Thoughtful Learning Blog

Thoughtful Learning Blog

The Thoughtful Learning blog features articles about English language arts, 21st century skills, and social-emotional learning. Insights come from the teachers, writers, and developers at Thoughtful Learning, who have been creating top-notch instructional materials for more than 40 years.

Sentence Modeling

“Writing is learned by imitation. If anyone asked me how I learned to write, I’d say I learned by reading the men and women who were doing the kind of writing I wanted to do and trying to figure out how they did it.”

—William Zinsser, author of On Writing Well

Many of America’s best writers—from Mark Twain on—write in a relaxed, somewhat informal style. This style is characterized by four special types of sentences.

At first, humans just had speech. If you wanted to say "Ugh" to someone, you had to say it out loud. Sure, you could whisper or shout, add facial expressions and gestures, but your main communication option was speaking. In person.

A few thousand years later, the clever folks of Ur developed cuneiform writing. Then people had two options: either say “Ugh” or write “Ugh.” You said it if the person was standing there, and you wrote it if the person wasn’t. The choice was clear.

I remember very well a vocabulary unit I had planned. I had gathered all kinds of interesting information about words, including how words are added to the language, how their usage changes over time, and so on. I enjoyed every minute of my research and couldn’t wait to share my findings with the students. Unfortunately, they didn’t share in my enthusiasm, no matter what I tried. I might just as well have given them a list of ten words and told them to define each one and use it in a sentence.

I was…just another textbook.…

Q. True or false: The primary theme of The Great Gatsby is the disintegration of the American Dream during the very height of material prosperity in the 1920’s.

A. In the very act of asking that question, I have imposed two assumptions upon you.

Every generation has a tendency to deride the next as frivolous and lazy. Over the past decade, for example, the phrase “short attention span” has become almost cliché in reference to young people. Those of us who grew up before the Internet and cell phones remember a time when people actually read books and wrote letters to one another; now, it seems, they read only blog entries and send 140-character text messages or Twitter posts. What, oh what, is this world coming to?