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New Beginnings: Writing with Fluency, First Edition
Diane Fitton, Monroe Community College
Barbara Warner, Monroe Community College
Teaching Suggestions

Sequencing Textbook Chapters and Exercises

Each chapter in New Beginnings follows a similar sequence of learning activities that develop reading and writing skills. After assigning and discussing Chapter 1, which presents the concepts practiced throughout the textbook, the instructor may choose any order of chapters within the text.

The textbook adapts well to a variety of course configurations. Since instruction is incremental and recursive, do not feel compelled to teach or assign every exercise in each chapter. Use your judgment to determine what exercises you want to emphasize. For instance, you may decide to assign the personal writing in one chapter and the informative writing in the next. You may prefer to follow a chapter strand, such as sentence rearrangement exercises, for several chapters before introducing sentence combining. An abundance of material allows you to organize for the needs of your students as a group or as individuals.

Connecting Reading with Writing

Demonstrate Active Reading

Help students become active readers by involving them in the exercises that precede and follow the reading. As students talk, listen, write, read, and reflect, they establish a basis and reason for reading. From time to time, read the selection out loud in class with the assistance of students who are comfortable reading aloud. Ask students what particular sentences mean. If the sentence includes a difficult vocabulary word, demonstrate how to draw on the context to determine the word's meaning. Use a class dictionary in class and let students take turns looking up definitions for words that cannot be defined by sentence clues. Discuss which dictionary definition is appropriate.

Paraphrase a Sentence

To help students learn to paraphrase, spend time modeling the thought processes involved for the chapter exercise, Sentence Explication. Initially, have students work together as a class to paraphrase. As students gain skill, they can work in small groups or individually. Paraphrasing provides an excellent opportunity to reinforce the use of the dictionary and thesaurus.

Activity Questions for Paraphrasing
  1. What are the meanings of unfamiliar words?
  2. What is the main idea of the sentence?
  3. What are synonyms for the words used in the sentence?
    Hint: Use words from your own vocabulary and the dictionary.
    Rewrite the original sentence substituting the new words.
  4. Does the new sentence make sense? Has the meaning changed?
    If so, find new synonyms.
  5. How can the words in the sentence be rearranged?
    Rewrite the sentence.
  6. Does the rearranged sentence have the same meaning as the original?
    If the answer is yes, the sentence has been effectively paraphrased.
Working from Sentences to Paragraph

Teach Grammar in Context

When the paradigm shifts from teaching grammar in isolation to teaching grammar in context, the roles of the students and instructor change as well.

With drill and practice exercises, the students' task is to determine the correct answers, and the instructor's task is to validate correct answers and to explain incorrect ones. In contrast to drill and practice exercises, sentence rearrangement and sentence combining exercises require students' thoughtful involvement. In fact, because students are accustomed to working on grammar exercises contrived to fit a specific pattern of error, some students may at first be unsure about what to do when they have to supply an answer instead of recognizing one.

Concomitantly, as an instructor you are more actively involved in teaching your students multiple possibilities to craft each sentence. You will want to encourage experimentation with sentence construction. Indeed, you may need to explain to your students that you expect and welcome mistakes in the process of writing increasingly effective sentences. Once students are willing to take risks with new sentence constructions, they are on their way to learning new skills and arriving at insights about language and meaning.

Model the Process

Show students how you rearrange and combine sentences by moving individual words and phrases, by adding meaningful transitions, by omitting repeated or unnecessary words, and by changing the grammatical forms of words. Do this by sharing your own thought processes with your students as you model the process. Think out loud and include your mistakes, false starts, and insights in envisioning multiple solutions and choosing among them.

Use the Socratic Method

Ask questions about text and student-written sentences to teach elements of meaning, usage, and grammar. Below is a list of questions to get you started.

  • Why do you suppose this sentence is difficult to understand?
  • What words are emphasized in the original sentence?
  • What is the new emphasis in the sentence?
  • How do these combinations affect the emphasis of the sentence?
  • What else in this sentence could be emphasized?
  • How has the meaning of the sentence changed?
  • What happened to the meaning of the sentence when those words were omitted?
  • How can this idea be written in fewer ideas?
  • What words can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence?
  • What word(s) can you add to establish a relationship between those two ideas?
  • What do you suggest changing in this sentence?
  • What do you like about the way the sentence is constructed?
  • What word does that pronoun refer to?
  • What word is that phrase modifying?
  • How can those words be made parallel in structure?
  • What is the subject of the original sentence?
  • What is the subject of the rearranged sentence?
  • What happens to the verb when the subject changes?
  • What is the tense of the original sentence?
  • What is the tense of the combined sentence?
  • In what other ways can these sentences be combined?
  • How does adding a comma affect the sentence?
  • How can this run-on sentence be corrected?
  • Does the sentence make sense by itself?
  • Where should a comma be added in this sentence?
  • What words should be capitalized?
Create a Workshop Classroom

Students come to a developmental English class with a variety of skills. What one student understands, another does not. Capitalize on these differences to promote student involvement by creating an environment that encourages collegiality and cooperation.

