For this activity, students first revise unclear sentences at home, then confer together as a team to decide on the strongest revisions, and finally compete against another team in class to win the most votes for clearest sentences.


To practice revising sentences with attention to what readers perceive as clear

Key Terms

clarity; revision; style; characters and actions


Part I: Prepare

Present or review the concepts in WR 120 Essential Lesson 4 before assigning a dozen unclear sentences of your choice for students to revise for homework. Give the following directions to students along with the twelve sentences (created from your course content/based on your course readings):

Homework: Revising to Improve Clarity

Use the three-step process we practiced together to analyze each sentence:

  • identify the verbs;
  • identify the subjects;
  • ask WHO is doing WHAT in the story that this sentence is trying to tell.

Revise by making each sentence’s main “characters” (the WHO) into the grammatical subjects, and their “actions” (the WHAT) the sentence’s verbs.

Part II: Race

In the next class, divide the students into four groups. Assign Groups 1 and 3 the odd sentences and Groups 2 and 4 the even sentences. Give them 10 minutes to compare the revisions they did for homework and decide together on the clearest version. Each student should be responsible for making the final judgment about at least one sentence.

  1. Make sure that each group has easy access to a board and that there are enough markers or pieces of chalk for each group. Then start a relay race between groups with the same sentences; Groups 1 and 3 race to the board to write their odd-numbered sentences. Each student writes one sentence then hands off the marker to the next student, and so on until all the odd sentences are on the board. (If you like, award the group that finishes first with candy or some other small prize.)
  2. Once all the odd sentences are on the board, read each sentence pair aloud and ask the students in Groups 2 and 4 vote on which sentence is clearer. After the students have voted, the instructor may chime in with an opinion or explanation, but let the votes stand as given. When they’ve voted on all of the odd-numbered sentences, add up the points to determine the winning team. (If you like, give them a small prize.) Then switch: Groups 2 and 4 write their sentences, and Groups 1 and 3 vote.
  3. Ask students to identify and/or revise an unclear sentence in a peer’s paper and/or in their own in class or for homework.