Writing Toolbox: Composing Better Sentences

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Whether you teach language arts in the school classroom or your home classroom, you have to teach your kids how to write, right? To be clear, I don’t mean the mechanical parts of writing: holding the pencil correctly, positioning the notebook paper properly, and so on. I mean the actual generation of topics that kids know about and want to write about. I mean the composition of clear, concise sentences that convey what the writer is thinking. It would be nice if kids were natural writers and could pluck ideas (and the words needed to express those ideas) out of their brains at the first sign of a prompt, but most of the time, this is not the case.

What kid writers need is good modeling. In Shurley English, we teach students the eight parts of speech, along with the conventions and strategies for applying grammar knowledge to their writing. We start at the sound/symbol level in the early grades and quickly build toward words and sentences. Shurley exposes students to good model sentences almost daily. Herein lies an important point I need to make. Although it’s fine for students to use the Q & A Flow sentences as good model sentences for their own writing, you can do more with those model sentences than meets the eye. I like to challenge students to a higher level task after they can classify and label the parts of speech like an expert. Observe how the sentences become a gold mine for composition practice. Here’s what you do:

Step 1: Choose a set of Practice Sentences your students have already analyzed.

Step 2: Review each sentence aloud and pick one improvement to make.

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Let’s start with Sentence 1. This sentence begs for specifics, so try this:

Sentence 1 Improvement:

The lunch money crashed to the cafeteria floor and rolled under the pop machine!

 

Sentence 2 could use a few more specific ideas, as well. How about this?

Sentence 2 Improvement:

The brown snake, a Northwestern Garter, slithered lightning fast under the backyard fence.

 

Sentence 3 features some redundancy because of the adverb brightly. Since most people know that ambulances have glowing lights and that they are obviously bright when they flash, this sentence doesn’t really say much. So, we can revise it this way:

Sentence 3 Improvement:

The ambulance lights, glowing red strobes, punctured the darkness.

 

Of course, in the Shurley program, we teach Builder Sentences directly and provide a grid-type of worksheet. But this strategy can be done immediately following sentence analysis. To give your students extra immediate practice, try this activity occasionally, and your students’ sentence composition skills will grow by leaps and bounds!

Shurley English 101: Pushing beyond your comfort zone

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Just like many of you, teachers across the United States are experiencing lots of change during this time of year like switching classrooms or schools, learning new curricula, and welcoming a new class of students.  Changes like these push us outside of our comfort zones. 

I used to look at veteran teachers and thought they had less planning and preparing to do because they could use lessons from their previous years.  I’d dream of the day when I could relax at the beginning of the year and coast through my lessons like they were, or so it seemed.   For some reason, I believed I could avoid the inevitable changes in our field; I was proven wrong when I changed grade levels for the first three years of my teaching career.   I also learned that those veteran teachers still worked just as hard as the new teachers.   What an interesting welcome to the world of education.  I learned quickly that change is the one thing that always remains consistent. 

During one of my recent training sessions, I quickly learned that my audience was full of brand new teachers of Shurley English.  From my perspective, I thought, “How exciting!”  On the contrary, I could tell from the faces in the audience that the teachers were feeling more overwhelmed than excited.  Most of them were new to the school and were in the middle of their “professional development boot-camp.”  It seemed as though the beginning of the year pressure had set in, and it was crunch-time for this staff!

As teachers, we would never expect our students, on the first day of school, to know all of the concepts that we will be teaching them throughout the year.   As a Shurley English Consultant who trains teachers how to implement the curriculum into their classrooms, I would never expect my audience to master the concepts I teach them in one day!  Over the years, it’s become evident that many teachers want to learn or believe that they need to learn a new curriculum in one training session.   Realistically, I think we can all agree that learning something new takes time and effort.  There’s no need for this kind of unnecessary pressure when learning a new curriculum like Shurley English.   Not only does Shurley English make learning grammar, skills, and writing easy for your students; it also sets you, the educator, up for a successful year of teaching.  We cannot avoid change, but we can practice pushing the boundaries of our comfort zones. 

If you’re already feeling overwhelmed, here’s my quick advice:

  1. Be willing to recreate the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Level-up your teaching!

  2. Step into this new situation with a beginner’s mindset.  Be truly open to learning something new.

  3. Seek out training…ASAP!  It’s okay to ask for training. Knowledge will empower you.

 

So, take a breath and take it one lesson at a time.  Once you get used to pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone, you’ll experience more resilience when you’re faced with change in and out of the classroom.  

Bonus Blog: Do you want your Shurley English classroom to soar? Check out this blog entitled, “Taking off with Shurley English.” You’ll be glad you did!

Having Fun with Analogies

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An analogy is a way of thinking about how pairs of words are related.   It’s a special kind of word puzzle that lets a student have fun and exercises their brain at the same time!  If you need a language arts activity to help keep your students on their toes, teach them how to create analogy puzzles!  They can be done at any time, and kids seem to always enjoy the challenge.     

Usually, an analogy exercise will be a set of three words and a blank line, which the student must fill in with the correct word.  The : symbol in the analogy means “is to,” and the :: symbol stands for “as.”  When the analogy is read out loud, students should be taught to read these symbols as if they were words.  For instance, the following analogy should be read like this:

boat: goat:: fan: man

“Boat is to goat as fan is to man.”

Analogies are a form of logic or step-by-step thinking to solve problems.  The most important thing you have to do is to make sure students understand the “thinking process” involved in the analogy.  You can teach them to solve the puzzle just by following these steps:

Step 1:  Decide how the first two words in the analogy are related.

Step 2:  Think how the other pair of words relate in the same way.

Step 3:  Choose a word that makes both pairs relate that way.

Let’s try it!  Look at the first set of words in the example again.  How are boat and goat related?  They rhyme!  Now, look at the word fan.  Can you think of a word that rhymes with fan?  We could use the word manMan rhymes with fan, so man would be a good choice to fill in the blank.  That’s how we solve the puzzle and come up with the analogy:  “Boat is to goat as fan is to man.”

Shurley English teaches a list of analogies called “The Big 10.”  The list shows different ways words can be related, and it’s very helpful as students learn to discover word relationships, using analogies.  Post this list in your classroom for quick reference: 

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Rain : train :: cup :  pup

This is the proper reading of this rhyming analogy: 

Rain is to train as cup is to pup.

stripe : zebra :: spot : leopard

This is the proper reading of characteristic analogy: 

Stripe is to zebra as spot is to leopard.

Read analogies often with your students, and go through the “thinking process” with them.  Then, have students complete brain puzzles.  Try implementing analogy activities like the one below as often as you can to help your students exercise their brains and have fun at the same time!

BONUS ACTIVITY: Analogy Puzzles

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