June 26, 2014
To the Master Collection ToC The KISS Grammar Home Page

KISS Grammar
Level 6.6 Syntax and Writing

Introduction
Reading, Writing, and Syntax
General Sentence Models
Quotations/Writing Prompts
Transitions
Writing - Comparison/Contrast Paragraphs
Writing -- Comparison/Contrast Essays
Writing - General to Specific
See also KISS Level 6.1 - Studies in Punctuation

Suggestions for Parents and Teachers: From My Side of the Desk

Introduction

     Perhaps the most important reason for developing a conscious understanding of syntax is to improve one's writing. If I live long enough, I plan on developing this section with a number of writing assignments. (That is, after all, what I get paid to teach.) For now, it consists of "Reading, Writing, and Syntax" projects. The plan is to include one of these projects at the end of each "Practice/Application" booklet.
     Two other types of exercises are also included here -- "General Sentence Models, and "Quotation/Writing Prompts." On-line, these have tentatively been put into planned "Syntax and Writing" booklets, booklets that will be developed if I have world enough and time. I have also added some instructional materials and an exercise with a syntactic perspective  on transitions. The logical use of semicolons, colons, and dashes for comparison/contrast and amplification is addressed in KISS Level 3.1.1 (Main Clauses).

Reading, Writing, and Syntax

     Writing textbooks often discuss the importance of what they call "invention" in writing. In essence, this means that writers have to have ("invent") things to say. Weak writers often do not have anything to say, and as a result, their sentences are short and simple. They think of an idea --"I live in a house." They then stop and think of what to say next -- "The house is big." They stop and think. "The house is brown." They stop and think. "The house is on a corner." They stop and think. The writer who knows what she wants to say, on the other hand, writes, "I live in a big brown house on a corner." In different words, the hands of weak writers are often waiting for the brain to supply additional ideas, whereas the stronger writer's hand is often racing to keep up with the brain. My example, of course, is simplistic, but I hope it conveys the idea.
     The importance of this idea struck me when I asked my remedial students to read two versions of a tale from Shakespeare, and then write their own versions of the tale, in class, without looking at either of the originals. (All they could use was a list of the characters' names, place names, and dates.) They did very much better than I expected, not only by including details, but also in the sophistication of their sentences. In essence, this type of assignment side-steps the problems of invention, thereby leaving the students hands in the position of having to keep up with their brains -- more gets put into each sentence.
     Each unit includes a relatively short text. The students should read the text, preferably more than once, and then write their own versions of that text without looking at the original. Each "unit" also includes one or two analytical exercises based on sentences from that text. Teachers may want to have the students do the exercises -- or skip them. The important thing is to have the students write their own versions, and then analyze all or part of what they wrote -- for prepositional phrases, S/V/C patterns, etc., depending on the KISS level within which they are working. If time allows, you can have the students work in small groups to check each others' responses and their syntactic analysis of their own writing. This will allow the students to get an informal, subjective sense of how their own writing compares to that of their classmates.

General Sentence Models

      Model sentences for writing have been included in the exercises for various grammatical constructions, but additional models are being collected here. Those that are collected here usually include a short passage for analysis, a passage that includes the model sentence(s). The model sentences are then presented and discussed, and students are asked to write sentences that use the same constructions in basically the same combinations.

Quotation/Writing Prompts

      Students are often given short passages or sentences as prompts for writing. The KISS exercises collected here simply ask students to analyze the syntax of the prompts. (This should make most students look at the meaning of the prompt more carefully. In some cases, students are also given suggestions for organizing their written response to the prompt.

      A green background in the right (grade-level) column indicates that the exercise is in the printable version.
Reading, Writing, and Syntax

Level 1

"Little Red Riding-Hood" (Version by  E. Louise Smythe) ToC  
"Fritz and Dan -- In the Spring Pasture" ToC  
"Charlemagne and the Charcoal-burner," from Golden Deeds ToC  
"Antonio Canova," from Golden Deeds ToC  
"Catherine Douglas," from Golden Deeds ToC  
Basic directions for the students' analysis of their own versions:
1.) Place parentheses around each prepositional phrase.
2.) Underline every verb twice, their subjects once, and label complements.
3.) Draw an arrow from every adjective and adverb to the word it modifies.
Note that, because they have not yet studied the complexities of S/V/C patterns and of prepositional phrases, students should be expected to make numerous "mistakes."

Level 2

"Jonah and the Whale," from Annual Mammoth Book ToC  
"Why the Sea Is Salt," by Holbrook ToC  
"Damon and Pythias," from Golden Deeds ToC  
"The Story of Columbus," from Golden Deeds ToC  
"Handel, the Great Musician," from Golden Deeds ToC  
Basic directions for the students' analysis of their own versions:
1.) Place parentheses around each prepositional phrase.
2.) Underline every verb twice, their subjects once, and label complements.

