Sentence fluency is a major component of how I teach my students to write. Last Friday, I began sharing specific instructional activities that develop these skills in elementary students. This week I continue with a focus on more challenging skills – rearranging words into a complete sentence, creating sentences from a topic and rewriting a sentence several different ways.
Spelling City is a website teachers can use to help students practice their spelling words. While you can pay a fee for access to a wide variety of resources, I like the free version as it still offers plenty of fun activities. One of my favorites is called Sentence Unscramble. The game is just like the name implies – students unscramble a set of words to create a complete sentence. It’s surprisingly challenging, which is why I like it. Expect a little bit of frustration the first few times your students play this game. I have my own kids work in pairs to complete it and that seems to still develop their skills without making them want to give up in defeat.
This sentence fluency activity can be done with a whole class, but I usually do it with a small group. Open Microsoft Word and position the monitor so all the kids can see it. Use a large size font that’s easily to read, such as Comic Sans at 72. Students sit in a semi-circle facing the monitor. I give them a topic, such as “archaeologist” or “aviator” and have them create a sentence around it. Each person says one word in the sentence, but the words must all fit together grammatically and stay on the topic. When someone thinks we have a complete sentence, they make the sound and gesture for the appropriate ending punctuation. As they say each word, I type it into the computer so it is displayed on the screen. My students enjoy this simple activity, and ask to do it often.
Whole Class Fun
Once your students understand the concept, you can let the whole class work in groups of 4-6 to do the same activity. One person would be the recorder and doesn’t participate in the sentence building. They can write just on loose leaf paper or on a dry erase slate. We have lots of computers in my room, so my students follow my example and one person types the sentences for the rest of the group to see. This also provides good keyboarding practice. A good source for topics is to use vocabulary or spelling words from your current list.
Rewriting the same sentence in a variety of ways is a valuable skill for young writers and one we practice in my classroom. Language is so fluid that there are a variety of ways words can be rearranged to send the same message. We begin these exercises as a whole class, sitting in front of the SmartBoard. I type a simple, declarative sentence for the students to see:
The furry puppy barked loudly while he waited in his crate.
When first doing this activity, I don’t just say, “What’s another way we could rewrite this sentence?” I think that’s too vague. Instead, I guide students by naming a specific type of sentence – “Who can restate this sentence so that it is asking a question?” One possibility:
Why did the furry puppy bark loudly while waiting in his crate?
Notice the changes that must happen with some of the words in order for the sentence to retain its grammatical accuracy. Such an activity can be quite challenging for students when speaking, and even more so when writing.
Ideas for Varying Sentences
This activity reinforces the many different sentence types in our language. Other variations include:
- adjective clause in the middle – The furry puppy, who was barking loudly, waited in his crate.
- beginning with an adverb – Loudly, the furry puppy barked in his crate while waiting in his crate.
- complex sentence – While waiting in his crate, the furry puppy barked loudly.
Type their verbalized revisions for everyone to see. Do a lot of these as a whole class before transitioning to groups, pairs and individual work. Once students develop sentence fluency, you can hold them accountable for including sentence variety in their essays.