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From Structure to Style (NCAA Approved)

Open to: Grades 7 - 12
Eligibility: CTY-level or Advanced CTY-level verbal score required 
Challenge Level: College undergraduate
Course Format: Session Based. See calendar for session dates and application deadlines. 
Recommended School Credit: One-quarter academic year
Course Length: 10 weeks (Early Fall, Late Fall, Winter, Spring); 12 weeks (Early Summer); or 5 weeks (intensive Late Summer)
Course Code: RUL1

Course Description

A deep understanding of grammatical structure allows students to make informed choices about style. This course examines the rules of standard written English and suggests ways that students can adapt these rules to develop a personal style.

Reading their textbook and working in an on-line collaborative community (asynchronous discussion board), students write analytically by developing theories of grammatical use, for example, deducing when the passive voice is most appropriate. Next, they apply the analysis to their own creative writing. Finally, students write reflectively, explaining the rationale behind their creative choices.

Experimentation with writing is an important part of the course. Students learn to manipulate grammatical forms to add variety, show emphasis, enhance coherence, and strengthen unity. Grammatical structures covered may include sentence boundaries, consistent verb tense, pronoun reference and case, subject/verb agreement, appropriate use of passive voice, and parallelism. Attention will also be given to students' grammatical errors. Students emerge from this short course understanding how their grammatical choices can affect the quality of their prose style.

This course does not have any synchronous class meetings, but students may schedule one-on-one virtual meetings directly with the instructor.

Students may be invited to interact in CTY community spaces that include students and instructors and potentially specially invited guests that are not enrolled in their course. Student contributions (e.g., projects, forum posts, etc.) may remain in the course after the student completes the course. These artifacts may be preserved to showcase student work or to continue important conversations. 

Materials Needed

Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects, 8th edition, by Martha Kolln and Loretta Gray, Pearson (

Compare prices online with ISBN 978-0-13-408037-6, but delivery is slower and unreliable. Make sure that you have the EIGHTH edition. Earlier editions are quite different. Order at least two weeks before the start date.

Sadly, the ebook version is not for sale outside the U.S.

Note: You do not need any of the packages. You need only the book.




Detailed Course Information

Course Details


In this course, analysis is the most important aspect of most assignments. Often, you will be asked to change your prose in ways that may not improve it. The purpose is to give you material to analyze. I want to see you thinking about what happens when you manipulate prose. This thinking (analysis) shows you what you can do, should do, and shouldn't do.

You will emerge from this course with a new set of skills with which to write cleaner, clearer prose. You will be able to consciously apply these skills at the sentence, paragraph, and  essays levels. These applications give you a clear understanding of how grammatical choices affect the quality of your prose.

Note about multi-step assignments

If you are new to multi-step assignments, I recommend following this process.

  1. Read the assignment all the way through. Don't begin the assignment until you understand how all the steps fit together. If you don't understand how all the steps fit together, review the whole assignment with a parent or guardian. If you both do not understand, please message me.
  2. Perform the assignment. Most assignments are to be uploaded as one file. However, you may find it easier to perform some steps in a separate file and to copy and paste the results into the file to be uploaded. Title each step in the file (e.g., "Lesson 5 - FWA - Part 1"). Titles avoid confusion and error.
  3. Before uploading, review each step with a parent or guardian. Point to each step while the parent reads that step in the assignment.

Lesson 1: Understanding Sentence Structure

Where are we going?

In this first lesson, we are going to discuss sentence structure. Some questions we will explore include: What are the required elements of a sentence? How can complicated sentences be broken down into smaller parts? How can we combine sentence elements grammatically?

Why is it important to study sentence structure?

Although native speakers of English instinctively know how to speak grammatically, as writers we can make errors if we don't fully understand how the parts of a sentence work together. For writers, another important issue is knowing how we can manipulate or play with these sentence elements to make our writing more lively. Varying our sentence structure can make our writing more rhythmic or emphasize certain information.

Lesson 2 Brevity and Subordination

Where are we going?

In Lesson 1, we discussed basic sentence structure, breaking sentences down into their essential elements. In this lesson, we will continue our analysis of sentences by examining two types of sentences and practicing ways to use them most effectively.

Why is it Important?

Chapter 6 in Kolln's book focuses on brevity and subordination. When used thoughtfully, very brief sentences can be a powerful way to highlight an important point, especially when used in a paragraph with mostly long sentences. On the other hand, longer sentences are useful too. When writers add adverbials or dependent clauses to a simple noun phrase + verb phrase sentence, they can both highlight important relationships between ideas and manipulate the prose rhythm.

Lesson 3: Cohesion

Where are we going?

In this lesson, we are going to discuss ways to make your writing more cohesive. In doing so, we will first learn about something called the "known-new contract" and then discuss issues of pronoun case and reference.

Why is it important?

Have you ever had a teacher write "Awkward" on an essay? Have you ever needed to read another person's writing two or three times to understand the meaning? Violating the "known-new contract" or using pronouns incorrectly can make our writing vague and confusing to the reader. Even when our sentences are grammatical, they can still be awkward if they don't allow the ideas from one sentence to flow gracefully into the next or if they contain pronouns whose referents are unclear. Understanding grammatical issues empowers writers to make their writing graceful through cohesion.

Lesson 4: Choosing Verbs

Where are we going?

In Lesson 4, we are going to focus on verb usage. First, we will work on using precise verbs and then we will explore verb tenses, working to gain a deeper understanding of each tense and also looking at problem areas for writers.

Why is it important?

A writer's prose becomes more powerful as he or she learns to use vivid, precise verbs more effectively. Studying verbs can also help writers improve clarity. Not only can a thorough understanding of verb tenses help writers avoid errors, it can also help writers avoid the confusion caused by ambiguous verb tense usage.

Lesson 5: Passive Voice

Where are we going?

This lesson focuses on the passive voice. First, we will study the structural transformation from active to passive voice, and then we will analyze ways the passive voice can be used appropriately.

Why is it important?

Although many traditional grammar texts discourage the use of the passive voice, when used appropriately, it can become a tool that produces interesting rhetorical effects. Also, knowing how to use the passive voice effectively can make you a better reader. This knowledge can help you understand the subtleties of a writer's prose and also recognize when the passive makes writing unnecessarily wordy or impersonal.

Time Required

  • 3 hours weekly for 10-week or 12-week sessions (Fall, Winter, Spring, Early Summer)
  • 2 hours daily Monday - Friday during the intensive 5-week session (Late Summer)

Sample First Assignment



Technical Requirements

This course requires a properly maintained computer with high-speed internet access and an up-to-date web browser (such as Chrome or Firefox). The student must be able to communicate with the instructor via email. Visit the Technical Requirements and Support page for more details.



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