Level 3.1

"Androcles and the Lion" ToC  
  ToC  
"The Three Little Butterfly Brothers" (A German Fairy Tale)  ToC  
Basic directions for the students' analysis of their own versions:
1.) Place parentheses around each prepositional phrase.
2.) Underline every verb twice, their subjects once, and label complements.
3.) Place brackets [ ] around each subordinate clause. If the clause functions as a noun, label its function. If it functions as an adjective or adverb, draw an arrow from the opening bracket to the word that the clause modifies. 
4.) Place a vertical line after each main clause.

Level 3.2

"Casabianca," from Golden Deeds  ToC  
"William Tell," from Golden Deeds  ToC  
Basic directions for the students' analysis of their own versions:
1.) Place parentheses around each prepositional phrase.
2.) Underline every verb twice, their subjects once, and label complements.
3.) Place brackets [ ] around each subordinate clause. If the clause functions as a noun, label its function. If it functions as an adjective or adverb, draw an arrow from the opening bracket to the word that the clause modifies. 
4.) Place a vertical line after each main clause.

Level 4

  ToC  
"How Horatius Kept the Bridge," from Golden Deeds  ToC  
Basic directions for the students' analysis of their own versions:
1.) Place parentheses around each prepositional phrase.
2.) Underline every verb twice, their subjects once, and label complements.
3.) Place brackets [ ] around each subordinate clause. 
4.) Place a vertical line after each main clause.
General Sentence Models
Sentence Models from "The Gingerbread Boy"  ToC IG1
Writing Your Own Version of "The Gingerbread Boy" ToC IG1
"Echo and Narcissus," Adapted from Ovid
ID Exercise Text AK ToC G5W
Writing and Style Assignment #1 Writing and Style Assignment #2
"Hyacinthus," Adapted from Ovid
ID Exercise Writing and Style Assignment Text AK ToC G5W

 
Quotations/Writing Prompts
Marcus Aurelius, "Man has three relations . . . ."   G11W
From Loren Eiseley's The Unexpected Universe ToC G11W
Transitions

     Instructional material (and exercises) on transitions are difficult to develop because transitions are little words and phrases that are4 meaningful only between much larger sections of texts—sentences, and more importantly, paragraphs. Thus the following is suggestive, but it is best applied within the context of the students’ own writing. As always, you are welcome to adapt this for your own purposes.
Transitions through Conjunctive Adverbs: Notes for Teachers

     Conjunctive adverbs (and prepositional phrases that function as conjunctive adverbs) are primarily used to indicate logical relationships between sentences. They therefore create transitions from one sentence or idea to the next. A writer’s use of these adverbs helps readers to smoothly follow the direction of thought and thereby to understand why the writer is moving from one idea or topic to the next. Effective use of these transitional words indicates to readers that the writer sees the logical connections in the ideas that are being explained in the essay.
     The degree to which writers should use transitions depends on their impression of the intended audience. Weaker readers tend to read every word, every sentence, as equally important. They often miss the generalization of thesis and topic sentences as compared to the detailed examples of supporting sentences. (If you do not believer that, look at the notes that some students make on what they read—they highlight or make notes of specific examples, but miss what they are examples of.) Weak readers miss the logical connections created by subordinating conjunctions, and they often have problems distinguishing examples from main points.
     But the problems of weak readers are shared to some extent by even the best readers. When they are reading something on a topic that is unfamiliar to them, excellent readers appreciate “extra” transitions, not only because such transitions provide guidelines to the direction of thought, but also because they slow down the pace of the incoming new information. Consider the following two short essays on abstract and concrete words. They were written by college Freshmen. For more than twenty years, at the beginning of each semester I have asked students in my writing courses to grade and comment on these two essays.
 

Essay # 1
     In order to communicate ideas or facts to one another, we must use language. Within our language, there are several thousand words that represent several thousand ideas and objects. The words that represent ideas, feelings, etc., we call “abstract.” Those that represent facts or things are known as “concrete.” 
     Abstract words are used to describe those things that we cannot fully understand. The nature of an abstraction is to never be completely describable or even to be thought of as the same by two people. Any emotion or belief is an abstraction: love, hate, God, time. Abstractions are not something that can be held in the hand or otherwise acknowledged with the senses.
     That which is concrete can be seen, felt, smelt, hit, tasted, eaten, heard, combed, ridden, built, or walked on. It is something that can be touched or proven with data: dates of birth, the weight of a piano, the length of a chair leg, a birth, a piano, a chair leg. These are things that are easily understood by all to be the same (although with adjectives we can distinguish a human birth from a hippo and a Chippendale from a Heppler White.)
     Some words serve a dual purpose as abstractions and concrete words. A man’s death can be observed and located in time and space. We do not yet know, however, what death is, what time is, what is truly a man, or whether we truly observe or just convince others that we observe. The mind of man is too limited and his lines of communication too poor to be able to tell for sure what is real and unreal, concrete and abstract.

