Sentence combining instruction has increasingly become a vital part of my writing instruction. Teaching young writers how to combine short, simple sentences into more interesting sentences not only develops better writers, but it also makes their writing sound better to readers. Today’s post focuses on teaching students how to combine pairs of sentences to make for better writing. This instruction helps students imitate what skilled writers do, which is to re-work sentences until they have just the right flow of ideas.
Model Sentence Combining
As is so often the case, I begin my modeling how to combine sentences together for my students. Display two simple sentences:
The kitten is gray. The kitten meowed softly.
Certainly there are many ways to combine these two sentences together – that’s the beauty of language. Think aloud for your students. If you have a SmartBoard, take advantage of its interactive feature and model moving words and phrases around as you try out different arrangements. While you may have to delete or add some words, try to keep the original message of the two sentences intact. Model these sentence combinations many times even as you solicit more discussion and ideas from students.
Once students have seen you model the basics of sentence combining, have them work with a partner to orally combine simple sentences together. You can either display more sentence pairs on the SmartBoard or use these Sentence Combining Cards I’ve created for my class. After students have had some time to practice sentence combining with their partner, call on volunteers to share their revised versions. Remind students that the goal is to combine the pairs of sentences into one complete sentence that still sends the same message. Your end goal is for them to be able to combine sentences independently, so continue to encourage discussion and ideas about how they combined their sentences together.
Sentence Combining in Writing
Once students have developed some facility with sentence combining orally, you can transition them to writing. Follow the same general procedure as mentioned above, only have students now write their combinations. You could provide small dry erase boards, which makes it easy for students to erase and revise their sentences. If you have access to several computers, have students type their sentence combinations in a program such as Microsoft Word. Sometimes my students just write their sentences on sticky notes. This works well when it’s time to share our combinations. After one pair has shared, they stick it to a chart and any other pairs with the exact same combination just attach it to the top of the first sticky note. This eliminates sharing the same combinations repeatedly and saves instructional time.
Aligning Curriculum and Practice
At the beginning of the school year, I teach several grammar units about types of sentences – declarative, interrogative, imperative, etc. I like to match my sentence combining instruction with our learning goals in grammar. So, for instance, as I’m teaching the unit on compound sentences I will also have students practice combining sentences that produce compound subjects and objects.
BEFORE: Kim wanted to play soccer. Brittany wanted to play soccer.
AFTER: Kim and Brittany wanted to play soccer.
After teaching about possessive nouns, it’s time to practice combining sentences with possessives.
BEFORE: I like the puppy. It is Maria’s.
AFTER: I like Maria’s puppy.
Matching my grammar units with sentence combining instruction reinforces the other and helps students realize the value of these lessons beyond just a grade on their assignment.
Sentence Combining Lessons
Analyze your grammar units and find ways to align your curriculum with sentence combining. Here are some possible suggestions with examples:
- compound subjects and objects – Tom wanted pasta. Tom wanted tomatoes.
- compound sentences with conjunctions – Scott wanted to play games. Tony wanted to ride bikes. (but)
- sentences with possessive nouns – The picture was torn. The picture was Lisa’s.
- inserting adjectives and adverbs – The boy ate the pizza. The boy was starving.
- sentences with adverbial clauses using connecting words – We went to the pool. We wanted to learn to swim. (because)
- sentences with relative clauses – She has a son. He is a doctor. (who)
Transferring to Our Writing
After only a few lessons you can begin to ask students to look back at their writing and have them revise some sentences within their own work. You might even consider asking a student if you can use a sample of their writing to model how to apply sentence combining to their rough drafts. Display a sample paragraph. Have students work in pairs to suggest some ways to improve the draft by combining sentences. Hold students accountable and require them to show you where in their rough draft they combined shorter sentences before allowing them to write a final copy. Transferring a skill to where it becomes a writing habit will take a long time, but be persistent. They can do this with practice and encouragement.