Precise Language

Step Right Up! Strengthening the Muscles in Sentences

POP QUIZ TIME!

What’s the difference between these two sentences:  1. Kids are amazing and creative. vs. 2. Creative kids are amazing thinkers.

A: Sentence 1 is stronger and more sophisticated in structure.
B: Sentence 2 is stronger and more sophisticated in structure.
C: Both sentences are equally as strong and sophisticated.

The correct answer is B: Sentence 2 is stronger and more sophisticated in structure. Why is that the case? It has to do with the muscles of sentences: adjectives.

There’s nothing grammatically wrong with sentence 1: “Kids are amazing and creative.” It’s just there is no power in that sentence structure: noun verb adjective conjunction adjective. Predicate adjectives are weak. They just so happen, however, to be the most natural and common way of speaking and so, by default, writing.

The structure of sentence 2: “Creative kids are amazing thinkers,” is adjective noun verb adjective noun. Now there’s a muscular sentence! Do you hear the power when adjectives precede nouns? Said simply, get rid of predicate adjectives!

It takes deliberate focus and practice for writers of all ages to learn the power of adjective placement. But, when they do, their writing can flex some major muscles!

If students can say and write the words pretty and little,

they can say and write the words beautiful and stunning, minuscule and diminutive. Even when they are five. Even when they are two grade levels behind. In fact, especially then.

This sample is of a kindergartener writing about not a big dragon, but a colossal dragon. Colossal is not a word the child knew 15 minutes before she wrote it, but because of the activities she just completed to learn the word: orally practicing the word in isolation and in sentences she created, adding kinesthetic motion to remember what the new word means, and matching images to understand the meaning, in 15 minutes, she was using the word with confidence and a deep understanding of its meaning and sophistication.

Growth and sophistication of students’ vocabularies is not only crucial to impressive writing performance, it is essential to overall academic success, and, I believe, life success.

One of my education heroines, Heidi Hayes Jacobs writes, “Language capacity is the root of all student performance” (Jacobs, 2006).  Language capacity is built by expanding vocabularies. Expanding vocabularies are built by exploring and using sophisticated synonyms.

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