Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Word Blocks Help Students Learn to Write Sentences

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Word Blocks Help Students Learn to Write Sentences

Article excerpt



In 1957, Dr. Robert Ian Scott began teaching the grammar these blocks embody: Subject, Verb, Object, Qualifier (SVOQ). To help students learn to write a clear and informative English, Dr. Scott devised some questions - mostly variations of the who? Does what? to whom? etc. of the SVOQ pattern. He often wrote these questions on the blackboard as patterns which provide recipes for writing sentences and for reading more perceptively. When he indicated choices of words in these patterns, he put them inside brackets [ ], and later in boxes. The boxes suggested the idea of putting the words on blocks. In 1968, Dr. Scott tested the grammar by putting words on actual blocks an seeing whether first-graders in Saskatoon would use the blocks to produce sentences, which they did with what he described as "a delightful enthusiasm and intelligence."

Because the blocks and the SVOQ grammar do not have the verb to be, they produce a crisply specific E-Prime. Once, one child stopped using the blocks for a moment and began a sentence using is followed by an adjective. He then decided not to finish the sentence because, he said, the blocks didn't produce it, and the sentence didn't say what he wanted to say; he then went back to writing reports with active verbs. Such results suggest that the SVOQ and the blocks provide an independent confirmation of the validity of E-Prime and of structural grammars as experiments with practical applications.

Teachers testing these blocks have made them by folding construction paper in the appropriate colors into cubes just under 3 x 3 x 3 inches in size. The teachers then wrote or typed the words on gummed address labels and put them on the blocks.

Using Word Blocks to Produce Sentences

THIS PROGRAM'S color-coded word blocks show six-year-olds (and older students) how to write sentences as variations of a single one-word-after-another pattern of questions and answers, Subject-active Verb-Object-Qualifier, SVOQ for short:

Who? does what? to whom? When, where, how?

Subject Verb Object Qualifier(s)

(red) (blue) (red) (yellow)

The blocks make sentence patterns and their meanings more graphically clear and more easily handled.

To use these blocks, arrange them in a row, S, V, O, Q, and ask students to choose one word from each block in order to put sentences together. When these choices don't produce a grammatical sentence, try other words or rearrange the blocks into another pattern. The blocks provide a way for children to experiment, to make and test sentences, and so discover the many possibilities of our language. These possibilities include how we can rewrite any sentence into any other, as we

1) choose the appropriate words. Each side of each block gives us a choice of words, or of one or more forms of the same word, as with see, sees, saw.

2) turn blocks over to substitute one word for another to produce sentences with different meanings, but the same pattern, as in

Subject Verb    Number Object
We      saw     two    dogs.
Tom     painted a      house.

3) cluster or uncluster. We cluster by putting more words into a part of a sentence to ask or answer more questions; we uncluster by removing words, making that part of the sentence shorter and also less specific, as in replacing the cluster "those two very tall boys" with the single word "them." The longer the cluster, the more questions it can answer.

4) rearrange or add or remove blocks to transform (change) whole sentence patterns, as with putting the Q first:


We found weeds there.


There we found weeds.

We also change sentence patterns by adding more answers, as in


In my garden,

How many?

we found hundreds of weeds.

Instead of naming the words noun, verb, etc, see what happens when you or your students use various words in this or that place in a sentence pattern. …

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