Funny things, fragments; it's all in phrasing

Funny things, fragments; it's all in phrasing

November 01, 2002|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Sentences and phrases are subjects of interest in my household.

Subjects, predicates or lack thereof.

My son is learning that a sentence is a complete thought. He's willing to play by the rules, but he wants everyone else to follow suit.

If I point out that one of his spelling word sentences is actually a phrase, he'll mention that I don't always talk, or write, in sentences.

If I write, "Good job!" on something he has done, he'll say, "Mommy, that's not a complete sentence."


The next time I write, "You did a good job on this assignment!"

He smiles.

Sometimes he'll climb on my lap as I'm writing a column and point out typos or unfinished sentences.

Precocious? To a fault.


(Actually, he's turning into a pretty good editor.)

I just thank him, point him toward the stairs, and tell him to go to bed and let me finish working.

He also notes that phrases are sometimes used in the books he reads.

I can't argue with that.

Writers often use phrases for emphasis. I have. Today.

There are five phrases used prior to this sentence.

Overkill? (That's six.) Probably. (Make it seven.)

My 7-year-old needs to know the difference between a sentence and a phrase, but I don't want to make this a big issue. (Even though it sounds like I already have, eh?) I don't want to hinder the creative process.

Many times we parents are looking for perfection when it comes to our children's writing.

Admit it. You've wanted to correct a misspelled word and almost forgot to notice the terrific content - descriptions, emotions, active elements - of your child's writing.

"How do we get across to kids what they need to know without squelching their desire to write?" asks Tina Stowell, reading improvement teacher at Old Forge Elementary School.

Notice what is good about the piece.

"If your child shows you something he's written and all you see is the misspelled words, you're missing the forest for the trees," Stowell says.

Writing is the communication of ideas. You want to make sure your child feels his ideas are accepted.

"Kids should be able to write about what they want to write about," says Laura Mood, a writing consultant at Old Forge Elementary School.

It might not sound good to you, but don't attempt to change what the child is trying to say, Mood says.

Strike a balance between emphasizing content and form, Stowell suggests. Content showcases the ideas, creativity and style of the writer. Form is basically how the content is presented - grammar, punctuation, etc.

The two elements almost need to be approached separately, Stowell says.

Content matters most.

Try a prewriting exercise to discuss ideas, recommends Kittylee Harbaugh, writing teacher at Salem Avenue Elementary School.

During this exercise, a "word bank" of unusual words may be established.

Harbaugh shows her students a picture and asks them who is in the picture and to describe what they are doing.

She uses a paint brush to add color and help the children explore descriptions. If a child doesn't know how to spell a word, he is encouraged to sound it out. If you focus too much on spelling in the initial draft, children will only use words they know.

"If you stop to get the dictionary, you'll forget what you were going to say," Harbaugh says.

Give them a purpose for writing, such as a pen pal, suggests Mood, a former elementary school teacher.

Try some practice exercises. Write with the child. Let him write what he knows and then fill in the parts he doesn't know. This will give your child confidence when he has to do a writing assignment on his own.

Encourage him to make revisions. This goes beyond checking grammar and spelling. Will the reader have questions that need to be answered?

Form will come as a child learns rules, but content needs to be fostered and encouraged gently and in a non-threatening way.

Allow your child to see you writing, whether you're writing a letter, drafting an e-mail or completing the grocery list. This will help the child see that writing is a process. Changes are made at various stages.

"They have to see adults writing just like they need to see adults reading," Harbaugh says.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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