The KISS Grammar Workbooks Back to April Menu
Notes for the Selections from
The Trumpet of the Swan, by E. B. White
L6.1  Punctuatiom L1.8 Sentence-Combining
Exercises that Focus on Characterization
Ex #1 AK SC Punct G4 L3.1-PA L6.1 Punct
Ex #2 AK SC Punct - L6.1 Punct
Ex #3 AK SC Punct - L6.3
Exercises that Focus on Style
Ex #4 AK SC Punct - L6.3
Ex #5 AK SC Punct G4; IG4 L1.4 CC
Ex #6 AK SC Punct G4 L1.5 PP
Ex #7 AK SC Punct IG 5 L3.2.1; L6.3

      The Trumpet of the Swan is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, yet it should be relatively easy reading for most fourth graders. It is a story of the overcoming of a handicap, a story of adventure, of love, of honor, of life, and even of death. It is told with warmth, humor, and understanding. I would recommend it for every child's library.
     During the second half of fourth grade, after students have done some basic exercises in the identification of S/V/C patterns, their review of what they have learned can be integrated with something that they are reading. This group of exercises illustrates what that review might include.
     Because this is such an excellent book, I have used numerous short passages from it. But I have also used some because they focus on characterization. Specific suggestions for using them in this way are given below. I have also created a punctuation exercise for each passage. Students can be given that exercise first. Ideally, they will discuss their answers in class and then compare them to White's punctuation of each passage. Not only should these exercises help students with the rules of punctuation and capitalization, they should also suggest to the students the purpose of the "rules" for punctuating. I was going to skip the sentence-combining exercises, but I decided that these passages, and especially the compounding that is so typical in them, might make excellent combining exercises for fourth graders.
     All passages and page references are from the 1970 Harper & Row edition. This edition appears to be out of print, but other editions of The Trumpet of the Swan are available at Amazon. Louis's favorite song is "Beautiful Dreamer." To listen to a midi file of the song*, click here.

Selection # 1: "The description of Sam" (pp. 1-2)

     In terms of sentence structure, most of the S/V/C patterns in this passage should be easy for fourth graders to identify. The gerunds and gerundives, however, will present them with a little challenge, as will the infinitive used as a subject. In other words, the passage includes a lot that students should be able to get (thereby increasing their confidence), but at the same time it should present them with enough new material to keep the exercise from being boring. Depending on what they have already done, students might be surprised to learn that "Much" functions as the subject of "is." (This still surprises my college Freshmen.)
     This passage also makes a nice exercise for the literary study of characterization. Ask the students to think of one or two adjectives or nouns -- that are not in the text -- that describe (characterize) Sam. For example, he is brave, adventurous, careful, and an experienced woodsman. Ask the students to put those adjectives and nouns in a topic sentence and write a paragraph to support it. For example:

     Sam is brave, adventurous, careful, and an experienced woodsman. He is brave because he is traveling in a wild place where there is no trail. If he gets lost, it will be a serious matter. He is adventurous because he is going through a swamp where no one had made a trail. He is, however, careful because he checks his course every four or five minutes. Because he is traveling alone, this all shows that he is an experienced woodsman.
Selection # 2: "Sam's Diary Entry" (pp. 5-6)

     The identification exercise for this selection is adequate, but nothing special; the punctuation exercise is o.k.; and the sentence-combining exercise is weak because so many of the sentences in the original are themselves simple. My primary reason for selecting this passage is that it raises interesting questions about teaching characterization to fourth graders.
     Ideally, a characterization should probably be made in terms of nouns and adjectives which name the person's characteristics. Each characteristic can then be supported by S/V or S/V/DO statements that give examples of that quality. [See the example for Selection #1.] Finding appropriate nouns and adjectives can be challenging, even for college students. The significantly more limited vocabulary of fourth graders increases the difficulty. Sam is speculative -- he hypothesizes that there are four eggs in the nest. He is inquisitive -- he asks why foxes bark. Most fourth graders, however, will probably not be able to come up with "speculative" and "inquisitive."
     As a result, we should probably let fourth graders develop their characterizations with verb phrases when they cannot find the appropriate noun or adjective. Thus, for example,

Sam likes to ask questions. He asks twice why a fox barks. He also likes to guess at the answers. He suggests that they may be mad, or worried, or hungry.
Since the evidence in this passage is not extensive, a better characterization would be "Sam probably likes to ask questions," but we need to remember that we are talking about fourth graders here. As with the grammar, we need to take one step at a time. I would also accept "Sam asks questions" as a characterization. But "Sam asked a question" is not; it is a statement of fact. A characterization is a generalization -- a conclusion inductively based on multiple occurrences. Stealing a cookie once does not make one a thief. For some people this is a very fine, perhaps even obscure distinction, but it is also the foundation of all inductive thought.
     If the students have read the book, you can have them do a characterization of Sam based on just this selection and then have them extend that characterization by finding other examples of the same characteristic in the rest of the book. They will find a lot of examples of Sam's inquisitiveness. And more examples will mean longer and more detailed paragraphs.

