Chapter 8: Exercises for Expanding the Concept

       In previous chapters we have seen John Mellon note that the examples and exercises in most grammar textbooks are far too simple, and we have seen Amy Martinsen's comment that when she wanted to teach some aspects of style, students did not understand basic terms such as prepositional phrases, etc.  Combined, their comments describe the great grammar gap -- the gap between formal instruction in grammatical concepts and the students' ability to apply those concepts to their own writing. Unless we can help students bridge that gap, for most students, instruction in grammatical terminology will be useless -- and frustrating. The gap is further complicated, however, by natural syntactic development. California's requirement that fourth graders be able to combine sentences with appositives not only defies the rules of natural syntactic development, it takes time and focus away from instruction that fourth graders would find much more beneficial. The grammar that we teach should be based on what we know about the syntactic maturity of students at different grade levels.
       There is, however, another, even more important gap, and it is a gap of fear. How can teachers who themselves have not been taught how to identify grammatical constructions in randomly selected texts teach their students how to do so? And would it be worth the effort? This chapter attempts to address these questions. The task is not as difficult as it seems, especially if students focus on a limited number of constructions at a time and then add to them. To make the connection from simple recognition of grammatical constructions to recognizing them in real texts, students should probably do some identification exercises.

Identification Exercises

       The objective of identification exercises is to enable students to recognize, for example, all the prepositional phrases, or all the subjects and verbs, in real texts, including their own writing. Once they can do so, then whatever is said about these constructions becomes meaningful. The easiest way to get students to this point is to do a few exercises in which all the students analyze the same text. A typical KISS identification exercise consists simply of giving the students the relevant instructional handout (See Part IV.) and a double- or triple-spaced copy of a short, randomly selected text. You may want to model the assignment for them by using an overhead projector to go through a short paragraph. It's that simple. Do not grade the homework! Use an overhead projector, the blackboard, etc. to go over it in class. This can be done one sentence per day (or every other day) at the beginning or ending of class, or it can be done in longer blocks of time once a week (or every other week).
       Reviewing homework in class is extremely important. It does take some class time, but it will save a lot of headaches and time, and even the slowest students (and those who did not do the homework) will learn much of the material simply from the in-class review. The students' work in class will give you a fairly good idea of how well the students have mastered the material. (If necessary, you can use short, one or two sentence quizzes to assess their ability.) Once most of the students have mastered the skill, you can effectively use the relevant terms to help them improve their writing.

A Fourth Grader's Writing

       The following selection is from one of the writing samples by fourth graders that are analyzed in detail on the KISS web site. What, in the context of research and theory that we have looked at, does it suggest that we should or should not teach?