Time Saving Tip

When students work in groups, ask them to hand in one collective paper that represents the work of the individual group members. Have students write their names with a line next to it at the top of the page. After you have corrected the group's collaboration, return it to one of the students on the list. To confirm that each student has had a chance to look at your comments and suggestions, have each student initial his/her name and then hand it to another person on the list. The last person to initial the paper returns it to you.

Activity 1  Pair and Share
Exercise 6 Combine Sentences with New Beginnings

Put students in pairs to work through the exercise. One student dictates a combined sentence from one cluster; then, the partner dictates the next combined cluster of sentences. After dictating to each other, the students switch clusters and create different sentences. Together, the pair determines the best sentences to share with others in class.

Activity 2  A New Beginning
Exercise 7 Combine Sentences on Your Own

After students have completed exercise 7, group students in pairs or triads to work through the exercise. Students take turns giving only the first word for their newly combined sentences. The other student(s) recreate the sentences. Collectively, the group members compare sentences and then choose the ones they prefer for each cluster.

Activity 3  Round-Robin Combining
Exercise 9 Rearrange and Combine Sentences Using Transitions

In groups of four or five, use round-robin combining. The first person combines the first sentences, and the next person continues with the following sentences. This activity requires that students listen closely, so they know when to add transition words.

Activity 4 Sentence Reduction
Lean, direct sentences are preferable to sentences heavy with clauses. Use sentences from the text or from students' writing to demonstrate sentence reduction.

Example 1 (Chapter 4, Exercise 7)
A hurricane may contain hundreds of thunderstorms.
A hurricane may measure up to 600 miles in diameter. Combined:  A hurricane, which can measure up to 600 miles in diameter, may contain hundreds of thunderstorms.

Reduced:  A hurricane, measuring up to 600 miles in diameter, may contain hundreds of thunderstorms.

Example 2 (Chapter 5, Exercise 7) A man wanted to meet a lady.
He had to find a mutual friend.
The mutual friend could arrange introductions. Combined:  If a man wanted to meet a lady, he had to find a mutual friend who could arrange introductions.

Reduced:  To meet a lady, a man had to find a mutual friend to arrange introductions.

Activity 5 Target Sentences
You don't need to read every sentence students hand in. Target particular sentences for analysis. Underline especially effective or problem sentences in the work students hand in. Either you or your students transcribe underlined sentences on the blackboard, transparencies, or sheets that you photocopy. Discuss the sentences with small groups or the whole class.

Activity 6 Multiple Choice
On the blackboard, write specific sentence numbers from an exercise. Underneath each number, write the letters a, b, and c, to make space for students' responses. Ask students to write their sentence (previously completed as an assignment) next to the numbers and letters. If a student sees that his/her sentence is the same as one already on the board, have the student write another sentence. By comparing multiple answers, students become skilled at seeing distinctions in meanings and correcting grammar and punctuation errors. Alternatively, collect and use student sentences for a true/false or multiple choice test.

Activity 7 Catch of the Week
Direct students to look in their general reading for sentences that have unusual beginnings and interesting structures to share with the class. Copy these sentences and discuss alternate ways of arranging the words.

Activity 8 Decombine Sentences
Practice with decombining a sentence increases students' understanding of syntax and semantics. First, model to the whole class how to decombine sentences.

Decombine the following sentence into its basic parts.

The drivers survived the hard, dangerous journey to earn the admiration and respect of the world. The drivers survived the journey.
The journey was hard.
The journey was dangerous.
The drivers earned the admiration of the world.
The drivers earned the respect of the world.
Next, divide the class into groups and give each group a different sentence to decombine. After the sentences are decombined, have each group write its individual sentences on the blackboard or transparency. Have the other students in the class recombine the sentences. Compare these sentences with the original ones.

Writing from Experience

The writing prompts suggested in the first four writing topics model the types of questions that are helpful for inexperienced writers as they get ready to write a paragraph. Topic 5 may be used either by individual students who are ready for more challenge or with the entire class to practice determining prewriting questions. Topic 6 gives choice to advanced and especially creative writers.

Use a Writing Folder
A writing folder in which students file their writing for the semester—prewrites, drafts, and revisions—helps students keep track of their papers and also provides a means of comparison during faculty-student writing conferences. An individual formal review of a student's writing at the end of the semester can be a valuable experience, allowing for discussion of both progress and need for improvement.

Activity 1 Brainstorming
Use Questions to Consider to demonstrate how ideas can be arranged in a cluster or mind map.

