Strawberry Shampoo, Starbucks, and Sunshine

Published July 9, 2012 by Elsa Pla

Sentence Structure

Here’s another exercise/strategy I learned at the Denver Writing Project Summer Institute. It’s from Everyday Editing by Jeff Anderson.

1- Find a great sentence (a mentor text) written by a favorite writer.

2- Analyze the sentence’s structure.

3- Imitate the sentence’s structure.

4- Use a sentence with the same or similar structure in your own writing.


“His room smelled of cooked grease, Lysol, and age.” ~ Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

My analysis:

Possesive Pronoun – common concrete noun – past tense verb: smelled – preposition — adjective – common concrete noun – comma – proper noun – comma – conjunction – abstract noun

I notice that Maya Angelou lists three items in a series and uses parallel structure to create flow and rhythm. She also uses synesthesia (a mixing up of the senses). (You can’t really smell “age.”)

My imitation: His bed smelled of wet dog, Cheetos, and childhood.

My attempt at using a similar sentence structure in my writing (notice the alliteration):

Prompt: Write about what it means to feel welcome, or describe a scene where someone feels welcome.

As I approach the classroom, the new teacher is standing by the door, greeting the students. The first thing I notice is her hair: red, long, and wild. She smiles at me, says good morning, and shakes my hand. She smells of strawberry shampoo, Starbucks, and sunshine. I enter the room and sit in the back by a window. So far, so good.

When the bell rings, she marches to the front of the classroom, introduces herself, and writes her name neatly on the board. She pronounces her name so it sounds like a book dropping on the floor. We all imitate her and laugh. She laughs with us. Then she shares something interesting about herself: she owns three cats: one without a tail, one with one eye, and one that’s terrified of mice. We all laugh again. After that, she asks us to stand and say our names plus something special or unusual about ourselves.

Soon the classroom is abuzz with kids sharing stuff about themselves and giggling. When it’s my turn to speak, I blurt out that I like to climb on the roof to escape from my family. She nods and tells me that sometimes she does the same thing. That’s when I know for sure it’s gonna be a great school year.

Now you try it! 🙂

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