       My house is on a corner. It has red bricks and white trim. If you go in the front door you go down the hall and turn left you come to my brothers room.  If you go straight again and turn right is my room. If you go across the hall is a bathroom. Then go straight is my mom and dad room. Now I'll tell you about my room, it is pink and has blue carpet. I'll tell you about my brothers room. It is cream color walls, and brown carpet. He also has a T.V. My mom and dads room have cream walls and green carpet. Thats all the bedrooms, now lets go in the family room, another bedroom, my dogs room.
The first thing I want to suggest is that this passage is excellent material for fourth graders to expand their concepts of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. The nouns and verbs are all relatively simple and concrete. The prepositional phrases do not include gerunds or clauses as their objects. In their own writing, fourth graders should have little difficulty in recognizing these constructions, and the study on the KISS web site suggests that, once they can, they will have syntactically "explained" 90% of the words in the texts.
       In most schools, 90% gets an "A," and every fourth grader is capable of earning one on such exercises because the exercises are geared to what we know about natural syntactic development. More important, however, is that the students would be learning to bridge the gap between the "formal" instruction and their own writing. In the next chapter we will consider how teachers can use the concepts of noun, verb, prepositional phrase, etc. to improve students' writing. But, as explained in Chapter Two, the research of Harris and Brannon, of Faigley, and of Obenchaine, all suggests that students learn best when they can identify the constructions in their own writing. That is where the gap is.
       In addition to suggesting what teachers can do to help students identify basic grammatical constructions, our fourth grade sample suggests what grammar fourth grade teachers might want to focus on. It is obvious, for example, that textbook exercises on the use of the apostrophe have not transferred to this student's writing. The samples on the KISS web site suggest that many fourth graders have problems with the apostrophe, both for possession and for contractions. Teachers who note this might want to have their students work on it not just by doing workbook exercises, but also by having the students, for example, work in small groups to edit (and discuss) this problem in samples of their own writing. In identifying subjects, finite verbs, and complements in their own writing, all students would also learn to distinguish "it's" from "its" and "they're" from "there" and "their."
       Learning to identify subjects, finite verbs, and complements in their own writing will also help fourth graders with other problems. In our sample, the student wrote "My mom and dads room have cream walls and green carpet." The subject/verb agreement error is, perhaps, related to the apostrophe error, but ultimately it was caused by the student not sensing "room" as the subject of "have." In identifying "have" as a verb and "room" as its subject, most students will automatically change "have" to "has." Another problem appears in "It [a room] is cream color walls, and brown carpet." Fourth graders can understand the basic concept of equality implied by the "is" in this sentence, and thus, in analyzing the pattern of this sentence, the student would see that the room is not equal to the walls and carpet. Since it does not make sense to label "walls" and "carpet" as predicate nouns, the student would see that the subject/complement relationship is not one of equality, but rather of possession, and thus, perhaps automatically, change the "is" to "has."
       Learning to identify subjects and verbs in his own writing would help this student with another serious problem, but in deciding what to do about it we need to keep in mind the research. Several multi-clause sentences lack subjects: "If you go straight again and turn right is my room. If you go across the hall is a bathroom. Then go straight is my mom and dad room." The research, as noted in Part I, indicates that subordinate clauses normally start to develop in seventh grade. Trying to get fourth graders to understand the concept of clauses therefore will probably only result in frustration. But look at what happens if we simply have this student identify the S/V/C patterns in his own writing. In the first sentence, the student would probably easily identify "you," "go," and "turn." But then having identified "is" as a verb, he would find no subject for it. The student can easily be shown, if he does not notice by himself, how to fix this by inserting a "there." The next sentence has a similar problem which can be fixed in the same way, or it can be fixed by dropping the "If you go" -- "Across the hall is a bathroom." In the third sentence, the same problem can be fixed by changing the structure to a prepositional phrase -- "Then go straight to my mom's and dad's room." The student, in other words, could be taught, in a way that the student would understand, how to fix three errors in this passage, without having to be taught to recognize clauses.
       The passage we have been examining includes two comma-splices. I will say more about them later, but here I want to suggest that in fourth graders' writing, perhaps we should ignore them. The only effective way of dealing with comma-splices is to give students a conscious command of clause structure, and, as the research suggests, fourth graders are not ready for that. In effect, this type of error in fourth graders' writing is comparable to, but more complex than, the "I readed a book" of a pre-school child. As teachers, of course, we see such errors and we want to fix them. Indeed, in our frustration, we (including me) see such errors and moan that "The student cannot even write correct sentences." The data, however, show that we are wrong. If, in our example, we count each of the sentences with the comma-splices as two sentences, then the passage consists of thirteen sentences, eleven of which are punctuated correctly. Eleven of thirteen is 85%. That is, in any grading system, a better than average grade. Rather than overwhelming fourth graders with more grammatical concepts, some of which would be beyond their zone of proximal development, it would be much better to focus on prepositional phrases, adjectives and adverbs, and subject / verb / complement patterns. Identifying these constructions in these students' writing is not very difficult, for the students, or for teachers. And these is a lot that students can do to improve their writing once they can discuss how these constructions affect it.

A Seventh Grader's Writing

       Seventh graders' writing is, obviously, more complex than that of fourth graders, but if we look closely, it is not that much more complex. As the research suggests, the primary difference between it and younger students' writing is an increase in the number of subordinate clauses. The only grammatical concept we need to add to the seventh graders' analytical repertoire, therefore, is the clause. If we do this, we can help seventh graders master some important aspects of syntax, punctuation, and style.
       To illustrate this, consider the following passage. I have underlined subjects once, finite verbs twice, and labeled complements. Prepositional phrases are in parentheses, and subordinate clauses are in brackets. Main clauses are separated by "/./," unless they are run-ons (two main clauses run together) which are separated by "/R/." "/F/" indicates a fragment. I have ignored adjectives and adverbs. Words which the student would not be able to explain are in bold.