Essay # 2

     Abstract and concrete words can be any form of a word; the word can be an adjective, verb, noun, etc. The difference in the words is not only the spelling, but also what they mean. All words fall under the category of abstract or concrete. 
     Abstract words are words that cannot be visualized mentally. A word such as “thinking”: everyone knows what it is, but you can’t see it. Abstract words can be nouns, but with these kinds of nouns a person cannot have this thing in front of him and be able to reach out and touch it. 
     Concrete words are a bit different than abstract words. Concrete words can be visualized. A person may have a stereotype of what this looks like that he or she can mentally visualize. A word such as “chair” is a concrete word. If a chair was sitting in front of you, you could reach out and touch it, or a person may have a stereotype of a chair in his or her head. They may think “chair” and mentally visualize a wooden thing with four legs with an upright back that you sit on; then again they may think of a Lazyboy Recliner as a good stereotype. 
     The main difference in these words is whether it is something that you mentally visualize or reach out and touch it or if it is something that can’t be seen, touched, tasted, etc. The only thing that these two words really have in common is that they are both words.


Each semester, more than half of the students claim that the second essay is better and “easier to understand.” This is not the place to explore the numerous problems with that second essay, but I will suggest that the writer of the first essay is probably a better writer and thinker than I am. He is, however, a lean, mean writing machine – he expects his audience to be sharp thinkers who will catch the direction of his thought without much guidance. I myself did not see much of the excellence of this essay the first time I read it. (I hope that I gave it an “A.”) He used very few transitional phrases. In the version that follows, I have indicated the words or phrases that could be interpreted as transitional within the original in bold, italic red. I have also added several transitions, indicated in bold, underlined blue: 
 

     In order to communicate ideas or facts to one another, we must use language. Within our language, there are several thousand words that represent several thousand ideas and objects. The words that represent ideas, feelings, etc., we call "abstract." Those that represent facts or things, on the other hand, are known as "concrete." 
     Abstract words are used to describe those things that we cannot fully understand. As a result, the nature of an abstraction is to never be completely describable or even to be thought of as the same by two people. Thus any emotion or belief is an abstraction: for example, love, hate, God, time. Abstractions are consequently not something that can be held in the hand or otherwise acknowledged with the senses.
     Unlike the abstract, that which is concrete can be, for instance, seen, felt, smelt, hit, tasted, eaten, heard, combed, ridden, built, or walked on. It is, in other words, something that can be touched or proven with data: for example, specific numbers that describe things -- dates of birth, the weight of a piano, the length of a chair leg, or the physical things themselves -- a birth, a piano, a chair leg. These are, in fact, things that are easily understood by all to be the same (although with adjectives we can distinguish a human birth from a hippo's and a Chippendale from a Heppler White.) 
     Some words, unfortunately, serve a dual purpose as both abstractions and concrete words. A man's death, for instance, can be observed and located in time and space. We do not yet know, however, what death is, what time is, what is truly a man, or whether we truly observe or just convince others that we observe. The mind of man is, regrettably, too limited and his lines of communication too poor to be able to tell for sure what is real and unreal, concrete and abstract.


By my count, the original writer used four words as transitions. I have added forty. The first thing I need to note is that college teachers will disagree among themselves as to which is the better version. Most would probably want to see something in between the two. Added to the 277 words in the original, forty words increase the length of the text by about fourteen percent – without adding much, if anything, to what it means. The additional words, however, do help many readers follow the writer's line of thought, and thus understand the meaning. As so often in writing, we are faced with a trade-off – in this case, brevity, or clarity.
     As noted above, many students have not been taught either to distinguish main ideas from examples or to challenge the sensibility of the examples that a writer gives. Thus many students objected to “that which is concrete can be seen, felt, smelt, hit, tasted, eaten, heard, combed, ridden, built, or walked on.” They considered it to be too “wordy,” because they did not perceive the string of verbs as instances (examples) of the concept “concrete.” As a result of that misperception, they did not examine at least some of the words in that string {”combed,” “built,” etc.) to determine whether or not they would agree that such things can be considered “concrete.” Many students did precisely the same thing with the second sentence in the final paragraph – “A man’s death can be observed and located in time and space.” Instead of seeing it as the beginning of an example, many students objected that it simply runs off on a completely unrelated topic. And as a result of such “weak” reading, they did not understand the entire essay. Transitional words, such as those that I added, help readers avoid this type of mistake.
     You may have noted that I added and underlined a number of words that are not normally considered either conjunctive adverbs or transitional. I did so as a result of having used this essay with students for almost two decades, and having seen the problems that students have with it. The most prominent example of this is in the sentence: 

