Are you struggling with how to teach sentence writing? Maybe you're seeing a lot of run-on sentences with no punctuation in sight. Maybe you are seeing fragments that make no sense. Where do you go from here?
Count It Out
My first “trick” for helping students to understand how to write sentences is to have them count it out. Students should say the sentence they want to write and count the words across their fingers.
Next, students should draw a line on their paper for each word they counted.
Last, students will say their sentence again as they write one word per line drawn.
I’ve found that by having students orally say their sentences they have an easier time understanding how to recognize a complete sentence. When students focus on one sentence at a time it can be easier to have them check for a capital and end punctuation.
This next “trick” for how to teach sentence writing is really the same as the first, only now we’re going to assign partners to our struggling writers. In my writing curriculum I assign partners at the start of a new unit. For example, half the class will be cats and the other half will be dogs. When it’s time for partners they must pair up as a cat and dog if self-selecting or I will prearrange partners.
For this activity, one partner will be assigned to talk and the other will be the scribe. Let’s say partner A (cat) will go first. They will tell partner B (dog) their sentence. Together they will count the words and partner B will make the lines and write the words. Then they will switch.
I like having partners tell their sentences to each other because we often pay closer attention to a partner. Plus, just working with partners brings in the fun element to writing time.
For our students that have a challenging time remembering to use capitals and ending punctuation, color coding is for them.
Teaching students to explicitly use a checklist and to color code their sentence parts can be a game changer! Depending on how much the student is struggling, I may just start with capitals or ending punctuation. Which do they forget the most often? If it’s both, then focusing on just capitals might be the most beneficial.
I would also assign a color for each sentence part. This way you and your student can look at their piece of writing and quickly see only one period on the whole page. Or maybe the writing piece has 10 purple colors. You can then evaluate whether they are all necessary. Are there also 10 green capitals?
My first graders used to be notorious for writing words with no spaces. I kept reminding them to put their finger down as they were writing to leave a space. I ended up with gigantic spaces or students that kept forgetting.
At long last I stumbled across the product space sticks from Lakeshore Learning. They were popsicle sticks in the shape of astronauts. Unfortunately they were outside of my new teacher budget. Instead I painted popsicle sticks blue and added gem stickers.
They were a hit with my students. During writing it was easier for students to lay the stick down for spacing then try to write around their finger. Plus it was novel and fun and a great addition to our writer’s toolkits.
Small Group Instruction
If just a few students are really struggling with writing complete sentences, they might benefit from a few weeks of small group instruction. When you’ve released the class to independently write, pull these students to your table.
Lessons that would be great in your small group is to do a shared writing, sentence dictation, and arranging words into sentences.
Let’s start with shared writing. During shared writing you would pick a shared event to write about. Maybe it’s walking to specials that day or a recent field trip. After choosing the topic, ask about the details from that event. Once you have at least 3 details, have the students help you put them into sentences.
Decide which detail would be first, next, and last. Write the sentences in order. As you write the sentences the students are helping you count the words and draw the lines.
An alternative for shared writing is to have each student dictate a sentence for the group to write. In this case, everyone would have their own paper and write the same sentences. The group would count the words provided by the chosen student and everyone would draw the word lines and write the sentence. Then another student would give the second sentence and so on.
Another focus during small group instruction is to provide sentence dictation. For this practice you’ll simply orally provide your group with a sentence they will write.
Last, you can provide worksheets or scrambled sentences for your small groups. Rearranging words into sentences is a great way to teach sentence writing. This gets students used to how sentences should sound.
If you notice students really struggling to write the words then this is an indication they need instruction in phonics. I would recommend doing an assessment and then providing them with a phonics chart for their writing folder if you haven’t already done so.
Whole Group Grammar
My last “trick” for how to teach sentence writing is to provide daily grammar practice. Teaching students that all sentences need a subject and predicate can be beneficial in helping them recognize complete sentences.
During grammar work it can also be helpful to have students work on fixing sentences. Looking at sentences to find misplaced capitals or missing periods is a great way to train their editing eye. I recommend using editing marks to fix the incorrect sentences.