Note: Double underlining is difficult on the web so the KISS technique is to underline both the subject and verb once, and to make the subject green, the verb blue.
My brother's nameis Tom (PN) /R/  heis almost tewenty-one. /./ Hehad a brown car (DO) {with a bumbing stearo}. /./ Hehad three cars (DO) {before this one}. /./ Hehad a ford (DO) and two chevey (DO). /./ And now hehas another chevey (DO) /./ but this oneis bad (PA) /R/ ithas park (DO) and all that stuff (DO) {in the floor}. /./ My brotheris nice (PA) {to me} /R/ hetakes me (DO) {to dances} [when hegoes]. /./ And then [when hegoriding] he let'sme go sometime. /./ But [when heget's {with his friends}] then hewon't let me go {with him}. /./ But hecan be nice (PA) sometime {like [when hetook me (DO) to see Chuck Brown {over at the dominion}]} /R/ itwas fun (PA) to. /F/And [when hetook me (DO) {over to Woodstock}].
The passage consists of 124 words, ten of which the student would not be able to explain syntactically. That means that the student would be able to explain (thus understand) the syntactic functions of 92% of the words in this passage of his own writing. And, even more important, the ten words, if we exclude spelling, are used correctly.
       There are a number of things that could be said about this passage. The student could use some work on spelling and capitalization, but these are not syntactic problems. We could also look at how the student could be asked to add details by adding adjectives, perhaps adverbs, and prepositional phrases. The primary problems with this passage, however, are the run-ons and the fragment.
       Most textbooks address these problems in one or both of two ways. For one, they give the students the definitions and simple examples. They explain, for example, that main clauses can be joined by a comma plus a coordinating conjunction. Many texts also explain that a semicolon can be used to separate main clauses to show contrast, and that a colon or dash can be used to separate two main clauses that reflect a general/specific relationship. The students do a few simple exercises, and the instruction is usually forgotten. The other approach is to give the students the rules, and then give them some sentences with errors, which they are to correct. Rarely is such instruction effective, probably because the students are not invited to analyze the clauses in their own writing.
       Perhaps it is ineffective precisely because students do not see how this instruction applies to their own writing. Having suggested that seventh graders can, relatively easily, be taught to identify all the relevant constructions in their own writing, let's look at what this student would have found if he had been asked to analyze this passage. In the first "sentence," the student would find two S/V/C patterns with no conjunction between them. That is, of course, unacceptable. The student could put a period after "Tom" and make the "h" in "he a capital letter. Or, the student might feel that "he is almost twenty-one" is an amplification of the description of his brother -- "My brother's name is Tom -- he is almost twenty-one." (Note that the following sentence shifts from the description of Tom to the topic of what Tom has -- "He had a brown car…." Thus the writer probably felt that these first two clauses belong together, and that feeling would explain the run-on.)
       The analysis of the next three sentences should give a seventh grader no problems, but then the student would come to
And now he has another chevey (DO) /./ but this oneis bad (PA) /R/ ithas park (DO) and all that stuff (DO) {in the floor}.
Here the student would probably have little trouble, especially if such instruction had been started in previous grades, in finding the three S/V/C patterns. Likewise, the student should have little problem in inserting a comma before the "but." Resolving the problem between the last two clauses would require more thought, but my primary point is that the student, although he would not need to know that the error is called a "run-on," would find two S/V/C patterns with no syntactic connector between them. The simple advice -- to use a period and a capital letter -- works, but it probably obscures a logical connection between the two clauses, a connection that the student felt, but did not know how to punctuate. Thus, the student might want to look at the connection as one of amplification: but this one is bad --  it has park and all that stuff in the floor. Or the student might want to make a cause/effect relationship more clear by using a subordinate clause: but this one is bad because it has park and all that stuff in the floor.
       This student would be able to deal with the next run-on problem in the same way:
My brother is nice to me -- he takes me to dances when he goes.
My brother is nice to me because he takes me to dances when he goes.
The last run-on can also be fixed with a dash: " But he can be nice sometimes, like when he took me to see Chuck Brown over at the Dominion -- it was fun too."
       The last sentence in the passage would present the student with a different type of problem. If students are being taught to analyze the structure of sentences in randomly selected texts, they will see for themselves that the norm is that every sentence is based on a main clause. If they are shown the psycholinguistic model, they will also have a reason for this norm. In analyzing the last sentence, however, the student would find a subordinate clause unattached to a main clause: " And when he took me over to Woodstock." One of the ways with which a student can be taught to deal with such fragments is simply to turn them into main clauses by eliminating the subordinate conjunction -- "He also took me over to Woodstock."
       Although the preceding discussion of a short passage from one seventh grader's writing could be even more detailed, it is purposefully lengthy as it is because it suggests what seventh graders could do if they are taught to analyze the clause structure of their own writing. By themselves, traditional exercises are not effective because they do not give students enough practice in thinking about the logical relationships (amplification, contrast, cause/effect) in their own writing. Extending the basic concepts by having students analyze their own writing is not that difficult. It can not only help them eliminate "errors," but it can give them a conscious understanding of sentence structure that will improve their confidence about their writing.

