How can I improve my writing so that it meets the criteria for Bands 5 and 6 in English?

14 Dec

While I can’t guarantee success, I can guarantee that the things on these pages may help you achieve a more impressive and sophisticated style, so long as you practise essay writing enough. Look in Student Help (see links on the right) or in the side bar for a site that may address your writing problems.

Sentence Combining is one technique you can practise as part of developing a more sophisticated style. It is more popular in American schools, but deserves looking at here too.

One characteristic of successful English students is mature style. As you read your assigned texts, as well as whatever leisure material you have time for, occasionally stop to notice how the sentences have been constructed. But do more than notice what’s already out there. You need to practice combining sentence elements to create your own sentences.

Here is a technique that thousands of people have successfully used to upgrade the quality of their prose: sentence combining.

For example:

1. Freud’s ideas were rejected at first.
2. They later came to attract a number of highly original thinkers.
3. These thinkers elaborated his views.
4. They also often disagreed with him.

These kernels can be combined into this sentence:

Though rejected at first, Freud’s ideas later came to attract a number of highly original thinkers who elaborated on his views even if disagreeing with him.

Make one sentence from these kernels:

1. It was 1945.
2. American soldiers came together with Russian soldiers.
3. These soldiers were triumphant.
4. They embraced.
5. They did this on the banks of the Elbe River.
6. They were in the heart of Germany.
7. Germany was vanquished.

More on Sentence Combining.

Study these sentences. Each one shows a different way of combining a number of kernels into one sentence. How many of them do you use? Experiment with the sentences by trying to rewrite each one with the parts moved around. What is the effect?

There is no need to worry too much about the technical language used in the headings; you will find different sites sometimes use different terminology. Just concentrate on the sentences themselves.

Sentence Combining Patterns

Main Clause + Verbal Phrase:
1. He drove away, wishing us success.
2. He drove away, angered at our unwillingness to accept his proposal.
3. I fell to the ground, hitting my head on a concrete slab and losing consciousness.
4. Stumbling awkwardly, Henry came into the room.
5. Polished to perfection, David’s speech was the hit of the convention.

Main Clause + Absolute Phrase:
1. Mrs. Kombs knitted without looking, a fine sweat cooling her brow.
2. The bull looked at him, eyes piercing, horns pointing straight ahead.
3. The day was cold, a frozen sleet covering the ground.
4. She continued her work, her confidence renewed by her supervisor’s well-timed praise.

Main Clause + Adjective Cluster:
1. The old man, bent and withered, was bullied by the big nurse.
2. The horse raced around the corral, wild-eyed and lathered.
3. Just then Clara, red-haired and giggling, flew into the room.
4. Her father, a tall, stiff, strong-willed man, had driven over 1000 miles to see her.

Main Clause + Adjective Clause:
1. He ran head-on into the punch which caused his vision to blur and his ears to ring.
2. Tommy Smith, who was a childhood friend of mine, dove into a vat of beer and died a happy man.
3. Used car salesmen really do care about their customers who don’t have much money.
4. Wendy drove to her friend’s cabin, which was on the shore of Flathead Lake.

Sites you can look at for more ideas and practice:

  • Sentence Varieties and Types is very thorough and quite advanced. For senior students mainly. Then read: Sentence-Combining Skills: very thorough explanations followed by tests.
  • Sentence Clarity and Combining is a Powerpoint presentation from Purdue University. This is great for Year 10 up, perhaps some in earlier years too. WARNING: It is American, so you get “dove” as the past tense of “dive” for example.
  • ESL sentence combining activities: short but useful, except that the example answer given should read:

    When negotiators compromise, they agree that each gets something out of the solution even if nobody gets everything.

  • Sentence Combining Practice: Goldilocks and The Three Bears.
  • The Write Place: This page was written by Sharon Cogdill and Judith Kilborn for the Write Place, St. Cloud State University, St. Cloud, Minnesota. You will find many FAQs answered there, not just the present one. If you scroll down you should especially check the sections on how to improve the sound of your sentences, and the “What if my first language is not English?” section. This is what it says on Subject-Verb Agreement for example, and I know that is still a problem for many of you.
  • Expressions you can use to link ideas

    Many student writers do not use them all effectively. This list comes from Five Minute Workshops on Cohesion (University of Missouri-Columbia.) A more detailed list is here.

    Transitional expressions

    To indicate a connection between ideas, writers can use a wide variety of transitional expressions. Some of these words and word groups are listed below. Those used in this paragraph are in boldface:

    The ancient Egyptians were masters of preserving dead bodies by mummifying them. Basically, mummification consisted of removing the internal organs, applying natural preservatives inside and outside, and then wrapping the body in layers of bandages. This process was remarkably effective. Indeed, mummies several thousands of years old have been discovered nearly intact. Their skin, hair, teeth, nails, and facial features are still evident. Their diseases in life, such as smallpox, arthritis, and nutritional deficiencies, are still diagnosable. Even their fatal afflictions are still apparent: a middle-aged Egyptian king died from a blow to the head; a child-king died from polio.

    To show addition –again, also, and, and then, besides, equally important, finally, first, further, furthermore, in addition, in the first place, last, likewise, moreover, next, or, still, then, too.

    To compare –also, in comparison, in the same way, likewise, similarly.

    To contrast –although, and yet, at the same time, but, conversely, despite, even so, even though, for all that, however, in contrast, in spite of, nevertheless, nonetheless, notwithstanding, on the contrary, on the other hand, otherwise, regardless, still, though, yet.

    To give examples or intensify –after all, as an illustration, certainly, even, for example, for instance, indeed, in fact, it is true that, namely, of course, specifically, that is, to be sure, to illustrate, to tell the truth, truly.

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    Posted by on December 14, 2006 in esl for students, HSC, questions asked, student help


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