What You Already Know: Coherence and Cohesion


Characters and Actions/Short to Long/Topic Strings/etc.
Identify/Generate the principle
Time: 20-30 minutes

This is a great exercise to demonstrate to students that they already use many of the sentence- and paragraph-level principles we teach. By naming them and becoming more conscious of them, students will be able to execute them more consistently, and to manipulate their effects.

Before you talk about any of these principles, try this activity. Everyone in class should write a paragraph explaining the process of evaporation and condensation in the global climate -- how rain turns into rivers turns back into rain. (They can make it up if they don't exactly remember.) Ask half the class to write the paragraph to a high school science teacher; ask the other half to write it to an imaginary five year-old cousin. Set the paragraphs aside, then introduce one of the principles.

Afterwards, return to the paragraphs. Ask students to read them for the principle (circle the characters and actions, count the words before the verb, identify what kind of topic string the paragraph uses). Share the results as a class (by a show of hands): How many people writing to their teacher used abstract characters and actions? more than 4 words before the verb? mixed topic strings? How many people writing to their cousin used obvious characters and actions? only a few words before the verb? focused/linked topic strings?

Most writers already know that when they write to someone familiar with the subject, they can use more complicated sentence/paragraph-level style, and when they write to novices, they need to use simpler style.

You might ask students to keep the paragraphs so that you can return to them as you introduce new principles.