shoulders, the job becomes a lot more fun.
The "I don't know" approach can be profitably used to manipulate students into thinking for themselves. A few paragraphs previously, I mentioned a student's proposing "all the men" as a prepositional phrase, and I said that I would ask if "all" is on the list of prepositions. That would evoke a "No," and the question would probably be settled. Recently, however, I put an analyzed version of Shakespeare's "That Time of Year" on the KISS web site. The last line of that sonnet is "Which thou must leave 'ere long." Suppose a student were to ask if "'ere long" is a prepositional phrase. Again I would ask if "'ere" is on the list of prepositions, and again the answer would be "No." If the student appeared to accept that answer as meaning that "'ere long" is not a prepositional phrase, I would simply wait. The pregnant pause has long been recommended as an effective teaching tool, and students soon learn to recognize it as a sign that it is their job to do some thinking. How long the pause lasts depends, of course, on the situation and on our individual nervous systems. If my nerves gave out before a response, I would ask what "'ere long" means. At that prompt, at least one of the students will realize that it means "before long." Since "before long" would be a prepositional phrase, the odds are good that "'ere long" is probably one also, even if the infrequently used "'ere" is not on the list of prepositions. Thinking is a process, and the "I don't know" response actually gives teachers opportunities to lead students through the process.
Teachers who still feel insecure about their own ability to identify grammatical constructions can, if they wish, use the instructional exercises on the KISS web site. The site includes a self-paced (non-credit) course. The course is based on the texts of nine jokes, six fables, and the openings of six famous novels, and there are answer keys and explanations for each level. Other areas of the site include analyzed passages (some with explanations for each level) of the writing of ten fourth graders, of thirty-one seventh graders, of passages from fourth and seventh grade text books, of 93 college students' revisions of Hunt's "Aluminum" passage, and of six of Shakespeare's sonnets. Teachers can freely use and/or adapt any of these materials for class exercises. Aware of the need for more initial exercise material, I will be adding to the collection of analyzed Aesop's fables. The fables are short, complete texts which, in addition to being analyzed for syntax, can serve as interesting starting points for writing assignments.
There is, of course, still the question of assessment -- homework, quizzes and tests. In the first place, KISS homework assignments need never be graded, at least as far as their quality is concerned. Doing so will both frustrate and bore teachers to death. For homework at the college level, I use passages that range from 100 to 250 words, and I do often collect and grade them, but I grade them by scanning them quickly to see if the students have made an honest effort. In this way, I can grade twenty 250-word exercises in two or three minutes, giving them a 0, 25, 50, 75 or 100, depending basically on how much of the homework was honestly done. My own experience has been that grades do motivate students, and that students appreciate this method of grading. But note that anyone even slightly familiar with the KISS Approach could do this grading -- it does not depend on knowing all the right answers.
Quizzes and tests present a different problem, but they should be very short. Three or four sentences are usually enough to determine whether or not students have mastered the material. Teachers who are uncomfortable with their own ability to analyze sentences are welcome to use parts of passages (and the analyzed versions of them) on the KISS web site as their quizzes.
More Perspectives on the KISS Approach to Sentence Analysis
Sentence Analysis and Style
Analyzing sentences from randomly
selected short passages is, of course, the essence of the KISS Approach,
but teachers may want to qualify that "randomly," especially in the first
few assignments at a new KISS level. Teachers will probably want to have
all the students in the class analyze the same passages for the first few
exercises, and review each in class. Doing so eliminates the need for "correcting"
homework, and the in-class review helps many of the students recognize
the various constructions. When I first started using the KISS Approach,
I chose passages randomly from the essays of previous students. In reviewing
them in class, however, I began to note that there were fundamental stylistic
differences in some of the passages, differences which I could explain
and expect students to see and understand.
In working on clauses, for example, I noted that the writer of one passage used a lot of compound sentences with relatively few subordinate clauses. Another writer used almost no compounded main clauses, but did use numerous subordinate clauses. A third writer used numerous subordinate clauses embedded in other subordinate clauses. As we placed brackets around the subordinate clauses, and separated the main clauses with vertical lines, the stylistic differences became quite obvious to me, but I now make sure to point them out to students. Because they are learning how to use the brackets and vertical lines, students can clearly see and understand that the writers have different styles, styles that the students can now intelligently discuss in grammatical terms. Because we use texts written by their peers, students also realize that the same type of stylistic observations can be made about their own writing. And, of course, they realize that they are learning how to make those observations themselves. In discussing differences in style with students, I do not generally suggest differences in "quality," but we do regularly refer to the KISS Psycholinguistic Model (Chapter Four) to suggest that readers, even readers who cannot analyze the syntax of sentences, can sense these differences.
