Is sequencing sentences no longer a writing skill?

In the following questions, the first sentence of a paragraph is given. Your job is to “unscramble” the rest of the paragraph by putting the next five sentences in the correct order.

QUESTION 1 In the remote mountain country of Nepal, a small band of “honey hunters” carry out a tradition so ancient that it is depicted in drawings dating back 10,000 years.

______ Q. Throughout this entire dangerous practice, the hunter is stung repeatedly.

______ R. To harvest the honey from these combs, a honey hunter climbs above the nest, lowers a bamboo-fiber ladder over the cliff and climbs down.

______ S. The honeybees that colonize the Nepalese mountainsides are among the largest in the world, building huge honeycombs on sheer rock faces that may be hundreds of feet high.

______ T. Only veteran honey hunters, with skin that has been toughened over the years, can return from a hunt without the painful swelling caused by these stings.

______ U. Once he has reached the level of the nest, the hunter uses two sturdy bamboo poles like huge chopsticks to pull it away from the mountainside and into a large basket, which is then lowered to people waiting below.

QUESTION 2 In the 1880s, John Wesley Powell, an explorer of the Grand Canyon and director of the United States Geological Survey, led the development of the first topographical maps of the entire United States.

______ Q. This is because streams cut into the land, so contour lines will turn upstream, cross the waterway and return downstream, creating a V shape, with the “V” pointing upstream.

______ R. Waterways, such as streams, are usually marked in blue on topo maps, but even if they were not, the presence of one could still be identified using contour lines.

______ S. Contour lines indicate the slope of the land as well.

______ T. If the lines are close together, the elevation is changing rapidly and the slope is steep, whereas widely spaced lines depict a gently sloping terrain.

______ U. Also called “topo maps,” these maps differ from others in using thin brown lines, called contour lines, to connect points of equal elevation.

Answers appear in an article in yesterday’s New York Times, which is also my source for these excerpts.

Since 1994, the article reports, questions like these have appeared on the “scrambled paragraphs” section of New York City’s specialized high school entry exam: the sole determiner of whether students are admitted to places like Stuyvesant High or Brooklyn Tech.

But now the scrambled paragraphs are on their way out. Quoting the Times, they’re being “replaced multiple choice questions intended to evaluate writing skills.” As intrigued as I am to see what these new multiple choice questions look like, I’m also baffled by the implication that sentence sequencing isn’t a writing skill.

But that may be beside the point. As the Times explains:

These paragraphs were, to put it politely, unpopular with many students and their families, and were often criticized as having little relation to what students were taught in school, which could give an advantage to those who could afford to pay for test preparation. The city’s Education Department decided to remove them to align the test more closely with classroom instruction.

Yet another indication that sentence-focused instruction is totally passé.

Catherine and I, of course, are trying to bring it back–scrambled paragraphs included. So now we have to wonder: is unscrambling paragraphs really as unpopular with students as the Times implies?

A big help in unscrambling paragraphs, by the way, is awareness of cohesive devices (like those I discuss in my earlier post). Try out these questions, and you’ll see what I mean.

3 thoughts on “Is sequencing sentences no longer a writing skill?

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