Brief Vita Areas of Expertise Opening Page
by Lawrence Baines
Type activity: Individual. Approximate time: 20 minutes
Students will use clauses and phrases appropriately to create a legitimate, eloquent, very long sentence.
Pen and paper or a computer with a word-processing program
Read a few long sentences by famous authors. One of my favorites is a passage from Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily.”
They held the funeral on the second day, with the town coming to look at Miss Emily beneath a mass of bought flowers, with the crayon face of her father musing profoundly above the bier and the ladies sibilant and macabre; and the very old men — some in their brushed Confederate uniforms — on the porch and the lawn, talking of Miss Emily as if she had been a contemporary of theirs, believing that they had danced with her and courted her perhaps, confusing time with its mathematical progression, as the old do, to whom all the past is not a diminishing road but, instead, a huge meadow which no winter ever quite touches, divided from them now by the narrow bottle-neck of the most recent decade of years. (128 words)
2. Discuss Faulkner’s technique. Highlight prepositions (beneath, with, of, above...) and how he uses a variety of phrases.
3. Do a very long sentence as a class. Pick a topic such as “Let’s write a sentence about trying to sort out what’s important in life.” Solicit suggestions from the class and write them on the board or transparency so they can see how clauses and phrases can be used to elaborate and extend an idea.
1. Have students write two 120-word sentences. The exercise works best if students write about whatever is on their minds at the moment — a forthcoming athletic contest, a date, a personal problem, an exam next period.
2. After they have written one or two sentences, have students read them aloud. Upon finishing, ask students to identify the specific techniques that were used to elongate the sentence — the phrases, gerunds, conjunctions, and other devices.
The 120-word sentence is a great exercise to use when the writing of your students seems overly reliant on dull subject-verb-noun structures. The 120-word sentence also helps alert students to the possibility of sentence rhythm. For example, later in the same story, Faulkner writes the following sentence as a single paragraph: “The man himself lay in the bed.”
A nice follow‑up to the 120‑word sentence is to have students alter sentence structure again. Have students trade papers and rewrite the single 120‑word sentence into at least seven different sentences.