Selection # 3: Louis's Father's Description of Him (p. 74)

     What I was really after in this selection are those compound complements in the last sentence that characterize Louis. I didn't note that complex, heavily ellipsed clause structure in the first part of the selection until I already had it in. But instead of deleting it, I left it in. Some parents, teachers, and students might find it interesting and challenging. Those who don't can simply delete the beginning of this selection and start with "But I am Louis's father." In using this selection with fourth graders, the most interesting option might be the sentence combining. I doubt that any fourth grader will, without specific directions to try to do so, put all the complements in one main clause as White did, but how many clauses will fourth graders use? Unlike in the previous two selections, the punctuation exercise with this selection gives students some practice with quotation marks.
     In terms of literary characterization, this selection is just the opposite of the first two. If the students have read the book, give them this exercise and ask them to select three or four of the characteristics listed by Louis's father and then support each one with two or more examples from the book. For example, what do we see that suggests that Louis is brave? Then they could write a paragraph (or more) as in the characterization exercise described for Selection #1.

Selection # 4: Louis's Father Approaches Billings (pp. 76-77)
     [Compound Verbs and Complements]

    This selection is relatively simple, but it is also probably a good model for nudging fourth graders into using more, and more specific, compound verbs and direct objects. Instead of White's penultimate sentence, many students would simply write "He saw many other instruments." It's easier and saves them the time and trouble of thinking of possible different instruments that he might have seen. It is also much duller writing (and hence reading). Thus, after students have analyzed this passage, you might want to have them write, preferably as part of a story that they are writing, sentences with compound verbs and compound direct objects. [Two statistical exercises are also based on this selection. See February 6.]

Selection # 5: The Head Man at the Zoo (p. 178)
     [Compound Verbs and Complements]

     I simply could not resist including this one. The compounding of direct objects is so extensive that it almost becomes silly. Fourth graders may even enjoy the humor of the sentence structure. The passage also raises a nice little moral question.

Selection # 6: Louis's Arrival in Boston (p. 117)
     [Introductory Prepositional Phrases]

     This is a very short exercise which I included simply because it includes a very interesting series of sentences that begin with prepositional phrases -- "Far beneath him was a river. Near the river was a park. In the park was a lake." This may also be a useful exercise because some of my college Freshmen still ask me if a subject can be after its verb. The results from the sentence-combining version should be interesting because it is almost identical to White's original.

Selection # 7: Louis Plays his Trumpet at the Zoo (p. 158)
     [Compound Subjects and Ellipsed Finite Verbs]

     With exercises on compound complements and compound verbs, it only made sense to include one with compound subjects. This passage, however, also includes ellipsed finite verbs.

     The style and especially the syntactic complexity of The Trumpet of the Swan is probably reflected in the selections chosen for these exercises fairly accurately. The sentences are, as a rule, relatively simply structured, and there are tons of compounds -- subjects, verbs, and complements -- in the text. This does not mean that there are no syntactically advanced constructions in the text. One example that caught my eye was the noun absolutes in:
     "Look out!" he trumpeted. "Look out for the fox, who is creeping toward you even as I speak, his eyes bright, his bushy tail out straight, his mind lusting for blood, his belly almost touching the ground! You are in grave danger, and we must act immediately." (22)
Fourth grade is way too early to be teaching students about noun absolutes, but I point these out here simply to note that students probably best pick these up from their reading. As always, the more they read, the better they will write.
     There are many more selections that I would have liked to include from this beautiful book, but Ill end with a very short one for which you will probably not need analysis keys:
     She walked over to where her sleeping cygnets were and settled down next to them. The night was chill. (38)
Perhaps I took too many (or not enough) courses in philosophy, but I was struck by "The night was chill." At first I thought it was a typographical error, and I suppose it may be. On second thought, however, it appears to be just the right word. (I believe the great French stylist Flaubert calls it le mot juste.)  Not the adjective "cold," not the adjective "chilly," but the noun "chill." Those philosophy courses that I mentioned left me with the belief that adjectives label the qualities of things, nouns denote their essence. "Chill," therefore becomes stronger here, colder, than any adjective could possibly be.
     I may, of course, be wrong, but I mention it here because many of my college Freshmen don't appear to sense any difference between nouns and adjectives. Could that be because they cannot identify them, cannot label them? At least some philosophers and linguists claim that we cannot have a concept of something unless we have a label for it. The point? Instead of rushing fourth graders into advanced questions of clauses, or into verbals, etc., let's give them time to develop a sense of nouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositional phrases, and S/V/C patterns.

This border is  adapted from the cover illustration by Edward Frascino
for E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan, NY: Harper & Row, 1970.
       The midi file is from Rose's Music Pages, where you will also find the lyrics.