Using sentences to improve your writing

sentence bingo

On Monday, February 17, the Illawarra branch of the NSW English Teachers Association hosted the vivacious Mel Dixon for a Grammar and NAPLAN workshop.

Mel led some fifty teachers through a range of exercises and activities, as well as exploring the explicit links between the Australian Curriculum and Stage 4 English syllabus content points. Her experience as a NAPLAN marker made clear the ability of students to improve their writing by targeting improvements at the sentence level. These ideas provide a strong basis for working with our students to encourage sophisticated writing, and are equally applicable to both forms for the 2014 NAPLAN: narrative and persuasive writing.

Over three and a half hours, Mel answered questions and recommended a number of useful resources, such as mETAphor issues and Reading like a Writer. Teachers were actively engaged in sharing and developing practical strategies for their classrooms. Here are some of those strategies, aimed at helping students understand the differences between simple, compound and complex sentences:

  • challenge students to think of the shortest sentence known. Some may answer ‘Jesus wept.’ from the Bible, yet one word declarative sentences, such as ‘Run!’ are also acceptable. Ask students: what can be added to make each sentence more informative?
  • explicitly teach each part of speech. Consider using sentences with missing words: what needs to be added?
  • use sentences from a picture book and challenge students to include information that expands each sentence: move from simple to complex to compound. Students should aim to develop sentences to suit different target audiences
  • when editing, ask students to use different colours to highlight each sentence type. Aim for a rainbow to demonstrate their ability to use language features, including grammar, effectively
  • set up group stations around the room with different activities which encourage students to demonstrate their knowledge: sentences with missing words – what can you add to make it complete? make it complex? make it compound? AND/OR what has been removed ?
  • same activity as above focusing on noun and verb groups
  • write noun and verb groups on cards and ask students to make sentences by re-arranging the word groups
  • challenge students to nominate different substitutes for ‘and’ – could be punctuation or different conjunctives
  • provide students with extract from class text: remove capitals and punctuation and ask pairs to make sense of these words
  • use sample sentences from student work (with permission and possible reward for ‘volunteering’) to invite changes that could improve or alter the sentence meaning
  • sentence circle: each student starts with a blank piece of paper and is asked to write a simple sentence. Fold paper over and pass to next student who is asked to write and complex sentence. Fold paper over and pass to next student who writes a compound sentence … Repeat with different instructions. Students then edit/correct as necessary and share
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