FLIRT is an acronym which reminds students to create sentence variety:
- First Word of each sentence is different.
- Lengths of sentences vary.
- Inversion is used for variety.
- Repetition is either avoided, or used for a purpose.
- Types of Sentences vary.
|Flint, Michigan has defined not only what's decent, |
but also what's disorderly and downright indecent.
Nor are sagging pants the only sartorial choice that makes me cringe. Take rompers, or shortalls. They offer the ease of a dress with the comfort of shorts, and I’m for convenience. But when adults start wearing clothes that I’ve been buying for people’s babies, something is wrong. As for wearing a very adult thong with a short skirt: Do you really want to sit your bare derrière on a subway seat? Granny panties may not be that sexy, but neither is a visit to the urologist.
Did Tracey Lloyd consult my checklist? No. She most likely is an experienced writer with an ear for good writing and a willingness to revise.
So to give my students a fighting chance, I emphasize FLIRT and provide them with plenty of excellent writing models (although perhaps not the one cited above!).
First Word of Each Sentence is Different
It's not uncommon for egocentric students to write about their own experiences with "I" leading every sentence. Students fixated upon a topic, such as snakes, may similarly begin every sentence with that word.
The Fix: Require students to read aloud or list the first word of every sentence. Teach ways to restate ideas by using synonyms, additional phrases or clauses, or inversion of existing words.
Before: The great horned owl hunts small animals that live on the forest floor. The great horned owl uses its talons to catch them.
After: Strong, sharp talons allow the great horned owl to capture small animals that live on the forest floor.Lengths of Sentences Vary
Sentences of the same length, appearing over and over, give writing a sing-song rhythm which is apt to lull the reader to sleep.
The Fix: Use coordinate conjunctions and subordinate clauses to combine short sentences.
Before: The park is used by many people in the community. Some people just don't clean up when they're done.
After: The park is used by many people in the community; however, some users neglect to clean up when they leave. Is that fair to everyone?Inversion is Used for Variety
Beginning writers tend to place the sentence stem first, adding details later:
We heard a loud crash sometime after midnight.The Fix: Phrases and clauses within sentences can be moved to increase sentence variety and interest.
Lenny waited in the outfield eagerly with his feet spread apart and his hands on his knees.
Susette had no interest in the suitors like her sisters.
Sometime after midnight, a loud crash knocked us from our beds.Repetition is Either Avoided, or Used for a Purpose
Feet spread apart, hands on his knees, Lenny waited eagerly in the outfield.
Unlike her sisters, Susette had no interest in the suitors.
Students need to see examples of writing that avoids repetition, and writing that purposely employs it. For the most part, Tracey Llloyd's opinion piece avoided repetition. Not here how it's used for effect:
Unlike the homes of readers, the homes of these students had no literary materials in sight. No magazines. No books. No newspapers. Without exception, however, every one of these homes contained a television.The Fix: Help students discern between repetition and redundancy.
Types of Sentences Vary
Check out Tracey Lloyd's first paragraph again, and note that she employs four sentence types; in the second paragraph, she employs three.
Another place to find excellent examples of variety in sentence types is advertising. In a legendary Charles Atlas bodybuilding ad, for example, we read:
Was this ad copy successful in selling a product? Yes, to the tune of millions! Good writing sells products as well as ideas.
The Fix: Provide students with boring paragraphs containing only statements, and challenge them to rewrite those paragraphs using the four sentence types.
So is FLIRT complete? No. Word choice is noticeably absent. But for beginning writers, this is a fine list for self-checking writing at a very basic level.
Do you have a repertoire of similar acronyms or Mnemonic devices to help your students with writing or reading? We'd love to hear them!