From the beginning, students learn that any word or group of words that’s not a verb or its subject or a connecting word usually tells more about a verb or its subject or another word in the sentence, and this we call “expansion.” We generally ignore the complement, because it rarely creates problems. In the book’s system, then, four terms—verb, subject, connecting word, and expansion— replace a myriad of terms, with their many confusing distinctions useless to novice writers. The simplicity of the concept and method, along with its mode of dramatically clear marking, makes it instantly transferable to students’ own writing. They can apply it directly, without having to rewrite, diagram, or add any obtrusive clutter, in order to analyze, fix, and further revise all varieties of sentences.
In Part 2 (Writing Correct Sentences, Units 7-10), students learn to find and fix sentence faults by applying the overarching principle, growing out of the initial premise, that between a capital letter and a period the number of simple sentences always should be one more than the number of connecting words. However, we have found that even before they do specific work on run-ons and fragments, they often begin to recognize and correct these problems because they have grasped, basically, how sentences work.
Ultimately, this thorough understanding of how sentences work makes it possible for them to go on in Part 3 (Writing Better Sentences, Units 11-14) to write not only correct but also well-constructed, clear, and stylistically effective sentences.
Transfer of skills from workbook exercises to students’ own writing is one thing teachers have always been most skeptical about. Teachers who have field-tested the fifth edition of Mastering Written English, which uses a similar approach, have found that students experience increasing control over the revision and editing of sentences as they work through a unit. Reviewers also have expressed confidence that this approach, coupled with the book’s powerful new sentence analysis system, will impact on students’ own writing.
As has been stressed, since not all of the students in a particular class may need the work it provides, or some students may need only part of it, a supplementary workbook needs to be flexible. Perhaps more than any other feature, the book’s self-teaching approach makes this flexibility possible. Because students are working on their own, at their own pace, it’s easy for teachers to individualize assignments to accommodate specific needs. Teachers may assign the units for homework, just spot-checking them for accuracy, and marking only the four “test” essays. If the entire class is using the book, instructors will find it useful to structure work in small groups so that students can apply the approaches they’re all learning to revising sentences in each other’s papers. And in teaching the process approach to writing, instructors can have students apply the book’s methods at the revising and editing stages of that process.