(How) Do you deal with sentence-level issues in student writing?

From Mike Laser

I’d like to share a problem, and ask a question.

Here are a few sentences written by my students this semester:

  1. The poem, “The Raven,” by Edgar Allan Poe is by far his most famous poem he’s written… When looking at the poem on a deeper meaning though, you can see that Lenore was his love, and she has died in some way.
  2. The author purposely associates this word (“carried”) to this new meaning to reveal how life was like for men in war, including how he once lived when he was drafted into the Vietnam War.
  3. The doll finally came to life and took charge to make a change.
  4. Neglecting to recognize the horrors those people endure allow people to go to war more easily.
  5. She’s only a plaything or maybe you can call her a doll in his mind.
  6. The similarities among the speakers and their author are illustrated differently through their speaker’s separate tones.
  7. The author thinks back at when he was at war and talks about the man he killed and how he was someone he would befriend.
  8. The money in the household shared between the Nora and Torvald contrast the idea of a happy marriage.
  9. Apart from the speakers’ terrible war experience and varied gendered perspective, the poems send out a clear message that wars should be prevented in the future by describing them as gruesome.

I understand that our job is mainly to teach students to construct coherent arguments, and that teaching grammar lessons is largely ineffective—but I’m haunted by sentences like these. I don’t expect to turn any of these writers into Susan Sontag in one semester, but I wish I knew an effective way to help them.

My question: have any of you been able to make a noticeable difference when teaching students who write sentences like these? If so, what did you do?

There may be no easy cure—there may not be a cure—but before giving up, I’d like to hear what experienced instructors have to say.