The Writing of College Freshmen

       I have been trying to suggest that students do not need to learn a lot of grammatical terminology. Instead, they need a few concepts and lots of practice using them to analyze real texts. The writing of college students is more complicated than that of younger students in part, as Hunt noted, because they use more appositives and gerundives. But the real increase in complexity results from the embedding of simple constructions within other simple constructions. The following sentence, written by a college Freshman, can be analyzed using the same constructions that we used in looking at the writing of a seventh grader.

The stage at the Bucks County Playhouse impresses any actor who performs there with such things as the thirty-six fly ropes that line the stage left wall and the roof that rises three stories.
When a class of students analyzes this sentence, students will find at least two points of ambiguity. For one, do the fly ropes line the roof? The question hinges on the syntactic function of the "and" that precedes "roof," but there are two perfectly correct ways of analyzing its function. Some students will say that the "and" joins "wall" and "roof," thereby making both direct objects of "line." Such an analysis would mean that the fly ropes line the roof. Other students, however, will explain the "and" as joining "fly ropes … and … roof."  From this point of view, both words function as objects of the preposition "as." The prepositional phrase gives two examples of the preceding "things," and the sentence probably does not mean that the fly ropes line the roof. Because there is no reason for rejecting either explanation, the class has to conclude that the sentence is inherently ambiguous.
       The other ambiguity involves exactly which actors would be impressed. Would a singer be impressed? The sentence is not clear on this. Some students will end the "who performs" clause at "there" and explain the prepositional phrase that begins with "with" as modifying "performs":
The stage at the Bucks County Playhouse impresses any actor [who performs there] with such things as the thirty-six fly ropes that line the stage left wall and the roof that rises three stories.
This explanation implies that, as long as the performer is on the stage (where she can see them), the actor will be impressed. But an equally valid analysis considers the "with" phrase as modifying "performs":
The stage at the Bucks County Playhouse impresses any actor [who performs there with such things as the thirty-six fly ropes that line the stage left wall and the roof that rises three stories.]
To bridge the gap between traditional instruction and students' writing, to make instruction in grammar meaningful, we simply need to focus on a limited number of constructions, and then enable students to disentangle the complex combinations of those constructions in the infinite variety of real texts. It is not that difficult to do. And once students can identify constructions, models become much more meaningful.


       Integrating discussions of grammar into our discussions of literature is something that we should do a lot more of. Paul E. Doniger, who teaches at The Gilbert School, a public high school in Winsted, CT, and at Western Connecticut State University, sent the following to the ATEG list server:

I often find that it helps students when we use grammar to explain complicated texts or Authorial intent. One recent instance that came up in my 11th grade English classes this year was in our reading of Brave New World. On reviewing the book before I began teaching it, I found it fascinating that Huxley wrote the opening paragraph of the novel without a single verb! In spite of this seemingly odd omission, the descriptions in the text are as clear as crystal. When we began to discuss the opening of the book, I posed the question, "What is unusual about this paragraph?" Few students noticed the lack of verbs, but most seemed to "feel" a certain detached negativeness of mood. It seems to me that this is exactly the effect that Huxley was aiming for, so I discussed the issue with the students: "How did he create this mood?" Eventually, some students noticed the lack of verbs and pointed it out to the rest of the classes. The ensuing discussion was wonderful, and most of the students were hooked. This was the beginning of the most successful literature teaching experience I have ever had! I actually had some students reading several chapters ahead of the class (one student finished the book three weeks ahead of schedule!).
The only grammatical concepts that students needed for this discussion were nouns and verbs.
       Models are interesting ways of expanding concepts because they can demonstrate how writers use various constructions to achieve specific, meaningful effects. Three of my favorites are by Martin Luther King, Jr., Wallace Stegner, and Mark Twain.

