Posted to ACW-L, WCenter, NCTE-Talk,
and TEACH on 10/18/99.
As a student, the idea of style made me
nuts. I could understand details and specifics, a variety of
structural patterns, comma splices, ways to use the colon.
But style. I couldn't get a handle on it. After all, it was
one of those shifting things. It seemed thoroughly
undefinable to me. Nothing like the clarity of subject-verb
agreement and persuasive arguments.
When I began teaching, I felt a sort of
crawling in my stomach when I had to bring up issues of
style in class. I guess because it seemed so hard to define
to me when I was a student. Despite all the wonderful
teachers who had explained it to me, I don't think I really
"got it" until I was a junior or senior in college.
As a result, I devised a whole battery of
class assignments, InterChange and Mail discussion starters,
and analytical Respond series. I've collected many of these
curriculum resources in the Teacher's Guide and online
resources that accompany the Daedalus Style Handbook for
Here are brief versions of some of the
writing assignments that are included in the collection.
- Choose a passage from the
novel or short story that we're reading and translate it
into another style. You can choose any style you want.
You might choose a very formal style, a jargon-filled
technical style, or persuasive, business writing style.
You could even try the style of a children's picture book
or a personal interest story in a newspaper. Whatever
style you choose, be consistent through your entire
translation. Use one style from beginning to end. Once
you finish your translation, skip down a few lines and
add a paragraph or so that explains how you made the
decisions that you did as you were translating.
ALTERNATE VERSION: Translate
a fairy tale, folk tale, or fable that you've read into
another style. Or get experimental, and have them write a
rap version or an exaggerated and flowery version.
- You undoubtedly use several
styles in your day-to-day communication with people. Some
are probably formal; others may be less formal,
dialectical, or technical. Write a classification paper
that organizes the styles that you use most often. To
begin, jot down what you know about the styles that you
use. Next, look for connections -- and differences. Which
styles can you group in the same category? What sets the
different categories apart? Write a paper that outlines
the different classes of language that you use and
defines specifically the ways that the language in each
category is unique.
- Choose three paragraphs from
a story or novel (averaging at least fifteen words per
paragraph), and analyze the stylistic choices that the
author has made. Start by taking some notes on the
purpose of the passage. Summarize the passage, and
outline its significance. Next, think about the way that
the author has used style to make a point or emphasize a
detail. What words or phrases are repeated? What sentence
structures are used? How would you label the text --
formal? informal? objective? chatty? Write a paper that
analyzes the style that the author uses. Identify both
the stylistic elements that the author uses and their
relationship to the characters involved and/or to the
main point of the story.
- Write the same message in
three different styles. Choose a short message -- perhaps
an invitation to a party, a description of a small
object, a note announcing a new policy. Choose three
different styles, and write the message in each of the
three styles. You might choose a formal, informal, and
objective styles. You could choose a particular slang
style, a business writing style, or a legal style. You
could write the message using an active style, a passive
style, and a natural blend of the two.
- Write a paper which explains
an English slang word or a jargon term that you know to
an foreign exchange student or a friend from another
country who is planning a visit to your home. Here is the
situation: Your friend has been reading WWW pages about
the region where you live and found a slang word or
jargon term which he or she didn't understand. Your
friend sent you an email message asking you to explain
what the word means. For your paper, write the message
you'd send to your friend. Explain what the slang word or
phrase means and how it is used.
- The word "style" is used to
describe a lot of kinds of expression. Write a paper that
explores a kind of style that DOESN'T involve word
choice and sentence structure. You might outline the
"rules" that apply to the style that you've chosen or
compare/contrast two related styles (in the same way that
you might compare formal and informal writing styles).
You might describe the style of clothing that you wear.
Or consider the stylistic flair of a particular athlete
-- think about the variety of styles of slam dunks and
backhands. There's a wide range of options: hairstyles,
musical styles, and so forth. Just choose a style that
you're familiar with and write a paper that explores and
explains that style.
- Imitate the style of a
passage. Choose a descriptive passage from one of the
texts that we've been reading. Think about the stylistic
choices that the author makes -- what word choice and
sentence structure has the writer used? Once you've
analyzed the text that you're modeling your piece after,
describe the view from your room's window or from a
similar location imitating the style of the passage that
you've chosen. Try to use similar word choice, sentence
structure, and organization. Be sure to include a copy of
the passage that you're using as your model when you
submit your paper.
- Choose an informative
newspaper or magazine article that reports details on a
recent event and rewrite the article as a personal
interest story (or vice-versa). The facts are the same
whether you're writing a news story or a personal
interest story -- the difference is often the style: the
ways that the story is structured, the specific words and
phrases that are used, and the ways that the ideas come
together in sentences. Think about the difference between
the way that someone might be described. A news article
might include a description such as "the 6'6"
firefighter" while a personal interest story focusing on
the man might describe him as "the towering hero." Your
rewrite should recast the words and sentences in the
original to fit the style of the new version.
- Your textbooks explain
complex ideas and issues. Regardless of the subject
matter, textbooks need to balance the technical jargon
and style of the field being covered with explanations
and details that make the ideas clear to someone new to
the field. Analyze the style that is used in one of your
textbooks. What kind of words are used? How often are
technical terms included -- and how are those terms
presented? What kind of sentences are used? What terms
and structures are repeated? In your paper, outline the
stylistic choices that the textbook's authors have made
and explain how they help (or don't) make the material
appropriate for readers.
- Lewis Carroll's poem
"Jabberwocky" adopts the style of an adventure tale but
uses make-believe words to describe the events. Carroll
mixes known and unknown words in phrases such as "vorpal
blade." His sentence structure and syntax make sense even
though the words that he's chosen are nonsensical.
For this writing assignment,
choose one of these options:
a) Try your own hand at a
"Jabberwocky" tale. Choose a model that you're familiar
with and imitate the style for that model, telling a
slightly nonsensical story as Carroll does. You don't
need to stick with the romantic adventure that Carroll
uses as his model -- you might write a sports article, a
personal interest story, a news article, or an
advertisement. After you've written your "Jabberwocky,"
write a short reflection that identifies your model and
explains the choices that you've made.
b) Translate Carroll's tale
into another style. What would the story have been if
Carroll were writing a newspaper report or a technical
report? How would the piece be different? Choose a style
that makes sense for the story, and write a version of
the events using that style. This assignment has two
parts: (1) translate the story into a new style, and (2)
write a paragraph that identifies the new styles that
you've chosen and that explains how you made your
decisions as you were translating.
Posted October 22, 1998 on
the Daedalus Website.