Notes for Teachers:
With these exercises, we are in the subjective
area of style. One problem of many weak writers is that they begin almost
every sentence with the simple subject and verb. Some teachers attempt
to get students to vary their sentences by opening with a prepositional
phrase. Typically, the problem for the students is that they do not know
what prepositional phrases are. In the KISS Approach, of course, students
have learned to identify prepositional phrases. As a result, these exercises
on variety should be much more successful.
In Level 1.5 on the KISS web site, you can find an analysis of the 35 adverbial phrases in Flora J. Cooke's version of "Philemon and Baucis." Twenty-seven of the phrases branch to the right; seven, to the left, and one is mid-branching. This analysis takes up a lot of space, so I have decided not to include it in the printable books. That analysis, time-consuming as it was, misses some obvious cases in which, for example, left-branching is normal:
Mid-branching phrases are of particular interest
for two reasons. First, be careful about pushing weak writers to use mid-branching.
Many weak writers, especially young ones, are still developing the connection
between subject and verb. Words that separate the two may be more confusing
Although it pertains more to subordinate clauses
than it does to phrases, you may want to have your students discuss another
question. Francis Christensen, a well-known writer about teaching grammar,
advocated sentence-combining exercises that teach students to make their
sentences longer and more complex by right-branching. His argument was
basically that right-branching is the norm. But in Tough, Sweet, and
Stuffy, Walker Gibson suggested that left-branching implies a more
organized mind. His argument is that in order to left branch, the writer
has to already have in mind what the branch is going to branch from. In
other words, Gibson suggested that right-branching can simply result from
the writer's tacking one idea after another.
One day a shepherd discovered a fat Pig in the meadow where his Sheep were pastured.Even though your students have not studied clauses, when they attempt to left-branch "in the meadow," some students will probably move "where his Sheep were pastured" with it:
One day, in the meadow where his Sheep were pastured, a shepherd discovered a fat Pig.Gibson's argument is that one can easily write "One day a shepherd discovered a fat Pig," and only then, before putting down the period, think about adding "in the meadow where his Sheep were pastured." But one really can't write "One day, in a meadow where his sheep were pastured" without already knowing what "in a meadow" will modify. Thus one must be able to hold the whole sentence in mind as one begins to write it.
Note that the KISS position on this is that Gibson has an interesting idea, an idea that, in the KISS Approach, students can explore and take their own positions on. (Christensen's idea has always bothered me because he basically forces a style on students without students even being able to recognize subordinate clauses or consider options.)
As a final question, consider the mid-branching version of this sentence:
One day a shepherd, in the meadow where his Sheep were pastured, discovered a fat Pig.Is the mid-branching too long? At this point, all I can say is that it depends on the intended readers. There is a fair amount of evidence that young readers will have trouble connecting the subject to the verb. On the other end, most experienced readers will have no trouble with it. Unfortunately, because of the confusion over grammatical terminology, little research has been done on questions like this. But the questions are important because, as noted above, if we push weak writers into writing sentences like this, we may just confuse them. Don't fool with Mother Nature.