The following two passages show typical student improvement over a five to eight month period. Each selection is from a first draft.
Student 1: 9th Grade
In Chapter 3 of Tom Sawyer, a novel by Mark Twain, Tom shows Aunt Polly the newly-painted fence that he has painted “himself.” She lets him go play, and when Tom sees Sid, he throws mudballs at him for getting him into trouble earlier. When Tom is coming home from playing, he catches sight of a girl, and tries to show off and get her attention. She goes back to her house and drops a pansy as she enters her house. Tom regards the pansy as a treasure. He comes home in high spirits, but becomes sad when his Aunt wrongfully blames him of dropping a bowl. He leaves the house, right when his cousin Mary enters the house. He visits the girl’s house and peeks through her window until the maid sprays him with a hose. Tom runs back to his house, and Sid has learned his lesson and says nothing about his clothes, or the fact that he doesn’t pray that night.
The above paragraph sounds simplistic:
- It overuses “and” to connect ideas
- It lacks sentence variety, particularly in the openings. Of nine sentences, seven begin with independent clauses.
Seven Months Later
In Chapter 2 of The Wind in the Willows, the Mole and the Rat visit the Toad, who tells them that he has a new hobby — driving caravans. Even though the Rat is at first reluctant to go, he still does because of how excited the Mole and the Toad are to go. They drive away from civilization, spending a night in the wild. On their way back home, a motor car zooms past them, wrecking Toad’s caravan. Though the Rat, angry, claims that he is going to complain for the unnecessary damage, the Toad seems to care little about his caravan anymore. Instead, the Toad falls into a trance, which the Rat says always happens to Toad after he gains a new interest. After the animals finally reach their homes, they hear the news of Toad purchasing a new motor car.
The above paragraph is much more sophisticated. Of the seven sentences, only one begins with an independent clause. The student uses several advanced structures that his first summary did not:
- two participial phrases
- two adjective clauses
- one appositive
- one adjective in an eye-catching position
This paragraph still has several errors that skilled writers should try to find, but it is an enormous improvement over the first effort.
Student 2: 6th Grade
In chapter 13 of The Secret Garden, Mary finds out the picture means that Dickon will come back and keep the secret. She is planning to go there the next day, but at night it starts raining. The wind keeps “wutherin’”, so she cannot go to sleep. A few hours later, she suddenly realizes that there is no more wind, but there is still crying.While everybody is asleep, she goes back to the tapestry door. She enters, and sees a boy who then turns around and stares at her. She stares back, then they begin to talk. The boy’s name is Colin, and he is Mr. Craven’s son. He can command everyone to do what he says. After she sings him to sleep, she leaves the room.
The above paragraph has several weaknesses in meaning and in structure:
- Why does she go back to the tapestry door? The connection to crying is unclear.
- What’s the point of saying that Colin can command everyone?
- It uses only one adjective clause in ten sentences.
- It contains a comma splice.
- It contains an awkward use of and.
Seven Months Later
In chapter nine of The Wind in the Willows, the Rat is annoyed to see many of the animals who live near him preparing to travel to other places for the winter. He asks for many of them to stay but they all say no. After trying to persuade several swallows to stay, he sees a wayfarer. The wayfarer starts a conversation with the Rat. This wayfarer is a seafaring Rat who mainly sails around on a boat going from port to port. After they continue to talk for a while, the wayfarer continues on his trip and leaves. The Rat wants to follow the seafaring Rat to the ports, so he packs up and is about to leave, when he bumps into the Mole. The Mole asks the Rat where the Rat is going, so the Rat says that he is going south. The Mole looks into the Rat’s eyes, which he discovers to be shifty and gray, unlike the Rat’s usual eyes. He pins down the Rat. The Rat faints. After a while, the Rat wakes up. His eyes are back to normal, and he tries to explain to the Mole what happened. After the Mole leaves the Rat in the room for a while, the Mole comes back with some paper. He tells the Rat to do some poetry. The Rat starts scribbling down some phrases, with his energy returning.
The above paragraph shows great improvement:
- It has much better connection between ideas.
- It uses more subordination: three adjective clauses in 16 sentences, as well as one participial phrase.
- It has no major grammatical errors (just minor errors in comma usage).