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Philosophy and the Fronted Adverbial

This week, a dialogue between a teacher and her class, as they strive to ‘improve’ a passage of text. While it might draw a grimace of recognition from UK teachers wrangling fronted adverbials, it raises questions of what language is for, and whether the best language to use is purely a question of taste. It’s pasted below, and you can also download the PDF here.
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Room For Improvement?
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It’s probably best read by a teacher, with a nod towards some different voices for the pupils, or you could mark it up as a script. You could use it to generate questions, or offer this question menu:
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  • Can everything be improved?
  • How do you know when to stop improving something?
  • Can improving something make it worse at the same time?
  • When is less, more?
  • When is more, less?
  • Is the right choice of words just a question of taste?
  • Are some things un-improvable?
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Speaking of improvement…
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…we’ve finally got round to compiling the list of 340 schools and other organisations we have worked with to improve their children’s thinking and talk, through INSETs, pupil workshops and teachers attending courses:
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If you’d like to join them in improving the quality of dialogue in the classroom, hit reply, or call 01245 830123 and tell Tom what you are trying to develop, and he’ll suggest some immediate strategies.
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Best wishes,
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Jason and Tom
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“‘The birds sang.’ Could we add some detail?”
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“They could sing in the trees.”
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“‘The birds sang in the trees.’ That’s better, but how could we make that more interesting?”
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“Change the verb, miss? Like, ‘The birds trilled in the trees.’”
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“That’s good. Alliteration too! What about adding a fronted adverbial?”
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“‘Like music, the birds trilled in the trees.’”
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“Excellent. Could we add an adverb?”
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“’Like music, the birds trilled cheerfully in the trees.’”
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“Oh, yes. And what about an adjective for the trees?”
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“‘Tall?’”
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“Maybe. Any other suggestions?”
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“‘Towering?’”
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“And the music could be ‘beautiful’”.
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“‘Like beautiful music, the birds trilled cheerfully in the towering trees.’ There, that’s an improvement, isn’t it? Yes, Michael? What is it?”
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“It’s just… isn’t it a bit complicated now, miss. A bit of a mouthful.”
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“I suppose you could say that. What do you think would be better?”
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“Well, ‘towering’ sounds a bit scary. So tall’s better.”
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“And trees are usually tall, aren’t they? So we don’t need tall at all.”
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“And birdsong is a happy sound. Unless they’re crows, and then you wouldn’t say they were trilling. So we don’t need ‘cheerfully’.”
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“Or ‘beautiful’. Birds always sound beautiful. Unless they’re crows.”
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“And if they’re trilling, it’s going to be like music, isn’t it? So we don’t need ‘like music’.”
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“I’m not sure about ‘trilling’. I play the piano. Birds trill a bit but they do other stuff too. It’s more of a song than a trill.”
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“I don’t think we need the ‘the’. They’re just some birds. They’re not the birds.”
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“’Birds sang.’”
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“It’s a bit short, isn’t it?”
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“Shall we keep the ‘the’?”

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