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Getting better at writing on purpose

One of my emails just before last Christmas was on the topic of ‘getting better on purpose‘. This week, I'd like to add the qualifier*, ‘at writing' to show how some of the ideas captured in that initial blog can be extended to this crucial academic domain.

This little jaunt that I'm now attempting to jaunt has been inspired by my recent podcast discussion with Nathaniel Swain on Writing to Learn. In it, Nate provided us with a smorgasbord of tips and tricks for improving writing.

His insights made me realise that maybe I should be trying harder to get better at writing myself!

One of the tips that Nate tipped us off to is of particular use in the primary (or even secondary) classroom. So I'll share that first, then I'll zoom out to touch upon improving our writing as adults.

V-ing and V-ed sentences

The exciting strategy from Nate that I'm recounting today is the idea of V-ing and V-ed sentences. In this context, the ‘V’ represents ‘verb’. This is a writing strategy that can really be used spice up students’ writing. Let me share a couple of examples.

The first sentence below is ok, but it has the potential to be improved by transforming it into a V-ing sentence. First, the vanilla version:

 Harry rushed out of the house and fumbled with his keys. Was he going to make it in time?

And here’s that same first sentence re-modelled as a v-ing sentence (Fumbl-ing):

 Fumbling with his keys, Harry rushed out of the house. Was he going to make it in time?

More punchy? More dynamic? I think so!

Here’s a sentence with V-ed potential:

 Jane picked the toast up of the floor and cursed and went to get a mop. Why did it have to always land jam side down?

Let’s apply the V-ed approach (Curs-ing):

 Cursing, Jane picked the toast up off the floor and went to get a mop. Why did it have to always land jam side down?

I love these strategies. They show the power of a simple technique to turn an average sentence into an outstanding one. As students build their repertoires of such skills, they incrementally become more effective and more entertaining writers.

Is getting better just for kids?

You guessed it (no prizes for that), I think we can all get better at writing! The question is, how can we do it as adults?

Well, I'm no expert, but I'm guessing that we get better at writing in the same way that students are most likely to. That is, through explicit knowledge of a new technique, then by putting it into practise.

So, that's what I'm doing this week! I've chosen one strategy from Mark Forsyth's phenomenal book, Elements of Eloquence (which contains 39 little-know writing techniques) and I've used it in the writing of this email!

Did you spot anything interesting or novel in my writing above? Maybe you did? Maybe not? Scroll down to my takeaways to find out the writing technique that I've tried to apply this week!

You are reading an instalment 138 of Teacher Ollie's Takeaways, an (aspirationally) weekly email in which I share some personal thoughts on teaching and learning, as well as great resources from others.

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Announcements and Opportunities

  • Catholic Ed Tasmania is running the Teaching Matters: Science of Learning National Summit in Tasmania from April 2nd to 4th. I plan to be there, along with a heap of other speakers like Pamela Snow, Brooke Wardana, Noel Pearson, Dr. Lorraine Hammond, Toni Hatten-Roberts and Michale Roberts, Peps Mccrea, and many more! Should be a fun and learning-filled few days!

This week in Ollie's Learning (Takeaways)

  • This week the Grattan Institute brought out a fantastic report on how to implement a whole-school curriculum approach. It outlines why curriculum is king and dissects how a range of high achieving schools (Docklands, Ballarat Clarendon College, Aveley, Serpentine, Marsden Road) are doing it! This is one not to be missed.

  • Behavior and curriculum, the two big issues for teachers. I have said it before and I'll say it again! Here's an article by Teacher Tapp with recent survey results sharing this idea:

  • New Words:

    • Parlous: full of danger or uncertainty; precarious.“the parlous state of the economy”

    • Punctate: studded with or denoting dots or tiny holes.“strong punctate staining of the cell surface”

  • Quote:

    • Whether you believe you can do a thing or not, you are right.' – Henry Ford

  • Writing technique:

    • Polyptoton: Polyptoton occurs when a writer uses one word twice (or two versions of the same word) in a sentence, to mean different things. Often one of them is used as a verb, and the other as a noun, but there are a few different variations. A famous example is John Lennon's ‘Please Please Me', but Shakespeare was pretty partial to it too with ‘Grace me no grace, nor uncle me no uncle.'. Jesus used polyptoton avant la lettre with, ‘give us this day our daily bread'. In the above, I had a crack at polyptoton with ‘This little jaunt that I'm now attempting to jaunt'. Do you dare to use polyptoton in an email or correspondence this week?

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