In the sixteenth century,
Andreas Vesalius freed the study of anatomy from the bookish tradition
of the schools, thereby contributing significantly to the scientific revolution.
Perhaps, as we enter the twenty-first century, we can do the same thing
for grammar? I can't find where I read it, but the story of Vesalius goes
something like this. From the time of Greek civilization, the "schoolbooks"
on anatomy were dominated by the ideas of Aristotle and Galen. Galen, apparently,
had written that a horse has a certain number of teeth. This "fact" was
accepted and taught -- for over a thousand years -- until Vesalius looked
into a horse's mouth and counted the teeth. Even if the story is apocryphal,
it strikingly suggests how Vesalius was one of the leaders of the scientific
revolution. He valued direct observation of the world around him over the
"rules" of the textbooks. Far too often we still turn to the grammar textbooks
rather than to the direct observation of language.
The importance of direct observation should be so obvious that it shouldn't need justification, but the current state of instruction and the underlying assumptions against such observation are so embedded in pedagogical thought, that even most teachers don't think about the question -- they just automatically turn to the grammar books. Last year, for example, a parent found my web site and sent me an e-mail, asking if it is permissible to begin sentences with prepositional phrases. He was upset because his child's teacher was teaching students to begin sentences with prepositional phrases, and, he said, he had been taught that that is wrong. Teachers who read this might want to laugh at the parent, but I want to suggest that both the parent and the teacher were mistaken. There is, of course, nothing wrong with beginning sentences with prepositional phrases. But there also may be a great deal of harm in trying to teach students to do so.
Far too much "instruction" in grammar consists primarily of attempts to "mold" students' writing, be it the attempt to get them to begin sentences with prepositional phrases, the exhortations against beginning sentences with "but," "pure" sentence combining, rules against (or for) the use of passive voice, etc. The attitude seems to be that students will not be able to write well unless "we" teach them. But that is nonsense, especially since there is often disagreement among teachers themselves as to what is, and what is not, "acceptable." Students have brains, and, given the ability to analyze and discuss sentence structure, students can make all of these stylistic decisions on their own. Not only can they, but they have the right to!
The Importance of First-Hand "Statistical" Research for Teachers
At the beginning of each semester,
I ask my college Freshmen how many of them have been taught not to begin
a sentence with "But." At least a third of them raise their hands. I then
show them the KISS web page But Don't Begin a Sentence with "But." This
page, statistical only in the sense that it gives hundreds of examples
of well-known writers beginning sentences with "But," clearly shows that
their teachers were mistaken. In one sense, in other words, "statistical"
research simply requires the direct observation of real language so that
what one teaches is not directly contradictory to what any intelligent
student can see for him or herself.
Teachers should, however, become even more involved in statistical research, particularly of the writing of the students whom they are teaching. Such research need not be complex, and can consist entirely of assigning research projects to the students. As the students do these projects, the teachers will see, and learn from, the results. In the ideal KISS Curriculum, for example, seventh graders would begin the study of clauses. Near the end of that year, their teacher might want them to analyze the number of words per main clause and the number of subordinate clauses per main clause from two short selections from their own writing, one written early in the year, the other near the end. (For more on how to do this, see below.) Because the research on the KISS web site suggests that seventh graders have problems with clause boundary errors (fragments, etc.), the teacher might also ask the students to count such boundary errors in their writing and divide that number by the number of main clauses. The teacher, of course, would be not only the director of this research, but also its recipient. The results would be very suggestive about what that teacher might want to emphasize, or de-emphasize in the future.
