Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

08.19.14Hochman’s ‘But, Because, So’ Sentence Expansion Activity

expandingsentencesBeen reading through Judith Hochman’s Teaching Basic Writing Skills. Very compelling!  In it, she describes the power of writing as the most rigorous and challenging skill to learn, and wisely advises intense, consistent intentionality in teaching it- that is, not just having kids ‘write a lot’ but having them learn to create the basic forms of writing, especially the sentence, in a methodical progression that shows them how and has them complete exercises repeatedly until fluid.

An example of a productive exercise she suggests is “But, Because, So” in which students are asked to take a short independent clause and expand upon it using each of these three conjunctions.  Hochman advocates using a range of “sentence expansion” exercises like this to build literacy and thinking skills. One of the benefits is that it causes students to think about different ways they might develop the same clause.  Another is that it causes students to get familiar and fluid with syntactical forms they will use over and over.  A third is that “exercises” like this are best when they are applied… that is when they are used to process what students are already learning in class. Any class. So they can and should use this exercise across the curriculum.

So for example you might ask students to use it in science class to add to this sentence: A solid melts to form a liquid.

And they might write:

  • A solid melts to form a liquid, but it can also sometimes sublimate to form a gas.
  • A solid melts to form a liquid because heat or pressure causes the ordering of molecules to break down.
  • A solid melts to form a liquid so a glacier is really water waiting to happen.

And as you are perhaps noticing, this is an outstanding review and assessment of students’ knowledge of phase change. I’m thinking about it as a potential Exit Ticket and find it kind of promising.

Meanwhile over in History class you could have students start with: Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long.  Their “But, Because, So” might look like this:

  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long, but they have been among the most memorable words in American History.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long because he wanted to express humility, directness and simplicity.
  • Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was just 272 words long so some people didn’t even realize the speech had begun when he finished!

So- in honor of this simple powerful tool here’s my “But, Because, So” on “But, Because, So”:

“But, Because, So” is powerful.

  • “But, Because, So” is powerful, but the best part is that it gets more productive the more you use it.
  • “But, Because, So” is powerful, because it forces students to expand their thinking with precision, clarity and variety.
  • “But, Because, So” is powerful, so encourage teachers to use it in every academic discipline.



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6 Responses to “Hochman’s ‘But, Because, So’ Sentence Expansion Activity”

  1. Dennise O'Grady
    August 19, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    This is excellent, and I have used it many times. You can even nuance it further by asking students to consider whether they will use ‘so’ as a coordinating conjunction or a conjunctive adverb and how that might change punctuation. Another idea is to use the subordinating conjunction ‘because’ at the beginning of the sentence and ask students: how does that change punctuation if followed by the independent clause? When teachers discourage students from using ‘because’ at the beginning, what exactly do they mean? How does using the dependent clause first make the sentence sometimes more powerful?

    • Doug_Lemov
      August 19, 2014 at 8:31 pm

      Great additions. Thanks, Dennise. My favorite technique in TLaC 2.0 is Art of the Sentence. It’s about teaching kids to write sentences and to cause them to use synctactical devices the stretch their range of thinking and writing…. for example, “Describe the painting in one sentence beginning with “Despite the dark colors…”” or “Describe the painting in one sentence beginning with “When one imagines…”” or “Describe the painting in one sentence beginning with a subordinating conjunction…”

      and of course to do taht you have to have practiced and been taught how to use forms like subordinating conjunctions which we generally fail to do. In other words if a sentence is a “complete thought” we generally fail to teach kids how to “have complex sentences” and therefore complex thoughts in precise language.

      Anyway i like you additions because they base the development of writing on knowledge of how sentences use syntax to shape ideas. Thanks for commenting.

  2. Mark Bradshaw
    August 24, 2014 at 8:35 pm

    After reading the above post this week, I used “But, Because, So” with my eleventh-grade honors and on-level classes. At the end of our poetry lessons, after students had analyzed a sonnet for its syntax, rhyme scheme, structure, diction, and paraphrased meaning, I asked them to then summarize the poem’s argument by completing three sentences based off a starting clause I wrote on the board for them. In the case of my honors students, we read Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus” to launch a unit on Willa Cather’s immigration-centric novel _My Antonia_.

    Starting stem:

    Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus” argues that the Statue of Liberty is a new colossus

    Example completions:
    – , but she contrasts it to the original, male, “conquering” Greek statue of ancient Rhodes by calling it “Mother of Exiles.”

    – because it projects a light of “world-wide welcome” to people all over the globe.
    – , so it demonstrates the moral power of the United States as a refuge for the world’s down-trodden and unwanted.

    (My on-level students used the same strategy to summarize Anne Bradstreet’s “To My Dear and Loving Husband,” and this coming week, honors will tackle Longfellow’s “The Cross of Snow.”)

    I really like that this syntactic trio pushes students to think about (1) contrast, (2) cause, and (3) effect, and I think it fits really well with poetry study and with sonnets in particular because a sonnet is a fourteen-line argument, and “But, Because, So” helps students make sense of that argument with increased nuance.

    • Doug_Lemov
      August 24, 2014 at 11:49 pm

      Love this, Mark. Especially because your sentence offers a basic summary of the poem which students then add complexity to. Seems like your thoughtful applications really made the most of a useful tool.

  3. Gareth Denman
    August 25, 2014 at 2:04 pm

    I have used ‘Connective Cricket’ in my primary school class for several years but not as often as I should.

    Students practise forming complex sentences verbally from a sentence stem using any connective to complete the sentence, in a fun way if the choose.

    Two rules: the sentence must make sense and you cannot repeat the same connective as the preceeding student. If you fail to adhere to these or suffer a ‘brain freeze’ you will here the rest of the class chorus: “YOU ARE OUT!”

    4 – 6 children picked out to the front.
    Whole class chant the sentence stem
    e.g. “Henry the Eighth executed his first wife…
    Child 1 completes this sentence in serious or fun way using a connective on their own.
    e.g. …SINCE she was always out playing football with her friends when she should have been home polishing the crown jewels.”
    Children keep stepping forward to finish the same stem with a different connective and idea for the sentence until one of the rules are broken and they are out.

    Used in conjunction (no pun intended) with ‘but because so’ allows, for younger grades in particular, the build up the use of connectives (of varying sophistication) on a regular basis verbally, which then shows up in their written work.

    The children become very harsh at judging the validity and accuracy of their peers sentences. Lots of fun when played at high intensity and links well with the children’s ability to analyse ideas in more depth in their written work with the increased range of connectives in their vocabulary.

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