Revision Strategy: Using Math to Improve Writing

Tracey Burger
John A. Ferguson Senior High School
Miami, Florida

Overview and rationale
Students will learn a mathematically-based revision strategy in order to improve clarity, precision, and reduce or eliminate passive voice.

Goals for understanding
Students will learn to be more critical of their word choice and sentence structure and will be able to identify and eliminate worthless words.

Begin by listing the following sentence on the board:

“The ball was hit by the bat.”

Explain that the students will assign either a one-point or zero-point value to words.

Examples of zero point words:

  • Articles
  • Most prepositions
  • Intensifiers
  • Forms of the verb “to be”
  • Worthless words, such as “nice, pretty, fun, etc.
0 1 0 1 0 0 1
The ball was hit by the bat.

Then create a proportion indicating the number of points divided by the number of words.  For the example above, the proportion is 3/7. This means that more than half the words in the sentence are not meaningful.

If we revise the sentence to read, “The bat hit the ball,” the proportion rises to 3/5. The goal is to get the fraction to be as close to one as possible. Clearly, one cannot eliminate all articles and prepositions, but this helps the mathematically-oriented students to understand the power of revision.

I use student-produced sentences to continue modeling this exercise.

I require students to practice this strategy on one paragraph of their next few essays. Eventually, students eliminate meaningless words automatically.