12 Ways to improve writing at GCSE. 5-8: Sentence Structures

  1. The marking criteria for English include the following statements:

At Grade ‘D’ you need to use some variety of sentence structures to achieve effects.

At Grade ‘C’ you must use a range of sentence structures to create effects.

The mark scheme for writing in the exams says that in the B/C band, the candidate is expected to ‘use sentence forms for effect’, and at the A*/A band to ‘use full range of appropriate sentence structures.”

You can usefully focus on sentence structures in the light of:

  1. clause mobility around the main verb. eg. ‘With his eyes fixed on the leopard, he moved slowly back to the tree.’ / ‘He moved slowly back to the tree, his eyes fixrd on the leopard.’ / ‘He moved slowly, his eyes fixed on the leopard, back to the tree.’ / ‘With his eyes fixed on the leopard, back to the tree, slowly, he moved.’
  2. varying the sentence structure from subject/verb/object to verb/object/subject or object/subject/verb. ‘Reclining on the Axminster was the feline.’ or ‘On the Axminster reclined the feline.’ [Note the vocabulary choices there: a feline is a cat; Axminster is a type of carpet. These sentences are designed to show how in both sentence structure and vocabulary, students are expected to go well beyond the obvious: ‘The cat sat on the mat.’]
  3. reproducing mood and movement in sentence forms. eg. ‘ It was there. It was there in front of him, in the dark. It was there in front of him, in the dark and clearly angry.’ or ‘With an effortless pull of the rope, a looping around the stump, a quick knot and a swift covering with the branch, the boat was secure and out of sight.’
  4. developing subordination within sentences rather than relying on co-ordination. eg. compare ‘I got up early this morning and felt good about the day’ with ‘Feeling good about the day, I got up early this morning’ or ‘Despite the fact that I got up early this morning, I felt good about the day.’ Similarly, ‘I disagree with you and think you should go now’ compared with ‘ Although I disagree with you, I think you should go now.”
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18 Responses to 12 Ways to improve writing at GCSE. 5-8: Sentence Structures

  1. louise hatliff says:

    Mr heald kicked the chair. The chair kicked Mr Heald.

  2. Mr Heald[ says:

    Thanks for posting this, Louise. Point 2 above gives the alternatives verb/object/subject or object/subject/verb. You have gone for object/verb/subject, which is interesting because unlike the others it completely changes the meaning of the sentence, so you can’t really use it as a technique for varying your sentence structure.

    Anyway, here’s an example of the kind of thing I was ideally looking for:

    On Tuesday, while cycling round racecourse roundabout, into the road, leading with my left shoulder and knee, I fell. I had, as usual, cautiously approached the junction, slowing down, checking right, slowing further, seeing traffic edging out, slowing, slowing, stopping. Stopped. Then appeared a gap. Go! I cranked the pedal hard, stomping on it as I stood out of the saddle, shooting across the carriageway, pulling up with my right foot as I stamped down with my left. Without warning, my foot was pressing on air. Meeting no resistance, towards the tarmac it rushed, pulling my leg behind it, and, behind my legs my torso, arms and head, converting some of my forward momentum into a sickening rotation that saw me rolling into the road, my bike left behind. Looking at the headlights of the car behind, I had enough time, as I was falling and rolling, to wonder if it would stop in time to avoid hitting my bike, to avoid hitting me.

    Compare this with the more straightforward sentence structure and vocabulary of:

    I fell into the road on Tuesday. I was cycling around the racecourse roundabout. My left shoulder and knee hit first. I had approached the junction cautiously as usual. I slowed down and looked right, then saw traffic coming out so I slowed further then I stopped. A gap appeared so I went. I pushed the pedal hard and stomped on it. I stood out of the saddle and shot across the road. I pulled up with my right foot and pushed down with my left. My foot slipped off the pedal without warning. My foot had nothing to push against so it rushed towards the ground with my legs, body, arms and head behind it. Some of my forward motion was converted into a turning movement so I rolled into the road. My bike was left behind. I looked at the headlights of the car behind. I was falling and rolling and I wondered if it would stop in time to avoid hitting me and my bike.

