The Value of Getting It (Spectacularly) Wrong


As often as I can, I like to ask English teachers about the types of SAS Curriculum Pathways resources their students respond to and enjoy. Many of them will talk about Writing Navigator, Exploring Poetry about Sports, or Punctuation Rules! And I frequently hear about how much students enjoy the short grammar tutorials with Muggs the pit bull. I’ve been surprised, however, by how many teachers claim that a lesson titled Memorable Dangling Modifiers is a perennial student favorite.

Memorable Dangling Modifiers is a student favorite.

Memorable Dangling Modifiers is a student favorite.

As you might expect, the lesson teaches students how to recognize a modifier that dangles, and it offers several options for repairing the problem. For example, students learn to spot the source of confusion in a tortured sentence like this:

After finishing my research paper, Shakespeare had proved to be the perfect choice.

Who wouldn’t want a little help from Shakespeare, right? But unless a student knows that the actual writer of the paper should be identified as the subject of the main clause, then the sentence will remain forever mangled.

The real reason students love this resource, though, is its culminating activity—the Memorable Dangling Modifiers Competition. Students are given ten topics (sports, food, family, etc.) and then asked to create a stupendously memorable dangling modifier for each. Teachers then share these howlers with the class, and the most impressive one wins.

Teachers tell me that students begin to understand the confusion caused by a dangling modifier only when they are capable of creating one on purpose. First, they create a perfect example of a grammatical problem; then they apply a fix. Sometimes the best way to get something right is to know first how to get it wrong.

Imagine, then, using this approach with other problems that typically plague student writing. We do that with Political Palaver and the Passive Voice (QL #1549)—an activity that generates papers that are both hilarious and enlightening. You can also challenge students to demonstrate their understanding of parallelism by constructing sentences that beg for balance. And if they use Writing Reviser, they can practice crafting these blunders on their own. Simply by typing these sentences into the work space, students can confirm the success of their errors.

Check out these resources to learn more about revising sentences with dangling or misplaced modifiers, passive voice, unbalanced parts, and so on.





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Terry Hardison

Terry Hardison oversees the development of English language arts resources for Curriculum Pathways. Prior to joining SAS, Terry worked for 21 years as a teacher and as a district-level English language arts supervisor.

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