Sentence generator

What did you and your family do on the holidays? In this activity you will experiment with our special sentence generator which reports on some unusual holiday happenings.

Goals

  • Experiment with building complex sentences by arranging elements in an interactive sentence generator.
  • Discuss the various elements that can be combined to make an acceptable sentence.
  • Discuss the ways in which arranging elements in different ways affects the meaning of a sentence.

Lesson Plan

The teacher explains that today, we will use a sentence generator to build a variety of sentences and explore the ways that they can be rearranged.

The sentence generator appears in the slides in the Activity page in the right hand menu. Familiarise yourself with it before class time. The generator builds up complex sentences by combining different elements. You can click on each column to scroll up and down, and make different combinations. Some combinations will make more sense than others! You can also click on the dice at the top of the columns to get a new random ordering of elements.

Students can use the generator in Slide 1 on a smart board and see who can come up with the five most interesting holiday activities.

The students shoud discuss how the sentence generator works to put together complex sentences. They might observe the following:

  • The lefthand column provides main clauses. The other two columns provide elements that can be added to extend these clauses.
  • The middle column includes various kinds of phrases that can function as Adverbials (e.g. preposition phrases, adverb phrases, noun phrases).
  • The righthand column has different kinds of subordinate clause, which can also function as Adverbials in the larger structure.

Slide 2 displays a different version of the sentence generator. In this version you can also experiment with changing the order of the elements within a sentence. You can do this by clicking within a column and dragging to left or right (or by clicking on the arrows at the tops of the columns). In this version, there are no full stops and no initial capitals for the first word, so you will need to add these if you write out some of the sentences. You might need to add some commas too.

Students should discuss what they notice about changing the order. Here are some points to think about:

  • Can they still form sentences that work, after changing the order of elements?
  • How many different orders are possible for one combination of elements? 
  • Do some orderings sound better than others?
  • Does changing the order change the meaning, or the emphasis?
  • Do the results differ for different combinations?

Discussion

As you will have noticed, there is a fair amount of freedom in moving many of these sentence elements around, e.g.:

  • I played the harmonica very solemnly until the neighbours complained.
  • Until the neighbours complained, I played the harmonica very solemnly.
  • Very solemnly, I played the harmonica, until the neighbours complained.

But the meaning can change in some cases, e.g.:

  • I played the harmonica until the neighbours complained very solemnly.

In this example it’s the complaining by the neighbours that was done very solemnly, instead of my harmonica-playing (at least in the most likely interpretation). Here the adverb phrase very solemnly has become part of the subordinate clause (until the neighbours complained very solemnly).

Some elements sound rather unnatural in some positions, for example eagerly (the question marks indicate doubtful examples):

  • Although it was raining, we played beach volleyball eagerly.
  • ??Although it was raining, eagerly we played beach volleyball.
  • ?Eagerly, we played beach volleyball although it was raining.

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