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!