The Importance of First-Hand "Statistical" Research for Students
Beginning perhaps as early as third
grade, students could do at least two statistical projects each year, one
on their own writing, and one on a published text. These projects need
not be elaborate. For example, third graders might analyze a 50-word sample
of their own writing by first identifying all the prepositional phrases,
then counting the number of words in those phrases and then seeing what
percentage of words in the texts are in prepositional phrases. The teacher
could then take the individual students' statistics, calculate the average
for the class, and have the class discuss the results. Among other things,
of course, these students would find that they can already explain approximately
a quarter of the words in the passage. They could then discuss the effects
of such phrases. Projects such as these serve both motivational and instructional
It is no secret that most teachers and students currently hate the work they do on grammar. Grammar is seen as an impenetrable maze of never-ending rules, exceptions to them, and prohibitions. Current instruction in grammar makes students fear writing because they are afraid of making "mistakes." Statistical projects within the KISS Approach can change that negative image. As explained in the previous chapter, unlike all other approaches to teaching grammar, the KISS Approach has a clear beginning and end. Every year, students could do at least one short statistical analysis of their own writing simply so that they will see for themselves how far they are toward reaching their final goal. (If they have kept a year-by-year portfolio of their own writing, they might also be asked to analyze a short passage of their own writing from a previous year. In so doing, they would see for themselves how their own sentence structure has naturally become more complex.) They might do a similar project with appropriate published writing (with each student choosing a passage to be analyzed) to see that what they are learning applies to what they read as well as to what they write.
In addition to increasing students' motivation, such statistical projects are instructional. NCTE has long argued for the Students' Right to their Own Language, but that right is meaningless unless students have an understanding of how their own language compares to that of everyone else. Statistical projects help give students that understanding. In conducting a statistical project, teachers can have each student analyze his or her passage, and then spend one class period in which students work in small groups, checking each others' work. This group work is extremely important because it allows students who are having problems with the analysis to get help, and, even more important, it forces students to look at specific aspects of each other's writing.
Consider, for example, the question of beginning a sentence with a prepositional phrase. Third graders have a basic concept of "sentence," and, if teachers want to, instead of "instructing" students to begin sentences with prepositional phrases, they could make this a question in a research project. In addition to counting words and words in prepositional phrases, students could count the number of sentences and the number of sentences that begin with a prepositional phrase. In doing this, both in the analysis of their own writing and in that of a published passage, they would see that some sentences do, and some don't. In discussing the results of their study, students could look at this question and consider how prepositional phrases add variety to sentence openings. Do I really have to make an argument that, if students didn't have any such sentences in their own writing, they will probably think seriously about adding this type of variety to their writing?
The differences between this approach and traditional instruction, however, do need to be emphasized. As previously noted, some teachers currently attempt to "teach" students to begin some sentences with prepositional phrases. But students are not taught to identify prepositional phrases in the first place, and this instruction is never built on. (Ask these students, two years later, to identify some sentences that begin with prepositional phrases, and see the results.) In the KISS Approach, on the other hand, students are taught to identify prepositional phrases, and they will continue to identify such phrases each year as they do analytical exercises. Thus they will not be able to simply learn for the test and then forget what they learned. The bigger difference, however, is in motivation. Currently, the students' motivation is externally imposed. (The teacher said to do this.) KISS analytical projects create internal motivation. As students analyze texts (for constructions which they have been taught to recognize and understand), they see for themselves various acceptable (and unacceptable) options.
Another instructional and motivational advantage of analytical, statistical projects is that they provide teachers with numerous opportunities to praise the writing of even the weakest students. In helping students do the analysis, either individually or during group work, and in browsing through the final work, teachers will find occasional appositives, gerundives, and other advanced constructions even in the work of the weakest students. Sometimes these constructions will actually be formulaic, but teachers still might want to tell the student, either orally or in writing, "That's a ____, a nice advanced construction." An encouraging word goes a long way. Statistical projects, in other words, give teachers opportunities for making students feel good about their writing.
Another advantage such statistics in teaching style is that they are objective. Teachers frequently make negative comments about the style of a student's writing without realizing either the egocentric nature of their comments or the damage that those comments can do. An elderly gentleman, a retired government official, took my Advanced Essay course, claiming that he wanted to learn how to write. His writing was not elegant, but it was certainly acceptable and adequate for the book that he said he wanted to write about the oil crisis. Yet he regularly claimed that his writing was "poor." We discussed his "problem," a problem that I could not discover until he stated that one of his English teachers had told him that his sentences were "too long." The comment had stuck, and it led him to believe that his writing was "poor." We briefly discussed the statistical studies of Hunt and O’Donnell and examined his own writing. His main clauses, in some of his essays, averaged 22 or 23 words, a figure that is, in no serious sense, "too long." Freed from the mysterious burden of the "too long" sentence, he changed his whole attitude toward his ability to write. Unfortunately, many teachers who abhor statistics feel perfectly at ease telling students that their sentences are "too long," "too short," "choppy," or "mechanical," thereby inflicting self-doubt on the students without offering the students a means with which to evaluate the question for themselves.
