Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Slice of Life: Craft and grammar in a snippet of text

Every Tuesday, the writing community of Two Writing Teachers hosts Slice of Life. All are welcome to participate by linking up posts or commenting on other participants. 

I’m going to admit something. I love grammar. I love author’s craft. I love lingering on text and noticing how a favorite author has put together their words, sentences, and paragraphs. Today, I had a chance to share some of the work I’ve done around grammar with several of my colleagues. I shared some of the games we’ve been playing in a third-grade classroom, but I also shared how we can look at a text and appreciate the grammar and craft moves within in it. I shared the first passage from Cynthia Rylant’s Every Living Thing. (Sidenote: If you don’t have this book, you might want to think about getting it, as it is full of short texts that lend themselves incredibly to close reading, mentor text usage, and craft analysis.)

Here’s how the first couple of sentences go:
Leo was the first one to spot the turtle, so he was the one who got to keep it. They had all been in the carm driving up Tyler Mountain to church when Leo shouted, “There’s a turtle!” and everyone’s head jerked with the stop.

In just a few minutes we talked about the different verb tenses that appear in this passage. It can spark a great conversation about how dialogue appears in text as present tense. Why is that? We also talked about the use of proper as opposed to common nouns. What was the purpose of specifically naming Tyler Mountain? What if had been just a mountain, unnamed? And what about the pronouns? We don’t know who they/everyone are at this point. Should we? Why don’t we? Some additional conversations that could come out of these three lines include the use of punctuation, the choices of verbs, the lack of adjectives and adverbs--

Recall and recognition are important, but how we notice and appreciate intentional and effective use of language reinforces, engages, and develops deeper understandings of these concepts.

Always happy to be slicing in this community!


  1. I love examining author's craft and I LOVE Cynthia Rylant! She makes me want to write books, even though I know the words would never come out as beautiful as hers. Studying the crafts of various authors is so powerful! Thank you for sharing!

  2. I love grammar, but not as much as you do. (BTW: Do you follow the Oxford Comma on Twitter?)

  3. I love Cynthia Rylant and have told high school students that if they could write with all her craft moves then they would know they were ready for college. When we actually dig in past the pictures, they are amazed!

    She has such a gift for NOT telling everything explicitly in the first sentence or paragraph. That's a nuance for all older writers to practice. How can we leave some work for the reader?

    Thanks for sharing how a small piece of text can be a powerful mentor!

  4. AHH - worded so well - "notice and appreciate
    intentional and effective use of language" - a fabulous reminder worded so well! I shall linger with a text tomorrow with children! Thanks for sharing!

  5. I love that story and appreciate the ways you examine the language Rylant used and the shifts in tense. I also found the single syllable word, jerk, to be powerful. It stops me.