Activity 2 Group Writing
To help students gain confidence in writing, write a group paragraph. Working as a class, select a topic and generate ideas. Ask students how the ideas could be arranged. Create a topic sentence and supporting sentences. Solicit ways to conclude the paragraph.

Activity 3 Group Revising
With the student's permission, use a student-written paragraph to create original sentence rearrangement and combining exercises. Depending on your purpose, you may want to use either effective or weak student-written paragraphs. Separate and number each sentence in the paragraph.
In small groups, have students take turns rearranging and combining the sentences and deciding on their preferences. Ask students to explain to each other why they prefer particular constructions. After students submit the revised paragraph, you may want to make copies to share with the entire class.

Activity 4 Get the Picture?
Ask several students to write their topic sentence on the blackboard or overhead. Have the class react to each one by discussing what they believe the paragraph will be about. Students learn to evaluate their sentences for clarity of focus.

Activity 5 What's the Big Idea?
Have students put the plan for their paragraph (without the topic sentence) on the blackboard or overhead. Then ask the class to determine the topic sentence. As students discuss what they believe the paragraphs will be about, they help those who share their plans and also can clarify their own topic sentences.

Writing from Resources

Share Information

The time spent on this section will depend on your course objectives, the amount of class time you have, the experience of the class, and the availability of resources. Included on Houghton Mifflin's Instructor's web site for New Beginnings are answers for Exercise 12 questions as well as current web sites that provide additional information to answer the questions. Because of the dynamic nature of web sites, wherever possible, both home web page and specific web page are provided as links. In addition to the suggested sites, use search engines to locate new information on the Web. Useful search engines include;;; and

At first, you may want to select one question and provide an answer for the class. Then, you may want to let individuals or pairs of students answer other questions. Consider having students present their written information orally to the class. The class can take notes on the presentations and then be given an "open notes" quiz prepared either by you or the students themselves. Here is a guide to oral presentations.
  1. What is your question and where did you find your answer?
  2. What information did you find particularly interesting? Unusual?
  3. What information should an educated person know about this topic?
  4. What additional information do you want to know about this topic?
Understand Idioms

Students who understand idioms are at an advantage when reading and speaking. Although there are dictionaries that include definitions for idioms, students may want to speak with other people to learn the meanings.

Language Supplement

The Language Supplement, a concise compendium of grammar and mechanics, can be used in a variety of ways. You can
  1. provide a general review of grammar and mechanics by focusing on one point each week.
  2. provide mini-focus lessons.
  3. individualize by assigning as needed for whole class, focus groups, or individuals.
  4. have students write sentences constructed like the quotations (to illustrate a grammatical point).
  5. use the quotations as additional practice in paraphrasing.

The Appendix provides a handy reference as a reminder of the various ways sentences can be rearranged and combined. To reinforce the concepts summarized in the charts, ask students to write the number of the technique used either to rearrange or combine sentences in an exercise or paragraph.

Assessing Writing

To make decisions about assessing a particular assignment, it is essential to keep in mind an overview of the course and the place of the assignment in the whole. Decisions about assessment also depend on whether the feedback to the students is intended to be formative, that is diagnostic or instructive, or whether the evaluation is to be summative or evaluative. These kinds of evaluation both have a place in assessment. The best kind of evaluation, however, is not so much to provide a grade but to help students become their own editors. This kind of evaluation has many forms. It can be peer directed and/or it can include informal instructor-student conference on part or all of an assignment. Often helpful is the opportunity or the requirement to rewrite sections or an entire paper. The following are formats for graded assessment.

Analytic Scale—Grading by Rubric
Each student's paper receives a series of scores that are totaled for a grade.
Ideas and Content
1. clear topic sentence
(2 points)
2. appropriate word choice
(2 points)
3. effective sequence of details
(2 points)
4. clear beginning and ending
(2 points)
5. sufficient support
(2 points)
6. relevant support—details, examples, reasons, facts
(2 points)
Sentence Structure
7. complete sentences
(2 points)
8. varied sentence structure
(2 points)
Writing Conventions
9. correct usage
(2 points)
10. correct punctuation, capitalization, spelling
(2 points)
Focused Grading
An effective and efficient way to grade papers is to rate papers on one or a few featured skills. You decide if you want the features you grade to be cumulative or not.

Holistic Grading
To provide an overall evaluation of a paper or to show the effectiveness of a paper compared with others in a group, decide on categories of competence. Pass (4 points or 75 to 100). This category includes papers that range from competent to superior.

Low Pass (3 points or 65-74). The papers in this category are minimally competent.

High No Pass (2 points or 50-64). This grouping is for papers that have serious problems.

Low Pass (1 point or below 50). The papers in this category show little understanding of content, structure, or mechanics.

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