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Impatience Expressed in Parallel Subordinate Clauses

       Rev. King was, of course, trained as a public speaker, and I have to wonder if the parallel construction may be more characteristic of formal oral discourse. When spoken, sentences with parallel constructions allow for rhythmic pauses while simultaneously giving the audience meaningful semantic units and raising their expectations for what follows. In the following sentence from "A Letter from Birmingham Jail," Rev. King precedes a very short main clause with ten adverbial clauses, each beginning with "when":

But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on the television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking, "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness" -- then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.
The repetition of the subordinate conjunction keeps the sentence clear and understandable, even though it is extremely long and irritating to read. The irritation results from the length -- most sentences are shorter, and we unconsciously expect the period that closes one sentence before we begin another. King thus uses his sentence structure to evoke frustration in the reader, thereby subtly suggesting the frustration that made him no longer want to wait. But if the reader is frustrated by the length of the sentence, how much more so must King and his colleagues have been -- they had to endure the insults listed in the sentence!
        Yet the very structure of this sentence indicates that King -- and by association his fellow Blacks -- has controlled his frustration, has brought it into order. This is  the kind of sentence that Walker Gibson talks about. (See Chapter Ten.). The ten left-branching, parallel subordinate clauses, each of which details a reason for Black impatience, are clearly ordered in the writer’s mind. He knows that each of them not just depends on, but also leads toward that final "then you will understand." King’s syntax thus has a double "semantic" effect: it evokes frustration in the reader to parallel the frustration of the Blacks, and it reflects the calm control that King advocated.

Verbal Clutter in  Stegner’s "Town Dump"

       The main idea in "The Town Dump," an essay by Wallace Stegner, is that the clutter in a dump reflects the history of men -- it tells us something about who we were and what we are. In the following sentence, Stegner uses ellipsis and gerundives to emphasize both the clutter and the sense of history:

The bedsprings on which the town’s first child was begotten might be there; the skeleton of a boy’s pet colt; two or three volumes of Shakespeare bought in haste and error from a peddler, later loaned in carelessness, soaked with water and chemicals in a house fire, and finally thrown out to flap their stained eloquence in the prairie wind.
The complexity of this sentence, and its use of gerundives, makes it more appropriate for older students, students who have added gerundives to their analytical repertoire. The sentence has three main clauses, separated by two semicolons:
bedsprings might be there
skeleton *might be there*
volumes *might be there*
By omitting the verbs, Stegner evokes the density of the objects in the dump in the density of nouns in his sentence: the very structure of his sentence, in other words, emphasizes a point he wants to make. The three main clauses also emphasize the idea of history, or temporal progression: the bedsprings are associated with birth; the colt, with boyhood. The volumes of Shakespeare reflect the interests of an adult. Thus the order of the clauses creates a parallel between the history of individual men and the history of mankind.
       In the third main clause Stegner uses gerundives to tell a story within a story. "Bought," "later loaned," "soaked," and "finally thrown" -- the four gerundives not only present a sequence of events related to "volumes," but also suggest that the same kind of story within a story could be supplied for "bedsprings" and "skeleton." The first three gerundives are modified by prepositional phrases that suggest that men are inattentive. The infinitive ("to flap") that modifies the final gerundive reinforces this idea. Technically, it is an adverb of purpose (It answers the question -- "Why were they thrown out?"), but the purpose is here inappropriate: volumes of Shakespeare were not intended "to flap their stained eloquence in the prairie wind." Finally, there is a play on the gerundive "stained." Logically, it is the volumes that are "stained" from the water and chemicals. Grammatically, however, "stained" modifies "eloquence," thereby implying, perhaps, that men are as inattentive to the mental world as they are to the physical.
       Because of ellipsis and gerundives, Stegner can change the clutter of the dump into the wealth of men’s lives, and then comment on how we waste that wealth -- all in one rich sentence. Note what would have happened if he had not used ellipsis and had used clauses instead of gerundives:
The bedsprings on which the town’s first child was begotten might be there; the skeleton of a boy’s pet colt might be there; two or three volumes of Shakespeare, which were bought in haste and error from a peddler, which were later loaned in carelessness, which were soaked with water and chemicals in a house fire, and which were finally thrown out to flap their eloquence, which was stained, in the prairie wind, might be there.
The extra words add no meaning to the sentence, and they dilute its richness.

