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Sentence Patterning Author(s): Richard B. Larsen Reviewed work(s): Source: College Composition and Communication, Vol. 37, No.

1 (Feb., 1986), pp. 103-104 Published by: National Council of Teachers of English Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/357390 . Accessed: 01/12/2012 23:53
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StaffroomInterchange Sentence Patterning, Richard B. Larsen, Francis Marion College, South Carolina

103

This note is a follow-up to Donna Gorrell's enlightening CCC article, "Controlled Composition for Basic Writers" (October, 1981). With gratitude to her as well as to the various textbooks based on the controlled-composition principle and to generative grammar itself, I would like to propose a necessary bridge between strict copying and independent composing. I call it "Sentence Patterning," and in basic courses using controlled-composition exercises it fits in right after whatever copying occupies the first weeks of the semester. At about week four of my courses I hand out a mimeo sheet (entitled "Sentence Patterning," naturally) that, after an introductory note on completers and modifiers, looks like this: SV = subject-verb core sc = subordinating conjunction cc = coordinating conjunction ca = conjunctive adverb phr = opening participial or prepositional phrase 1. simple sentence--SV. example: The student walked to campus. 2. complex sentence-SV sc SV. or sc SV, SV. examples: The student walked to campus while her roommate rode the bus. Although the student walked to campus, her roommate rode the bus. 3. compound sentence--SV, cc SV. example: The student walked to campus, but her roommate rode the bus. 4. semicolon sentence--SV; ca, SV. example: The student walked to campus; however, her roommate rode the bus. 5. phrase-start sentence-phr, SV. or phr, (any of above SV combinations). example: Walking to campus in the cold, the student wished that she had taken the bus. Students are advised that all of their sentences must fit one or another of these familiar and manageable patterns. This instruction is fairly easy for them to follow or at least to get accustomed to, since the classwork that ensues consists of composition of sentences until the patterns are firmly established in the students' minds. As the course progresses to paragraph composition, they must continue to use the five sentence types within their paragraphs, choosing types and arranging them to the best effect. Thus "independent" writing is not truly independent, and desirably so: the patterns continue to provide direction and support for struggling young writers. As a supplement to this schematization of basic sentence types, I provide restrictive lists of the most common subordinators, coordinators, and conjunctive adverbs, with related punctuation, as in Table 1, page 104. While this would be a severely limiting list for sophisticated writers, it is in fact wide enough in range and sufficiently adaptable for almost all writing situations. With their Patterning sheets and conjunction lists before them, most students can get their sentences to say what they want without excessive fretting over potential violations of syntactical rules; sentence structure becomes that much less of a problem for the basic writer. In class I like to draw an analogy between the use of this material and a problem-solving procedure in mathematics class. The major "unknown" in basic composition courses is a correctly con-

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104 Table 1

and Communication CollegeComposition

sc (inc. relative pronouns)for type 2 sentences


although because whereas unless until while if after since which that who(m)

ccfor type 3 sents.


,and ,but ,or ,so

ca (inc. transitional phrases)for type 4 sentences


;however, ;then ;therefore, ;furthermore, ;meanwhile, ;similarly, ;on the other hand, ;as a result, ;for example,

structed sentence. The "formula" to use in solving for this unknown is the Patterning sheet; the lists "hint" at solutions. Students are instructed both to keep their sentences short (10-30 words in length) and, either as they compose or in final proofreading (or both, in severe cases), to check each and every sentence against the sheet. Comma splices are virtually eliminated because, as SV, SV sequences, they do not fit any of the patterns; nor does a typical fragment, presented as, say, sc SV. Instructors know that, with developmental students, sentences containing more than two clauses tend to fall apart in one way or another; that is why all of the patterns are of one or two clauses. Compound-complex or compound sentences with three clauses are nice to encounter in a student's work, but not if that student tends to err half the times he or she attempts one. The second and fifth patterns allow students to vary the openings of their sentences and avoid to some degree a monotonous prose style. Whatever the variations, the principle of restricting options in order to ensure correctness-the principle underlying controlled composition-works nearly as well in this bridge step, and for the same basic reasons as in controlled composition. As for fleshing out sentences and thoughts with modifiers and completers, that is not the problem it might appear to be. Once the subject-verb core is established, one has a simple enough job to show students the placement of other sentence elements, especially since students have probably been using modifiers all along (at least such has proved to be the case in my experience). But the idea of keeping individual sentences reasonably short and simple should not be abandoned, even when the students are ready to launch into multi-paragraph assignments, which is usually the next step in the sequence of lessons in the typical basic composition course. By the time they are ready for more sustained writing efforts, students will have learned from Sentence Patterning the fundamental ways of constructing sentences in English, and they should feel that much surer of themselves. Some may feel so secure, in fact, that they may be unwilling to go beyond the formulae provided by the sheet and its accompanying conjunction list. If so, there is no compelling reason why such students, who will probably never write "professionally" in any sense of the word, should abandon the comfort of tried and true patterns. What they lose in flexibility they more than make up for by establishing in their lives a manageable and generally foolproof method of constructing sentences.

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