Sentence Work

Two writing activities that I used in my classroom and often describe in internet posts are Sentence Building and Sentence Correcting. These activities are demonstrated in both of my books and I include them here for the convenience of those who wish to try them.

Sentence Building

At the beginning of the year teachers should provide a supply of blank word cards. Cards for demonstration purposes can be made by cutting manila paper into 3" x 9" strips. Cards for individual work can be made by cutting 3" x 5" cards into four sections. Ask the children to give the name of something (cat) and an action word to go with it (hid). Write cat on one strip and draw a straight line under it. Write hid on another strip and draw a wavy line under it to denote action. Fasten these strips to the chalkboard with small magnets or place them on a sentence strip rack. Write The on a card and put a line beneath and a dome over the word. Place it in front of cat. The line beneath the word suggests that it will modify cat and the dome over it indicates that it is a modifier (The is a definite article but at this level of learning we'll treat it and a the same as an adjective.). This is now a complete sentence, "The cat hid." In my books, these sentence markings are illustrated but it is difficult to do that here so I suggest you make strips and follow the instructions as we go along.

Tell the children, "We want to make this a better sentence. What are some words we can add to describe the subject (noun, naming word)?" (furry, gray) Write the children's responses on strips and insert them between The and cat. Ask, "Where did the cat hide?" The answer to this question will be a prepositional phrase such as under the chair. Write these words on strips but now put a left facing train engine around the preposition under, a line under and dome over the, and a line under chair. Put two small wheels under each word. This becomes a train with the engine pulling the rest of the prepositional phrase. Then ask, "What can you tell me about the chair?" (big, green, rocking) Mark these words in the same manner as the and insert them between the and chair. "Where was the chair?" This generates more phrases such as in the corner -- of the living room. A possible sentence becomes: "The furry gray cat hid under the big green rocking chair in the corner of the living room."

Children may then copy the sentence onto a sheet of drawing paper and draw a picture to illustrate it. As students become mare familiar with this kind of activity, they will begin to see how adding adjectives and prepositional phrases to their sentences makes them much more interesting.

If adverbs are added, draw a wavy line under and a dome over them as is the sentence, "The child smiled happily at the thought of ice cream."

This kind of sentence building should take place at least once a week.

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Sentence Correcting

This involves the critiquing of sentences which the teacher has provided or those lifted from children's process writing. Ask permission to lift particular sentences as you read the children's stories or write a sentence on the chalkboard using all lower case letters and no punctuation. (My experience has been that as soon as one brave child has given permission to have a sentence or story critiqued, the rest will quickly offer their work also.). Allow each child in the room to offer a suggestion to improve the sentence(s). These suggestions may be:

1) Sentences begin with capital letters.
2) Proper names begin with capital letters.
3) The sentence needs a period (question mark) at the end.
4) What someone says must have quotation marks around it.
5) Words in series must be separated by commas.
6) If a friend shares an action with us, we use that person's name before our own. For example, we use Jim and I instead of Me and Jim at the beginning of a sentence.
7) We use Jim and me instead of Jim and I if we have received something (Mother gave candy to Jim AND Mother gave candy to me SO Mother gave candy to Jim and me.).
8) It is not proper to use have and got together in a sentence because they mean almost the same thing (I have to go to school today. I got my pencil at the store.)
9) Gots is not a real word.

These are but a few of the possiblities for helping children improve their ability, not only to detect errors in other's writing, but to see improvement in their own. As children become more proficient at sentence building and sentence correcting, the modeled sentences should become increasingly complex (i.e., Danny said, "Out in the garden, Kim, Pat, and Mel picked bright yellow flowers for Mom and me.") Plans for this kind of work should be included at least once a week.

General examples of the sequence of increasing sentence complexity offered in The Spel-Lang Tree: Roots:

1) Kim is as big as Sam. (Simple sentence)
2) Jack and Jill run to the top of the big hill. (Compound subject)
3) "We will camp at Hodge Podge Lodge, " said Dad. (Quotation)
4) "Dan catches all the balls," said Bill. (Affixing catch)
5) Dad yelled, "Stay away! You'll get hurt." (Exclamation point, two sentences within quotation)
6) Hope, Rose, and Tom will fish from the dock. (Names in series)
7) Ken said, "Mom, Dad, and Luke will go in a boat."
(Names in series within quotation)

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