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08.19.14Hochman’s ‘But, Because, So’ Sentence Expansion Activity

expandingsentencesBeen reading through Judith Hochman’s Teaching Basic Writing Skills. Very compelling!  In it, she describes the power of writing as the most rigorous and challenging skill to learn, and wisely advises intense, consistent intentionality in teaching it- that is, not just having kids ‘write a lot’ but having them learn to create the basic forms of writing, especially the sentence, in a methodical progression that shows them how and has them complete exercises repeatedly until fluid.

An example of a productive exercise she suggests is “But, Because, So” in which students are asked to take a short independent clause and expand upon it using each of these three conjunctions.  Hochman advocates using a range of “sentence expansion” exercises like this to build literacy and thinking skills. One of the benefits is that it causes students to think about different ways they might develop the same clause.  Another is that it causes students to get familiar and fluid with syntactical forms they will use over and over.  A third is that “exercises” like this are best when they are applied… that is when they are used to process what students are already learning in class. Any class. So they can and should use this exercise across the curriculum.

So for example you might ask students to use it in science class to add to this sentence: A solid melts to form a liquid.

And they might write:

  • A solid melts to form a liquid, but it can also sometimes sublimate to form a gas.
  • A solid melts to form a liquid because heat or pressure causes the ordering of molecules to break down.
  • A solid melts to form a liquid so a glacier is really water waiting to happen.

And as you are perhaps noticing, this is an outstanding review and assessment of students’ knowledge of phase change. I’m thinking about it as a potential Exit Ticket and find it kind of promising.

Meanwhile over in History class you could have students start with: Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long.  Their “But, Because, So” might look like this:

  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long, but they have been among the most memorable words in American History.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long because he wanted to express humility, directness and simplicity.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long so some people didn’t even realize the speech had begun when he finished!

So- in honor of this simple powerful tool here’s my “But, Because, So” on “But, Because, So”:

“But, Because, So” is powerful.

  • “But, Because, So” is powerful, but the best part is that it gets more productive the more you use it.
  • “But, Because, So” is powerful, because it forces students to expand their thinking with precision, clarity and variety.
  • “But, Because, So” is powerful, so encourage teachers to use it in every academic discipline.



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