Archive | January, 2014

Too Many Buts

26 Jan


When students write quickly about a topic, we sometimes see them lose many of the conventions and grammar rules that they’ve demonstrated mastery over during the year.  In particular, the dreaded “____ but ____ but _____ but…” (or it’s cousin, the” _____and _______ and ______ and…” ) run-on sentence appears.

It’s like they’re worried someone’s going to interrupt them before they’re done with their thought, and the only way to avoid being cut off is to never finish their sentence.

The last summaries my students wrote had a shockingly high but:other words ratio.  One summary read:

The mouse wanted to go to the sea but his parents didn’t want him to go but he convinced them to let him but then he was attacked but he finally got to the sea and saw the sunset.

This is one of those cases where a lot of teaching wasn’t required.  We’d already talked about FANBOYS, the need for commas and to begin a new sentence when you have a new subject.  They knew this, they just weren’t using it in the moment.  Sometimes, it’s the moment for humor.

I noticed, yesterday, that a lot of your writing was suffering from too many buts.  (cue confused chuckles from the class.)  One but is often useful.  Sometimes two buts is ok.  But in a short summary, more than that is often just awkward and strange.  Read over your writing.  Does it have an overwhelming number of buts?  Can you edit your piece to take out your superfluous buts?  (I did not actually use the word superfluous, but it’s one of my favorite words so I’m going with it here.)

We wrote another short summary on a different fable, and afterwards, students counted their “buts” and proudly proclaimed to the class, “I have just one “but”!” or “my writing has two “buts!”  More importantly, when they removed the offending conjunction, they correctly embedded periods and capitols.

Like all of us, students need repetition.  They don’t always need another lesson.  Now they can remind each other.  The boys, in particular, showed a great affinity for reading each other’s papers and reminding their partner, “You have too many “buts” in your piece.”  Humor is a great motivator for a ten-year-old.


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