It is, in other words, something that can be touched or proven with data: for example, specific numbers that describe things -- dates of birth, the weight of a piano, the length of a chair leg, or the physical things themselves -- a birth, a piano, a chair leg.
When we first read this essay, many students claimed that the writer was being repetitive -- “birth” and “birth”; “piano” and “piano”; “leg” and “leg.” In effect, they were reading words rather than the ideas that the words represent, and thus they missed the significant distinction between the numerical and the physical. The writer made a very neat, but unfortunately for some readers, very fast transition from one type of example to another. Some readers will catch the transition without the transitional words and explanations; others won’t. 
     I frequently tell students in class – “K.I.S.S. Keep It Simple because the instructor (That’s me.) is Stupid.” In this context, that means When in doubt, use transitional words and phrases. Students may be brilliant, but if their readers (including instructors) cannot follow the twists and turns in the direction of their thought, the students are the ones who are making bad choices, they’re the ones who are being stupid. (Remember that a primary definition of “stupid’ is “characterized as making bad choices.”) Don’t blame readers (including instructors). Readers have lives, interests, and problems of their own. If writers want readers to follow the logic of their writing, it is their job to lead readers through it. Transitional words are a very effective tool for so doing.
 
An Exercise on Conjunctive Adverbs - -
Transitions from Paragraph to Paragraph: Notes for Teachers

     Several years ago, a very good student came back to ask me about transitions. She had, she said, failed a writing proficiency exam in her area of study, and she had been told that her transitions were bad. I guessed that she was talking about transitions between paragraphs. To be honest, I had not been putting much emphasis on them. But when I talked with members of her department, I learned that I was right—the problem was transitions between paragraphs. Such transitions are extremely difficult to teach. Before one can really even think about them, there must be something to transition from, and something to transition to. In other words, the writer must first be able to build detailed paragraphs and put them into an organized sequence. At this point in the development of KISS grammar, I simply do not have the time to focus on the transitions in complete papers. The following suggestions, however, may be useful in working with your own students in the context of their papers.

     Some students have been taught (poorly) to include transitions at the ends of paragraphs. That is a bad idea. Transitions between paragraphs should reflect the logical organization of a paper, and when a person browses through a paper, they do so by looking at the beginnings of paragraphs, not the endings. If an instructors has doubts about the grade they should give a paper, they will probably scan through it. If the transitions are hidden at the ends of paragraphs, they will most likely be missed—and the grade will suffer.
     Some students have been taught to use words such as “first,” “second,” “next” and “finally” as transitions between paragraphs. These words are better than nothing, but they are not very good. What is the reason for the first being first? It often turns out that the only reason is that the “first” was the first that came into the student’s mind—there was no thought given to the organization of the paper.
     Better transitions probably require prepositional phrases. For example, suppose a student is writing about a person. In one paragraph, she gives examples of that person’s helpfulness to others; the next paragraph describes that person’s leadership abilities. A fair transition (in a topic sentence) might be, “In addition to her helpfulness, Ms. Macadam is an excellent leader.” This transition establishes a very simple logical relationship (the similarity of addition) between the topics of the paragraphs. A better topic sentence, if it were true, might be “More important than her helpfulness, Ms. Macadam is an excellent leader.”
     Perhaps the best transitions involve either subordinate clauses or the basic subject / verb / complement pattern of the topic sentence.

[paragraph on helpfulness]
     Although Ms. Macadam’s helpfulness benefits many people, her leadership abilities benefit many more both by the examples she sets and by her ability to work with people. [supporting sentences on leadership]
or
[paragraph on helpfulness]
Ms. Macadam’s helpfulness results in her ability to lead others, both by example and by temperment. [supporting sentences on leadership]
Good transitions emphasize the basic logic of a paper. That means that in order to get them, a paper needs to be well thought out. Some students, however, do write well-thought-out papers, but fail to include good transitions. This is like hiding their light under a bucket. 
 
Writing -- Comparison/Contrast Paragraphs
(Semicolons)
Notes for Teachers
The following one needs to be moved.
Famous Quotations Exercise # 1 AK ToC -
Cats and Dogs? ToC 1YM; IG6
Two Portraits by Gainsborough ToC IG11
From Robert L. Heilbroner's The Worldly Philosophers
A Study in Semicolons (Ex # 4) AK ToC 1YM; IG12
Comparison/Contrast Writing Assignment
Writing -- Comparison/Contrast Essays
Write an essay in which you compare two versions of a Tale from Shakespeare IG12
Writing -- General to Specific
(Colons and Dashes)

 
From "Why The Hoofs of The Deer Are Split," by Florence Holbrook  Text AK ToC 1YM
Studies in the Essay
Golding, William. "Thinking as a Hobby" (9 selections) Text ToC -