2 Visual Metaphors to Teach About Sentences

In my last blog, I introduced several visual metaphors that teachers can use to explain difficult concepts related to academic writing. Today I’ll add a couple more to the list.

Multilayer Cake (Types of Sentences)

I am a big fan of desserts! And multilayer cakes, in my opinion, are the best achievements in the culinary art. The uniqueness of a multilayer cake is, of course, in its layers, which make it so flavorful. So I compare a piece of cake with a paragraph, where the layers of the cake represent sentences. Sentences in a paragraph all have different functions. Normally, a paragraph contains a topic sentence—one layer of the cake. The rest of the sentences provide support to the main idea, which is usually indicated in the topic sentence, but just like the layers of the cake are different, supporting sentences are different, too. For example, some supporting sentences provide argumentation, some may include ideas contrasting the one indicated in the topic sentence, and some may simply provide examples for the topic sentence.

I also tell my students that the choice of supporting ideas will depend on the topic, the genre of the writing piece, their audience, and, of course, their own writing style and voice. However, all sentences in a paragraph are supposed to create one unit, just like the layers make a cake.

A Plate of Plain Noodles and a Plate of Noodles With Veggies, Spices, and Sauce (Sentence Variety)

With this metaphor, you can explain to students why various types and structures of sentences make their writing more enjoyable to read, similar to how it’s more enjoyable to eat noodles with some vegetables and sauce. Certainly we are able to convey our message with simple sentences, just like how plain noodles can satisfy our hunger. But if writers want to catch readers’ attention, they need to do “more cooking.”

There are lots of strategies that students can use to make their sentences more “flavorful.” Some of these strategies include:

  • Creating compound sentences by using coordinating conjunctions (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so)
  • Combining simple sentences with conjunctive adverbs to add a similar idea (also, besides, furthermore, in addition), to add a contrasting idea (on the other hand, in contrast), to add an example (for example, for instance), to add an unexpected continuation (nevertheless, however, nonetheless), to add an expected result (accordingly, as a result, as a consequence, therefore, thus)
  • Indicating the relationships between two simple sentences (clauses) by connecting them with adverbials, including adverbials of time (after, before, when, while, as soon as, since, until, once, as long as, whenever, every time that), cause and effect (since, because, not that), contrast (although, even though, though), direct contrast (while), condition (if, unless, only of, even of, whether or not, in case)
  • Using clauses in place of subjects, objects, and complements in the sentences. Here are some examples:

Whether-clause: I wonder whether I should go to this party or not.

If-clause: Let me know if you still want to go to this party.

That-clause: I am afraid that I won’t be able to go to this party.

  • Using clauses to modify adjectives. For example,

Adjective clauses with pronouns: The article that I just read was really good.

Adjective clauses with whose: I know the author whose article you are reading now.

Adjective clauses with where: The district where we live is very nice.

Adjective clauses with when: I still remember the day when I wrote my first poem.

  • Using adjective clauses to modify pronouns. For example:

There is something I need to tell you.

Anybody who wants to come to this party is welcome.

I don’t believe anything she says.

She is the only one who deserves this award.

Hope you find these metaphors useful. Happy teaching!

About Elena Shvidko

Elena Shvidko
Elena Shvidko is an assistant professor at Utah State University. She received her doctorate in second language studies from Purdue University and her master’s degree in TESOL from Brigham Young University. Her work appears in TESOL Journal, System, Journal on Response to Writing, TESOL interest section newsletters, and TESOL's New Ways series. Her research interests include second language writing, multimodal interaction, interpersonal aspects of language teaching, and teacher professional development.
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2 Responses to 2 Visual Metaphors to Teach About Sentences

  1. shelly brown says:

    One of my colleagues has been doing this using the image of a cheeseburger or sandwich. It has been very successful!

  2. Eric Castonguay says:

    This blog post is really stretching a bad metaphor. It’s a bad metaphor because sentences vary in length and meaning, whereas layers on a cake are uniform. Even if the metaphor worked–what’s the point? Why is the author rehashing the age-old truism that sentences should vary in length, and do we really need another unimaginative metaphor to make the point? Using clauses to modify adjectives hardly makes for a spicy sentence–quite the contrary. Using adjective clauses to modify pronouns is a basic rule, not a recipe for variation. TESOL blogs on the whole are remarkably simpleminded, but this takes “the cake,” to borrow the author’s obtuse metaphor.

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