I’m conscious that readers want to get to the point and not hear about my Damascus road conversion. So in this post I’ll:

  • outline some basic ideas and provide you with explicit teaching slide decks to download.
  • link you to Harry Noden’s Image Grammar where you can learn more about the brushtrokes mentioned below. Every Secondary English teacher should have a copy of Noden; I think it should be used in University Education method.
  • point to other outstanding resources by by Don Killagon and Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined, which contain some similar ideas.

The sentence structures and slides below will be useful for the teaching resources, if you wish to use them.

These tools are used here in the context of narrative writing, however the sentence structures are applicable to persuasive. The participle phrase concept is used in Seldon Bubble theory

Brushstrokes to improve writing

Harry Noden calls writing a type of painting, and various sentences are like brushstrokes. He has 5 main brushstrokes which are explicitly taught: the participle, appositive, absolute, action verbs, and delayed adjectives. Jeff Anderson in Mechanically Inclined extends this idea to any sentence form. The slide decks below are things I have put together, inspired by Noden, Anderson and Killagon. Use them and adapt as you see fit.

On this page you will find 9 slide decks to support you and your students. These are:

  1. The participle
  2. The appositive
  3. The absolute
  4. Action verbs
  5. Delayed adjectives
  6. Subordinating conjunctions/adverbial clauses
  7. Coordinating conjunctions
  8. Adjectival/Relative clauses
  9. Extending simple sentences

The participle

This is an excellent tool to teach students. The first few slides contain some teacher notes, and the later slides contain some extended concepts. Remember, this has not been designed as a single lesson, but a resource to pull ideas and activities from. This simple tool will make instantly make changes to your student’s writing.

Download a copy of the deck

The appositive

Another great tool from Noden is the appositive. Essentially it is a noun phrase which renames an earlier noun. Noden describes this process of extending visual detail with these brushstrokes as zooming in on an image. This structure is used across all KLAs

Download a copy of the slides

The absolute

The absolute phrases combines a noun and a participle. There are other versions, but this is enough to get you started. Noden and Killagon provide a simple trick for creating absolute phrases; remove the verb ‘to be’ and you probably have created an absolute phrase. 

Download a copy of the slides

Action verbs

Noden’s section on Action verbs is brief, yet comprehensive. Poor writers often lurch for adjectives and adverbs rather than the finding a specific verb. This is an excellent tool to teach students and is great as a simple editing tool.

Download a copy of the slides

Delayed adjectives

Noden uses delayed adjectives as a simple way to teach style. I don’t have a ppt for this because the concept is so simple. By way of illustration look at how this sentence is improved with when the adjectives occur after the noun:

1. A drunk guy staggers into my field, red-eyed and swearing.

2. Senora Wong, diminuative but not fragile, ruled with an iron fist.

3.Words were exchanged, brief and hushed.

4. Nausea began to spread through his stomach, warm and oozy and evil.

Each one of the sentences above could have the adjectives or adjective phrase placed before the noun, but the rhythm would no be as nice. Consider: Brief and hushed words were exchanged.

So, teach writers to think about delaying the adjectives to after the noun it describes.

Adjectival/Relative clauses

Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined has some excellent instructions around the adjectival phrase or relative clause. For struggling writers, this gives them another tool to expand the visual detail of their sentences.

Download a copy of the slides

Adverbial clauses/AAAWWUBBIS

The mnemonic I use for this is taken from Jeff Anderson. You don’t have to use AAAWWUBBIS (a-whoo-bis); it is the one stuck in my head. AAAWWUBBIS is a list of the common subordinators:
After, Although, As, When, While, Until, Before, Because, If Since

At NAPLAN marking training they use a different one (A WHITE BUS), which has a couple less.

Download a copy of the slides

Simple sentences

Expanding simple sentences with phrases, or rearranging the phrases and adjectives.

Download a copy of the slides

Coordinating conjunctions

This is an excellent tool to teach students. 

Download a copy of the slides

15 thoughts on “The art of the sentence

    1. Hey Belinda, thanks for commenting. Noden is fantastic, and Anderson and Killagon are worth checking out too.

      I’ve seen a lot of student success and I hope you do too.


  1. This is brilliant Tim, although I have not looked at it all yet.
    I have just finished marking the NAPLAN, so I know how helpful your blog would have been. It’s a great resource for the classroom.
    Happy teaching! Jean


  2. Hi Tim,
    I am using these resources (the ‘Brushroads to Improve Writing’ slide decks) and my 5/6 class are lapping it up! I’m really excited about using these as extra tools to add to their ‘Writing Toolbox’.
    Thank you VERY much!


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