Help reluctant writers with reverse engineering!

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In the world of technology, reverse engineering is a slippery slope, as any technology patent office will tell you. But, in Shurley English, we feature a clever type of reverse engineering that can be groundbreaking for reluctant writers.

In Shurley English, we make it our goal to help students understand basic grammar concepts and definitions in a fun way. But, we also want to make sure students can transfer their grammar knowledge into writing. We use a strategy called Sentence Blueprints.

Sentence Blueprints are the result of studying the Question and Answer Flow, the innovative system of questions and answers that help students classify the parts of speech of words used in a sentence. Basically, a sentence blueprint is actually the Question and Answer Flow process after it undergoes reverse engineering, Shurley style.

Since students are taught the Shurley English Jingles early and often, they already have gained a wealth of knowledge about how words work in English. The Question and Answer Flow advances that learning by putting it into practice in the analysis of sentences. Now comes the reverse engineering aspect. We provide young writers a blueprint for a sentence. The sentence may be built from a set of parts of speech labels, such as A (which stands for Article Adjective), Adj (Adjective), SN (Subject Noun), V (Verb), P (Preposition), A (Article Adjective), OP (Object of the Preposition). Printed all together, the labels or blueprint look like this: A Adj SN V P A OP.

Next, we present the writer with a page filled with open fields where words can be arranged into sentences, using the blueprint.  (I'll include a Sentence Blueprint at the end of this article!) By reversing the process of the Q & A Flow, we ask the writer to start with the same core of a sentence they would classify, asking the exact same questions as they would during analysis. This time, however, they will have the freedom to use whichever words they like to create a sensible, correctly written sentence. If I take this example a step further, I think you will see what I mean. Here is my example:

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In this example, I would start with the subject noun and verb. Then, just like in the Q& A Flow, I would move past the verb rummaged and go to the prepositional phrase, word by word. After I finish the verb part of the sentence, I would then move to the subject noun and work in reverse until I get to the last word I write in the sentence, the Article Adjective The, which is the actual first word of my sentence. (Here's a great video that shows you the entire process.)

By teaching students to think of the Q & A Flow in reverse, they are, in a sense, participating in reverse engineering in the realm of linguistics called semantics. How cool is that! After teaching kids to focus on just one sentence at a time to focus with special emphasis on the skill of sentence building, they seldom struggle with knowing the difference between a complete sentence vs. a fragment, a problem many, many students have in school when it comes to writing.

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.