Information structuring

In this activity, students will be asked to find different ways to express a similar meaning. You may be surprised at just how many different ways you can find! The activity is based on an idea from Max Morenberg’s book Doing Grammar (3rd edition, Oxford University Press, 2002).

Goals

  • Look closely at some examples of information structuring - different ways of expressing the same meaning.
  • Practise composing new ways of expressing the same meaning, exploring as many ways as possible.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will look at information structuring. That means that we will look at different ways of expressing the same idea.

Slide 1 in the Activity page in the right hand menu displays a pair of sentences.

  • Sally was late. It annoyed the boss.

How many other ways can we think of to express the same meaning? Slide 2 provides three examples.

  • Sally was late and it annoyed the boss.
  • It annoyed the boss that Sally was late.
  • Sally’s lateness annoyed the boss.

To create these variations, we can use different grammatical words (small words with mainly grammatical meanings or uses, like bywhatfor). We keep the same content words or closely related ones (e.g. latelatenessannoyedannoying). Students should try to identify for themselves the content words that have remained constant in each sentence, and the grammatical words that have changed. 

Now, ask students to think of as many additional variations as they can. Slide 3 provides a list of additional possibilities.

  • The boss was annoyed by Sally’s lateness.
  • It was Sally’s lateness that annoyed the boss.
  • What annoyed the boss was Sally’s lateness.
  • It was annoying for the boss when Sally was late.
  • Annoyingly for the boss, Sally was late.
  • Sally was late, annoyingly for the boss.
  • Sally was late; it annoyed the boss.
  • How annoyed the boss was when Sally was late!
  • Sally, late – the boss, annoyed.
  • Sally was late, annoying the boss.
  • It annoyed the boss, Sally being late.

The students should consider the following questions:

  • Do all of these examples have the same meaning? 
  • Are there subtle shifts in terms of emphasis or what each example might imply? 
  • How about in terms of tone or register? 
  • Do some examples seem more polite or more emotional?

Slide 4 presents a new example. Taking the two sentences below as their starting point, students should think of as many single sentences as possible that express a very similar meaning, without using completely new content words.

  • Lee was rude. It shocked me.

Tips:

  • Use varied structures (e.g. active/passive; subordinate clauses).
  • Vary the order of elements in the sentence.
  • Use related word forms (like late/lateness in our first example).
  • Use different punctuation.
  • If you are stuck, look back at the example discussed earlier to get some ideas.
  • Be creative, and don’t stop too soon! There are more possibilities than you might expect. Try for 10, then 20, then more.

How many variants did the whole class come up with? Did different people think of different variants? Again, discuss the different patterns that you found in terms of form and meaning:

  • What different forms can you identify? Examples might be: related words from different word classes; actives/passives; different kinds of subordinate clauses.
  • Do the different patterns make slight differences to the meanings expressed? If so, what kinds of differences? Would different variants be used in different contexts?

The activity was open-ended, and you may well have found different variants. You may like to compare your list of variants against ours, which is also displayeda cross the last slides in the Activity page.

  • Lee was rude; I was shocked.
  • Lee was rude, and I was shocked.
  • Lee’s rudeness shocked me.
  • I was shocked by Lee’s rudeness.
  • It shocked me that Lee was rude.
  • That Lee was rude shocked me.
  • What shocked me was Lee’s rudeness.
  • What I was shocked by was Lee’s rudeness.
  • How shocked I was by Lee’s rudeness.
  • What a shock Lee’s rudeness was to me.
  • For me, Lee’s rudeness was shocking.
  • Lee’s rudeness was what shocked me.
  • Lee’s rudeness, that was what shocked me.
  • Shockingly for me, Lee was rude.
  • When Lee was rude, it shocked me.
  • I was shocked when Lee was rude.
  • Lee was rude; I was in shock.
  • Lee was rude, shocking me.
  • Lee, shockingly to me, was rude.
  • That rudeness of Lee’s shocked me.
  • I was shocked by it, Lee’s rudeness.
  • It was shocking to me, Lee’s rudeness.
  • Lee’s rudeness was a shock to me.
  • Lee was rude – what a shock for me!
  • Lee, rude – me, shocked.
  • How shocking to me was Lee’s rudeness.
  • What Lee did was shock me with his rudeness.
  • What Lee’s rudeness did was shock me.
  • Lee shocked me by being rude.
  • Rude Lee shocked me.
  • Lee’s rudeness, I was shocked by.
  • Lee being rude – that was a shock to me.

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