  3. Emma says:

    She sat thoughtfully before hitting the note, hoping it would make sense. She had arranged the sheets and papers resting on the top of the piano in an fashion which to anyone else would seem unorganised. She glanced at the glass of water on the left and back to the keys. She reached out for the written music amongst the sheets of paper only to knock the glass over all over them, loosing all the work she had made so far.

    Compared to

    Thoughtfully she sat hoping before hitting the note that it would make sense. In a fashion that would seem unorganised, she had arranged the sheets and papers on top of the piano. Glancing at the glass of water, that she had put to the left of the piano, then at the keys underneath her fingers she reached out for the written music which had been layed amongst all the sheets and papers, and knocked over the glass, spilling the water all over the work she had done so far.

    I hope that was the kind of thing you wanted.

  4. Mr Heald says:

    That’s right on the button, Emma. Well done. Actually, I think both versions read very well. This isn’t necessarily about one way of writing being ‘good’ and another ‘bad’; rather, it’s about variety and appropriateness. For example the second version of my writing would be much more appropriate for a witness statement if the accident had to be reported to the police or an insurance company, whereas the first version would be more appropriate as part of a work of fiction or literary autobiography. Just in case anyone’s wondering, it really happened, by the way.

    In the case of your two versions, I feel that the first makes the character seem particularly hesitant and nervous, and the reader is distanced to some degree from her (partly by the repeated use of the 3rd person pronoun ‘she’ at the beginning of several sentences). By contrast, the second makes her actions seem more fluid and organic. As readers we are much closer to her point of view, as it gives her thoughts and attitudes more prominence than her actions in the first couple of sentences. It also makes her actions more immediately present to the reader by the use of the ‘progressive’ forms of the verbs ‘glancing’ and ‘spilling’ (you could also have replaced ‘and knocked’ with ‘knocking’). Remember how we discussed that sense of immediacy created by ‘-ing’ verbs in Patrolling Barnegat?

    The only significant aspect of your sentence structure that needs addressing, Emma, is the use of commas between a subordinate and main clause. In the first version there’s no problem. In the second it needs to be: ‘Thoughtfully she sat, hoping before hitting the note that it would make sense’ and ‘Glancing at the glass of water that she had put to the left of the piano, then at the keys underneath her fingers, she reached out for the written music…’

  5. Laurie says:

    Having found the website, she began to type in her homework.
    When she found the website she began to type in her homework.

    Sat in her chair, eyes on the screen she began to type.
    Eyes on the screen, sat in her chair she began to type.

    She was sat in the chair.
    Sat in the chair was she.

    She sat in the front room. She sat in the front room at the computer. Legs crossed, eyes on the screen, she sat in the front room at the computer and began to type.

  6. Mr Heald says:

    Good grief, Laurie! Posting before 6am: you’re a phenomenon.

    There’s some interesting sentence variation there, but now we’ve had a couple of contributions I’m looking to raise the game a little. As I indicated in my last comment, varying your sentence structure only really comes into its own if you know why you’re doing it (rather than just because your teacher asked you to). For example can you suggest a context in which it might be more effective to write ‘sat in the chair was she’ rather than ‘she was sat in the chair’? (Incidentally, the grammar there is not standard English, though it is very widespread in the north of England: the standard English form would use ‘sitting’ (the present participle) rather than ‘sat’ otherwise it looks like a passive construction in which someone else sat her in the chair, eg. ‘The child was sat in the chair by her mother.’ which doesn’t mean the same as ‘she was sitting in the chair by her mother.’)

    Comma use also needs tweaking:

    “When she found the website, she began to type in her homework” (comma after subordinate clause that begins the sentence)
    “Sitting in her chair, eyes on the screen, she began to type” (commas around the ‘extra’ information in the phrase ‘eyes on the screen’ which could be taken out )

    Those of you coming to this task later, please include some refelection on the context and/or audience and/or purpose that the different versions of your writing would be appropriate for.

    Thank you.

