Writing By Rhyme and Reason


A Whole Teacher / Whole Child Strategy for teaching sentence structure and paragraphing

Using rhythm and rhyme rather than the rules of Grammar.


269 BC – 399 BC

“You see, I am not teaching him anything, only asking.”

Plato, “The Meno”

? ? ? ? ?

Before the High-Stakes Test— Wasn’t there always The Question?

For many students, their teachers’ use of language represents their best model of both accurate syntax and a rich vocabulary; these models enable students to emulate such language, making their own more precise and expressive. Skilled teachers seize on opportunities both to use precise, academic vocabulary and to explain their use of it.”                                  

Danielson         The Framework for Teaching          Rubric 3B


Questioning has forever been the primary tool teachers have used to make our students think.

To help our students scaffold their thoughts into writing, we re-apply here two tried and true techniques used for centuries— GOOD QUESTIONING +  CALL and RESPONSE.

Each deliberately worded question that we ask our students should contain the linguistic infrastructure for them to articulate a ready response— simply by deconstructing the question, and using its syntax as the scaffolding to re-construct their answer into a complete sentence.

In other words:

“We use the words of the question to structure our answer.”

This is a common technique for teaching second languages. It is also known as the “Standard Constructive Response” and “TTQA” (Turn The Question Around).

1. The Structured Answer


The task of structuring answers EXACTLY to the syntax of questions fixes the student’s attention upon the linguistic architecture of all questions.

The task of skillfully WORDING a question fixes the teacher’s attention concretely upon how students will actually think it though as they attempt to verbalize their answers.

This rhythm of questioning-and-answering creates a venue to exercise the full range of your children’s powers of articulated reasoning. See Bloom’s Taxonomy

Students can best internalize the language of exposition by verbalizing their answers orally to start— i.e. without writing them down— and then later reading their written answers out loud. After modeling and practicing how to think through their structured answers out loud, then they will be more confident in writing structured answers to questions presented visually or verbally.

To achieve a proper response to any question, student writers are required to establish the strictest possible alignment between the language of the questions and the language of their answers.

Your students will gain a keen appreciation of what every question is asking:

This response does NOT fully answer that question.

It answers this question: When you come home from school, what do you do?

The student neglected to note the declaration of priority (“first thing I do”).

The student neglected to note the qualifier (“usually”).

Both linguistic elements are easily observable in the question.

We encourage use of a syntactically diverse variety of questions from a wide variety of topics. Students will keep all their single-sentence answers in portfolios.

From a sizable inventory of accumulated single-sentence answers, your writers should choose several of their favorites to develop into paragraphs.

2. The Structured Paragraph

First, students develop skill writing single-sentence answers tightly to the syntax of questions.

Next, students develop their single- sentence answers into paragraphs as follows:

  • “Structured Paragraphs” are exactly 5 sentences.
  • The Structured Answer becomes the topic sentence of the paragraph.
  • Three more sentences add depth, details, and supportive information.
  • The fifth sentence concludes or summarizes.

3. The Illuminated Paragraph

Students artistically present their writing.

They use colored pencils and manuscript paper to illuminate certain special paragraphs in their portfolios.

4. Generating Essays on a Topic

After students have structured answers to questions and structured paragraphs elaborating on their structured answers, the expository writing process extends into giving them practice creating their own questions for single sentence structured answers and for elaborating upon with structured paragraphs. The technique can prompt writing from personal experience, as well as essays based on specific text sources, or topics given for research.


What is your full name?

How many people are there in your family?

Who is the oldest person in your family?

What is your most favorite holiday of the year?

Of all the ice cream flavors they make, which is the best?

What are three good toppings to put on a pizza?

What are the names of five fictional characters you know?

What is the name of the story where a little girl meets a wolf in the woods?

When you solve a quadratic equation, what is the first thing you usually do?

A 12-Session Residency

Using Dramatic Arts and Movement to Teach Expository Thinking, Speaking, and Writing


 Introducing the Structured Answer Technique into the instructional culture of the classroom as students perform an alliterative, tongue twisting narrative


Relevant State English Language Arts Standard

“The student reads aloud, accurately… with a rhythm, flow, and meter that sounds like everyday speech.”

Relevant NYC Blueprint for the Arts

“Students will be able to use a variety of vocal skills, including volume, pitch and tempo; Use a variety of vocal dynamics to explore thoughts and emotions; Demonstrate the ability to participate in choral reading.”

Literacy Aim

By learning the first two lines “by heart” and internalizing the rhythms of the rest of the text, students form a bond with the material and will call upon the syntactic structures of the poem to elaborate expository answers to questions about the text.

Artistic Aim

Students will practice the poem in chorus to prepare for a performance at an Assembly.


Day #1

Professional Development Session for Participating Teachers (1-3 hours)

  • Introduce basic voice and movement performance techniques
  •  Introduce techniques for sentence construction and paragraphing
  •  Introduce the art of raising and discussing questions with children as per Danielson
  • Introduce instructional materials
  • Explain expectation for preparation (10 minutes each session)
  • Explain expectation for follow-up (10 minutes each session)
  • Describe Use of Portfolio Assessment

Days #2- 11

10 Co-Lateral Professional Development Sessions of Teachers, Their Classes and a Teaching Artist (1 hour each)

Our WHOLE CHILD strategy is to teach children the ACTING skills (as per NYC Blueprint for Drama) necessary for good outward self-expression simultaneously with teaching them the WRITING skills (as per Common Core State Standards for Language Arts) necessary for their inward self-expression.

The creative focus of the residency will be on the performance of a tongue twisting narrative rhyme, Betty Botter.           

Performing the rhyme will embody the text into the imaginations of the students and into the instructional cultures of the classes. The nonsensical content and syntactical structures will become the basis of structuring answers to questions, and extending those answers into coherent paragraphs.

Reinforcement materials include a variety of linguistic activities using rhyme and reason playfully.

Day #12

   Assembly or Video Performance


In addition to the shared performances of participating classes, the Teaching Artist will conduct an Assembly where students in the audience participate in ELA-driven performing arts activities.