Between the Commas

Martin Brandt

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Between the Commas

By Martin Brandt
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Martin Brandt
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For too long, sentence instruction has been heavy on correctness and terminology (as in “mind your grammar”) and light on play and experimentation. Or it has been abandoned altogether. In this lively book, Marty Brandt sets out to change all that.

It is partly the story of a teacher hitting a plateau in mid-career, deeply frustrated by the flatness of his students’ writing, particularly as they struggled with more academic tasks. But it also tells the story of important but neglected research in sentence instruction, which Brandt revives, reinventing his instruction by explicitly teaching the possibilities of sentences.

In Between the Commas, he identifies three “pillars” of sentence instruction:
  • Sentence Focus: Identifying the true subject of the sentence
  • Sentence Development: Finding ways to expand and modify, “between the commas”
  • Sentence Coherence: Connecting sentences to show the flow of thought.
To help his students understand these concepts, Brandt invents his own terms—the Dime- Dropper, Smack-Talker, ingBomb, Sentence Wannabe, and the Not/But—to describe key moves a writer can make, illustrating them with both student and professional examples. The book is also filled with practical exercises in sentence manipulation that can be used directly in your classroom or modified for your students.

At long last, sentence instruction that can really help young writers—and their teachers.
Table of contents
  • Foreword by Thomas Newkirk
  • Introduction: Three Questions I Could Not Answer
  • Toward a Deeper Understanding of the Sentence
  • “Just a Guy”: Independence High School to San Francisco State
  • The Three Pillars of Sentence Instruction
  • Part One: Sentence Focus (Get the “Awk” Outta Here)
  • Positioning Our Students for Growth
  • Alexis de Tocqueville and the Subject A Test
  • Sources of Sentence Focus Errors
  • The Beauty of Understanding Sentence Focus
  • Part Two: Sentence Development (Writing Between the Commas)
  • Riding Bicycles into Rosebushes
  • Understanding Sentence Development
  • Structures for Leveraging Information: The Adjective Clause and the Noun Phrase Appositive
  • Structures for Adding Detail and Imagery: The Verbal Phrase and the Absolute
  • The Correlative Not-But
  • Toward a Theory of Latency
  • Some Final Thoughts About These Exercises
  • Part Three: Sentence Coherence (Making Sentences Work Together)
  • Writing to Think
  • What Is Sentence Coherence?
  • Inward to the Text, Outward to the World
  • What Is Development in Writing?
  • Part Four: Sentence Instruction At Work (“Voices They Had Not Heard Before”)
  • The Three Pillars at Work in the Classroom
  • Seven Days in May
  • A Stack of Essays