KISS Grammar and the Problem of Class Time
One of the major arguments made against the teaching of grammar is that it wastes time that could be spent on other areas of instruction. In the context of traditional approaches to grammar, the argument makes some sense. Telling students, year after year, that "Subjects must agree with their verbs in number" and then giving them ten or twenty sentences as an exercise is a waste of time. The exercise assumes that students can identify subjects and verbs. The fact is that most students can't. The students therefore muddle through the assignment (or test). Some students get an A. (We love them.) Some students fail. We have a tendency to blame them. Then we go on to something else. The problem, I would suggest, is that we didn't teach the students what they really needed to know -- in this case, how to identify subjects and verbs in realistic sentences. Teaching this is going to require some class time. How much time depends on several factors.
Distinguishing Required from Desired Objectives
Teachers and schools are
starting the KISS Approach in different grade levels -- primary school,
middle school, high school, and even college. It is therefore necessary
to distinguish, within the KISS Approach, "required" as opposed to "desired"
objectives. At each KISS level, the "required" objective is the ability
to identify "all" of the appropriate constructions within any text that
the student reads or writes. Within the KISS approach, the ability to recognize
the constructions of one level makes it much easier to identify the constructions
at succeeding levels. Subjects and verbs (Level Two) are much easier to
recognize if one first eliminates prepositional phrases (Level One) from
consideration. Clauses (Level Three) are much easier to identify if one
can recognize all the subject / verb / complement patterns (Level Two).
Within any KISS level, however, many teachers will want to go beyond the required objective into questions of style, logic, etc. Teachers of third graders, for example, will find that it does not take very long for their students to be able to identify most, if not all, of the prepositional phrases in texts. Rather than moving on into subjects, verbs, and complements, they will probably prefer to aim for some of the "desired" objectives -- discussing the effects and logic of prepositional phrases in passages that that their students read and write.
The situation, however, is significantly different if the students are starting the KISS Approach in the seventh grade. Their teacher will probably want to get them to KISS Level Three (Clauses). Within the KISS Approach, however, (or within any other effective approach, for that matter), students will have extreme difficulty if they are expected to start off by identifying clauses. Rather than attempting this, teachers will probably find that their students do better if they go through the "Required Objectives" of the first two KISS levels. They simply will not have the time to devote to the "Desired Objectives" of these first two levels. The KISS Approach, in other words, is cumulative -- each level depending on at least a basic understanding of the preceding, and each succeeding level therefore being much easier if the constructions in the preceding levels have been mastered, not just "taught," and not just "studied."
The following chapters on each KISS level include some general suggestions about how much class time might be required for each level. Because school systems use different scheduling methods and different types of scheduling "blocks," and because teachers have different preferences on how they allocate time within those blocks, I have described the time in terms of 50 minute "sessions." I have also assumed that the students will do some of the work out of class.
The debate about students having
too much or too little homework will probably continue forever, but it
should be clear that teachers who can assign some homework will have more
class time available for instruction than will teachers who can't. Consider,
for example, a short assignment in which students are asked to identify
the prepositional phrases in a paragraph. Depending on how well they have
been prepared, and on how well they have studied to prepare themselves,
such an assignment would take students anywhere from five to thirty minutes.
If the work is done in class, most teachers would probably give students
around twenty minutes to do it. We have to give the majority of the students
time to get it done, but we can't hold up the entire class for the slowest
students. Those students who finished in five minutes are bored; those
who needed thirty minutes don't get them
Those twenty minutes, of course, are not available for instruction. Reviewing and discussing the assignment in class would probably require another twenty minutes. Teachers who cannot rely on their students' doing homework may thus have to spend twice as much class time on grammar to get similar results.
Currently many of our students
are accustomed to "education" that "Pete and Repeats." They expect us,
year after year, to teach them that "A subject must agree with its verb
. . .," and thus they do not expect to be held accountable for learning.