  7. Elizabeth B says:

    *After gulping back the drink from the bottle the girl sighed with relief.
    *The girl sighed with relief after the drink which she gulped back from the bottle

    *With a huge smile on his face, looking positively downwards, happy with what he had achieved, but with little thought for the others involved, the man wallowed in the glory for his part in the race
    *Wallowing in the glory for his part in the race, with little thought for the others involved, but happy with what he had achieved, the man looking positively downwards, had a huge smile on his face.

    i hope this is the sort of thing you wanted

  8. Charlotte Ryng says:

    She stared at the computer screen, unsure of what to type. This homework didn’t seem very necessary to her. Quite the opposite in fact. So the young girl continued to stare. Timidly, she hit the keyboard. The keyboard didn’t take kindly to this. In fact, it was infuriated. Now she was being hit by the keyboard. Terrified by it’s action, the girl beat it into submission with her mother’s coffee mug.

    1. The first sentence could be rearranged to say; ‘Unsure of what to type, she stared at the computer screen.’ OR ‘She stared, unsure of what to type, at the computer screen.’

    2. ‘Timidly, she hit the keyboard’ could have read ‘The keyboard was hit timidly by her.’ (I don’t like how that sounds though) OR ‘Hit timidly by her, the keyboard was.’ (Sounds too much like Yoda). Couldn’t think of a S.O.V. sentence that could be rearranged easily but the point is, I get it.

  9. Mr Heald says:

    10.33pm. That’s a bit more like it, Charlotte! I take it you’re not a Lost fan, then?

    Your first example in point 2 shows the difference between active and passive constructions: the latter tend to sound rather more formal and ‘wordy’ which is perhaps why you didn’t like it. The Yoda reference is interesting. Of course it is precisely the kind of control of sentence structure we’re working on here that allows George Lucas to give Yoda such a distinctive speech style.

    I also notice that you’ve used a ‘minor sentence’ (one that is technically grammatically incomplete) in ‘Quite the opposite in fact’ which has no verb.Immediately afterwards you have started a sentence with the co-ordinating conjunction ‘so’ which again is technically non-standard. In both cases, however, it is clear that you are using these techniques deliberately and that they are not mistakes.

    I take it that everyone else if preparing to do an ‘all-nighter’ on their homework, so I should have plenty to read tomorrow.

  10. James Arnold says:

    The man stared deep into the picture.
    Deep into the picture, the man stared.
    Deep into the picture stared the man.
    The man, deep into the picture, stared.

    The man shouted at the top of the hill.
    At the top of the hill the man shouted.

    He looked. He looked into the dark forest. He looked into the dark forest but couldn’t see it.

    He got back up after falling to the floor.
    Having fallen to the floor he got back up.

    I hope this is ok, I’m not feeling too confident.

  11. Mr Heald says:

    Don’t worry, James. At least you’re here!

    You have successfully picked up on some of the ‘mechanics’ of sentence structure variation, and have reproduced examples that are similar to the ones given. This is an important starting point. However, the real test is whether you can use these techniques in continuous writing in real contexts. If you look at the examples from me, Emma and Charlotte, you can see that the differing sentence structures have been put into pieces of writing that could be used in real tasks.

    You, Laurie and Elizabeth (sorry, Elizabeth – I didn’t mean to ignore you) have produced sentences that are isolated and without a clear sense of the different contexts, purposes and audiences they would be suitable for.

  12. matty beaglehole says:

    the boy apoligised to his teacher for missing two deadlines for his homework.
    for missing two deadlines for his homework apoligised to the teacher the boy did
    for missing two deadlines for his homework the boy apoligised to his teacher

    running. running for the trees. running for the trees and the cover of darkness. running for the trees and the cover of darkness to avoid her per persuer (by building the sentences up in this way i feel that it builds tension. the first sentences is just a word and means little on its on, the following sentences tells us wt we are running 2 and also helps create tension and uncertainty – well thts wt i think)

    look forward to hearing ur comments: again sorry for the l8ness and i am looking forward to watching the rest of the film!