Floating Down the Mississippi on Twain’s Absolutes

       Complex constructions can suggest clutter, but they can also imply a calm simplicity. In the following passage, Mark Twain uses a string of noun absolutes to imply the rhythm of the gently flowing Mississippi River:

       Once a day a cheap, gaudy packet arrived upward from St. Louis, and another downward from Keokuk. Before these events, the day was glorious with expectancy; after them, the day was a dead and empty thing. Not only the boys, but the whole village, felt this. After all these years I can picture that old time to myself now, just as it was then: the white town drowsing in the sunshine of a summer’s morning; the streets empty, or pretty nearly so; one or two clerks sitting in front of the Water Street stores, with their splint-bottomed chairs tilted back against the walls, chins on breasts, hats slouched over their faces, asleep -- with shingle-shavings enough around to show what broke them down; a sow and a litter of pigs loafing along the sidewalk, doing a good business in watermelon rinds and seeds; two or three lonely little freight piles scattered about the "levee"; a pile of "skids" on the slope of the stone-paved wharf, and the fragrant town drunkard asleep in the shadow of them; two or three wood flats at the head of the wharf, but nobody to listen to the peaceful lapping of the wavelets against them; the great Mississippi, the majestic, the magnificent Mississippi, rolling its mile-wide tide along, shining in the sun; the dense forest away on the other side; the "point" above the town, and the "point" below, bounding the river-glimpse and turning it into a sort of sea, and withal a very still and brilliant and lonely one. Presently a film of dark smoke appears above one of those remote "points"; instantly a negro drayman, famous for his quick eye and prodigious voice, lifts up the cry, "S-t-e-a-m-boat a-comin’!" and the scene changes! The town drunkard stirs, the clerks wake up, a furious clatter of drays follows, every house and store pours out a human contribution, and all in a twinkling the dead town is alive and moving. Drays, carts, men, boys, all go hurrying from many quarters to a common center, the wharf. Assembled there, the people fasten their eyes upon the coming boat as upon a wonder they are seeing for the first time.
                                                                --from Life on the Mississippi. 1883.
Twain uses a 211-word main clause with twelve adverbial noun absolutes (plus four that function as objects of prepositions)) to suggest the continuous, calm, and wavy flowing of the Mississippi. He then shifts to a series of very short, rapid main clauses to suggest the hustle at the arrival of the boat.
        The Twain passage is of particular interest because of the way in which I became aware of it. At a Delaware Valley Writing Conference, I was recognizable as the only advocate of teaching grammar at the conference -- something of a curiosity. One of the presentations I attended was on teaching writing and literature. In the midst of the presentation, the teacher stopped, hesitated, looked at me, and said in semi-shock, "I just realized that I'm teaching grammar!" She was in the middle of discussing the noun absolutes in Twain's passage. Unfortunately I have forgotten her name, but she certainly was teaching grammar, and she was doing so in a better way than most of the textbooks do. Her presentation was excellent, but my only question was how many students can recognize noun absolutes, and thus effectively understand the analysis?

       We need to collect many more models of interesting grammatical effects in the literature that we have students read. Normally, of course, when we are teaching literature, we are not thinking about grammar. Occasionally, some special effect makes us stop and take notice, but in the past, even when we noted such effects, it was difficult to use them because students have not been taught to recognize the constructions. As more students learn how to do this, these passages become more important, and the web gives us the opportunity to share them. I am hoping, for example, that the KISS web site will become a significant collection point for such models. In the near future, teachers may be able to check such web sites to find appropriate passages in the literature that their students are reading. The more connections we make between grammar and literature, the more meaningful both become.