Many of our students believe that as long as they get their bodies into
the classroom, they will pass. Recently, my Freshman Composition students
were told to brainstorm (on paper) for their first paper, which can be
about a person, place or thing of their choice. Only about half of the
students brought any brainstorming to class. Then, of course, there
are the students who do some homework and come to class, but who don't
pay much attention to what is going on. To the degree that students are
so mentally disengaged, teachers will have to spend more time covering
(The question of the teacher's role in motivating students is often discussed. In fact, it is probably discussed too much. Motivating students is not the teacher's primary job. The teacher's primary job is to provide well-thought out, clear instruction. My experience has been that students become motivated once they have mastered the first two levels of the KISS Approach. Having seen what they can now understand, they want more. As Jerome Bruner has pointed out, learning feeds on itself. )
The Teachers' and the School Systems' Expectations
As the preceding section implied, students' attitudes are heavily affected by the expectations of their teachers and their school systems. Unfortunately, I know many teachers and some school administrators who believe that some students are simply not capable of learning the material. As a result, many teachers are under pressure not to "fail" students, but the administrators who apply this pressure are themselves failing the students. Passing students from grade to grade without requiring them to learn does not do students any favors. In fact, it ultimately handicaps the students, who find themselves advanced in grade, but totally lost because they have not mastered the basics from previous years of instruction. Low expectations, from teachers or from administrators (or school boards), will result in any instruction (including that in the KISS Approach) taking up much more of class time than it should.
The KISS Grammar Game
The KISS Grammar Game, which was
developed on the model of interscholastic Mathletes competitions, is one
way to make the class time that is spent on grammar much more effective
and enjoyable. In the formal version of the game, individual complete sentences
(comparable to the math problems) are put on paper, and one member from
each team sits in the competition area to analyze the sentence within a
specified number of minutes. Points are awarded based on the completeness
and acceptability of the analysis. The formal version is nice for class
against class, or school against school competitions. Under these conditions,
more than one teacher is available, and thus the scoring and timing can
be more accurate. And like the Mathletes competitions, the game provides
both extra incentives for students to study and the rewards of socialization
with members of other teams. Team members can also be used as (and rewarded
for being) tutors for students who are having problems with sentence analysis.
Although the formal version has its advantages, the classroom version is less cumbersome and can easily be used to review homework assignments. All it requires is that the sentences to be analyzed be on overheads and that the instructor has a washable ink pen. The game motivates students and turns some of the necessary drills into thrills. I don't blame you if you don't believe the preceding statement. I would not have believed it myself a few years ago. Having prepared a formal version of the game, I tested it in some of my classes with college Freshmen. It was men against women, with one member of each team up front at a time, competing at analyzing sentences. I was shocked when one of the men came up to the front of the room and started rubbing the back and shoulders of the man who was about to compete. He was "warming him up" so that he would be in shape to get as many points as possible. Since then, many students have commented favorably about the game, and some noted that they did not realize how much grammar they did understand until we played the game. As I have often suggested, one of the problems in traditional teaching of grammar is that we rarely focus students' attention on what they DO know. Apparently, the KISS Grammar Game does that.
The rules of the KISS Grammar Game may seem complex at first, but they simply follow the sequence that students should use in analyzing sentences. If students begin by analyzing all of the prepositional phrases, then go to S/V/C patterns, then to clauses, and then to the more complex constructions, everything falls into place a lot easier. The game not only follows this sequence, awarding points along the way, but it also teaches the systematic analytical process which should be used to analyze sentences. Over the years, I have learned that many students jump all over the place in attempting to analyze a passage. They underline a finite verb at the bottom of the page (without finding its subject or complement), then mark a prepositional phrase, then put brackets around what they think is a clause, etc. Such an unsystematic approach usually leads to frustration. The game, in other words, teaches students not only the grammatical constructions, but also how to do the analysis.
A Basic Description of the Game
The class is divided into two or
more teams, and a sentence to be analyzed is on the overhead projector.
The first member of the first team has five seconds to identify a prepositional
phrase in the sentence. If he or she gets one correct, the team gets a
point and the instructor puts parentheses around the prepositional phrase.