  13. Mr Heald says:

    Cheers Matty. Hey, I’ve just thought: I should be getting paid overtime for this. I’m getting more teaching done sitting on the settee with my feet up than I do in class. This is the future of education!

    I like the way you (like Charlotte & Laurie) have used the process of doing the homework as subject matter in the first examples. The middle sentence doesn’t actually work grammatically. The verb phrase is ‘did apologise’ (not ‘did apologised so it would have to be: “For missing two deadlines for his homework, apologise to the teacher the boy did.” But even that sounds very odd, doesn’t it? Like putting the subject and auxiliary verb at the end of the clause we don’t, unless Yoda we are.

    I think your comments on the ‘running’ sequence of sentences are perceptive, though all of them are minor sentences (none has a main clause). What happens if you reverse the structure?

    Running for the trees and the cover of darkness to avoid her pursuer. Running for the trees and the cover of darkness. Running for the trees. Running.

    I think the tension and uncertainty you refer to disappears. Instead, we get a sense of the character struggling, perhaps slowing down and petering out; running, yes, but no longer succeeding in avoiding ‘her pursuer’.

    Or how about:

    Running for the trees and the cover of darkness. Running for the trees. Running. Running for the trees and the cover of darkness to avoid her pursuer. ?

  14. Warren Deacey says:

    The man was driving up the road towards the house. As he looked back he could see the gleaming headlights of the truck behind him getting closer by the second. There was nothing he could do; he was going to get caught.

    Towards the house up the road the man was driving. He saw, as he looked back by the second the gleaming headlights of the truck behind him got closer. He was going to get caught there was nothing he could do.

    not sure if that is right

  15. Siobhan McMillan says:

    Her mother was stood behind her with a disaproving look on her face.
    With a disaproving look on her face, behind her, stood her mother.

    The music began to ring in her ears
    Her ears began to ring from the music

    The way the girls shouted at her made her want to run away.
    Running away seemed like a good idea when the girls started to shout at her.

    I’m not too sure if the last ones right.

  16. Elizabeth H says:

    The girl picked up the book and angrily threw it at the wall.
    Angrily, the girl picked up the book and threw it at the wall.
    Picking up the book, the girl, angrily, threw it at the wall.

    The cat stetched, sleepily, on the chair
    Sleepily, the cat stretched on the chair.
    On the chair, the cat sleepily stretched.
    Stetching sleepily on the chair was the cat.

    He crept down the stairs. He crept down the stairs, quietly. He kept down the stairs, quietly and with great caution. Great caution not to make a sound.

    She opened the present rapidly, with a feeling of great anticipation.
    With a feeling of great anticipation, she rapidly opened the present.
    Rapidly, with a feeling of great anticipation, she opened the present.

    I hope that was what you were looking for sir – and sorry its so late!!!

    Also – i wasnt sure which peices of coursework we were supposed to have done, because i have a feeling that i have some pieces missing, and others that could be improved on. Could you please let me know what the different pieces were, so i can get them all completed?

    Hope you had a nice Christmas sir!

  17. Dario Rydel says:

    There was something in the room with them, growling with luminous, hungry eyes.

    Growling with luminous, hungry eyes; in the room with them, something was there.

    In the room with them, there was something growling with luminous, hungry eyes.

    I think the second sentence is the one that is going to be used if the writer/author etc. was trying to convey a feeling of suspense because, although none of the sentences say what the something is, the second sentence leaves it until the last minute to say that the something is a ‘something,’ if that makes sense?

    Stood before them was the grandest, most beautiful building they had ever laid eyes on.

    The grandest, most beautiful building they had ever laid eyes on was stood before them.

    I don’t think that there are any other ways of arranging the sentence to make it sound like it makes sense (as in, it doesn’t sound yoda-ish). The use of the second sentence would be to emphasise the fact that the building was grand and beautiful (i think) whereas the first sentence would be used if the attention was to be drawn to the fact that this is the opinion of ‘them.’

    I hope that i put what you were looking for… because I’m not entirely sure that I have! Happy new year though sir!

  18. Pingback: Varying sentence structures « Mr Heald’s GCSE English Online

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