The first member of the next team then has the same opportunity. This process
continues until all the prepositional phrases in the sentence have been
identified. The person who identifies the last prepositional phrase ("last"
meaning last to be identified, not last in the sentence) gets a bonus point
for stating that there are no more prepositional phrases. If he or she
does not make this statement, the next team may get the bonus point by
beginning their turn by making the statement. Once this statement is made,
the team whose turn it is identifies a finite verb, its subject, etc.,
or, if the class is only working on prepositional phrases, it starts on
a new sentence. Whereas an incorrect answer simply results in the next
team's turn, an incorrect bonus attempt results in the team's losing a
The analysis should proceed, sentence by sentence, always following the sequence:
Failure to follow this sequence will result in students identifying the object of a preposition as the subject of a verb, a gerundive as a noun absolute, and numerous other errors. Note that the sequence reflects the five levels of KISS analysis, so those students working at a specific level would play the game only to that level.1. all prepositional phrases first,
2. then all subject / verb / complement patterns,
3. then all clauses,
4. then all verbals,
5. and, finally, the seven other constructions.
Defining a "Turn" in the Game
There are numerous ways to define when a team's turn ends, and obviously teachers can do so any way they choose. But to make the game pedagogically effective, turns should be kept as short as possible. One could, for example, define a "turn" as continuing until the competitor makes a mistake. The problem with this is that weaker students will tune out. When it is their turn, they will make a mistake and get no points. Then they will have to wait forever as Sam and Suzzie each rack up twenty points. BOORING! It is much better to keep turns limited to one correct answer with possible bonus points. I usually use the following point values.
Level One: Prepositional Phrases
The entire phrase, first word to last, must be identified. Identification of a phrase equals a turn. The next member of the next team must identify the word that that phrase modifies. The teacher can then draw an arrow from the opening parenthesis to the word modified. This process continues until all the prepositional phrases in the sentence have been identified.An Entire Prepositional Phrase = 1
The word that the phrase modifies = 1
(Bonus if identified as last remaining phrase = 1 (If incorrect = -1))
Level Two: Subject / Verb / Complement Patterns
If the student who identified the last prepositional phrase did not state that it was the last, the next team to compete can get the bonus point by so stating. Otherwise, the next team can simply identify a word or words in a finite verb phrase. The next turn consists of identifying the subject(s) of the identified finite verb. The next turn is complements, followed by kind of complement (predicate adjective, predicate noun, indirect and direct objects).A Finite Verb Phrase = 1 per word in the phrase
Its Subject(s) = 1 each (if compounds)
Its Complement(s) (excluding clauses) = 1 each (if compounds)
Kind of Complement = 1 each (if compounds)
(Bonus if identified as last remaining pattern = 1)
Level Three: Clauses -- Subordinate and Main
Once the last S/V/C pattern has
been identified, the next turn consists of identifying clauses. My students
usually have some problems with this, so I at first I lead them through
the process. Since the KISS approach to identifying clauses depends on
the identified S/V/C patterns, the first turn consists of indicating the
number of clauses in the sentence. (To get this answer, the student simply
needs to count the already identified patterns.) If there is only one,
that means it has to be a main clause, so I simply put a vertical line
at the end of the sentence. If there are more than one, we work our way
When first playing the game at this level, I lead the students through this, awarding one point for the identification of the last word in a subordinate clause. The next turn is to identify the first word in that clause, and the following turn is to identify the function of the clause. If the clause is adjectival or adverbial, this consists simply of indicating the word that the clause modifies. If the clause functions as a complement, the player who identifies the word the clause chunks to can earn a bonus point by stating the type of complement (PN, PA, DO, IO). If this bonus point is not earned, the instructor should ask the next player of the next team to identify the type of complement, i.e., the next turn consists of identifying the type of complement. Once a subordinate clause has been identified, I put brackets around it.
The student who identifies the last subordinate clause in a sentence can earn a bonus point by stating that it is the last. If the student fails to do so, the player who identifies the function of the clause can earn the bonus. If neither player earns the bonus, then the next player's turn consists of making this identification. If there are compound main clauses, however, the next turn consists of identifying where one ends and the next begins. The last turn in dealing with a sentence consists of stating that the analysis is complete and a vertical line should be put at the end. The game then moves on to the next sentence.
If these rules for clauses seem somewhat complex, keep in mind that they simply reflect the complexity of the text that is being analyzed. And that text, ideally, should be a sample of the writing of the students' peers. It is not unusual for my college students to find four or five clauses in a single sentence, and thus we need the complex application of the preceding rules. In playing the game with seventh or eighth graders, on the other hand, teachers will find these rules much simpler to apply.
Bonus Points for Infinitives
In playing the game, my students were confused by infinitives. Some students lost their turn by referring to infinitives when they were supposed to be identifying prepositional phrases. Others tried to identify infinitives as finite verbs. Students therefore asked if there were some way to "get those infinitives marked and out of the way." We resolved this problem by making the identification of infinitives bonus points. The first player to start identifying prepositional phrases in a sentence can earn bonus points by identifying any infinitives. Any infinitives not identified remain as potential bonus points until the analysis of the sentence is finished. Infinitives are "marked" by putting an oval around them.
Levels Four and Five
Should a class be ready for them, Levels Four and Five would continue in the same basic manner. In Level Four, a point would be awarded for identifying a verbal (gerund, gerundive, or infinitive). The next turn would consist of identifying the verbal's function. The next, identifying its complement. Level Five consists of identifying the Eight Additional Constructions (Nouns Used as Adverbs, Appositives, Interjections, Delayed Subjects, Direct Address, Noun Absolutes, Retained Complements, and Post-Positioned Adjectives).
Using the Game
Obviously, the game can be played
just for the fun of it. I have, however, found the game to be a real motivator,
not only for homework, but also for attention in the classroom. In my college
Freshman Composition classes, I usually give students four or five passages
which they are expected to analyze for homework. We used to review that
homework in class, using an overhead. One student would be selected to
analyze a sentence while I made the marks on the overhead. While this student
was working, much of the class was not paying particular attention, and
it was not unusual to have long waits while a student who was not prepared
figured out what to do.
The game changed that. First, some students who do not seem at all embarrassed at being unprepared undergo a change of attitude when working in teams. They do not want their teammates angry at them for letting the team down, and as a result, they tend to be both better prepared and more attentive. As we began playing the game, I was surprised to see some calculators (for math homework) disappear into book bags.
The five-second time limit eliminates the long pauses for unprepared students. The teacher, of course, is in control of the game, and my head handles time very poorly. Some seconds take longer to go by than others, depending on either the construction to be explained or the student whose turn it is. (Put plainly, if I know that a student is trying but is having trouble, I hesitate to call five seconds.) In some classes, students get in on this and start calling the five-second rule on other teams, which is fine with me. The five-second rule keeps the game moving quickly, and because the game follows the sequence that students are expected to use anyway, they are also responsible for that sequence. When a student asks "Where are we?" or "What is next?" my response is "That's what you're supposed to know." After the vertical line is put at the end of a sentence, i.e., after a sentence has been completely analyzed, I pause the game to ask if there are any questions about that sentence.
When I first thought of playing the game this way, I told students that the members of the winning team would get a course bonus point. I soon realized that that was a bad idea. Once a team is too far behind, they lose interest. Now, the grades are based on points. The members of the team with the highest score all get a 100. The grades of everyone else are based on how their team's score matches that of the winning team. Thus, if the winning team has a score of 50 and the second place team has a score of 48, the members of the second place team each get a grade of 48/50, or 96. This method of grading encourages the team with the lowest score to keep trying -- the more points they get, even if they lose, the higher their grade will be. Teachers who give a lot of grades may want to record grades from each competition separately. I usually print out a separate class roster and record all the grades on it. At the end, I average these grades and record it as a single grade. Even though the grades for the game count for less than a single course point, I have found that this system of grading motivates most of my students.
Selecting and Preparing Passages for the Game
In addition to selecting short
passages by students, teachers might want to throw in a few curves. My
final assignment is from the Introduction to the Declaration of Independence.
It's not an easy sentence to analyze, and students are stunned by it. (Triumphant,
however, if they can analyze it.) Other "curves" would be to use, for example,
a passage from a simple children's story (The Little Engine That Could),
or, if you are working with tenth graders, use a passage written by a fifth
grader. Not only will such passages change the pace, they will also show
students how their command of the language has improved.
Preparing the passages is relatively simple. If possible, use a computer and a larger than typewriter font so that the sentences will easily be seen from the back of the room. Double or triple space. Ideally, your department will supply you with blank transparencies for plain-paper copiers. Use a washable ink marker in playing the game, so that you can reuse the transparencies.
The game can be a nice change of pace, and students enjoy it. There have been times when I entered a classroom to find students sitting in their team positions from the previous class, rather than in their regular seats. They wanted to continue the game.