Writing Toolbox: Composing Better Sentences

Writing Toolbox: Composing Better Sentences

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.

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Sentence Pattern Study: Pattern 5

Pattern 5 with Shurley English.jpg

Welcome back to the fourth entry in my series about sentence patterns. Remember, if you recognize the pattern of a sentence’s core parts, the grammar of the sentence (or its word arrangement) will make more sense. So far, you know about Pattern 1, Pattern 2, Pattern 3, and Pattern 4.

To get ready for Pattern 5, let’s first look at the Pattern 4 sentence from last time.

Pattern 4 with SHurley English.png

Patterns 4 and 5 are closely related because of the linking verb. Pattern 4 links the subject noun to the predicate noun (PrN). Now, check out Pattern 5: SN LV PA.

Pattern 5 Sentence with Shurley English.png

In Pattern 5, we still have a linking verb. But instead of getting linked to a noun after the linking verb, the subject noun gets linked to an adjective after the linking verb. We call that kind of adjective a predicate adjective (PA). You can always tell if a word is an adjective because it answers the question, “What kind?” about the noun it describes.

What kind of chickens?  FAST! Fast describes chickens in this Pattern 5 example, even though the word fast is located in the predicate part of the sentence. It’s the linking verb that does the connecting.


am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been, seem(s), look(s), become(s), grow(s), and feel(s)


Now, you give it a try! Look at these extra examples. Then, use the pattern and compose some Pattern 5 sentences on your own!

1. The bugs were creepy.

2. The clowns look silly.

3. Math is easy.

4. The firemen were brave.


Shurley English teaches Patterns 6 and 7 also, but I won’t feature them in this series. To check them out, please go to our website and request a free preview of our seventh or eighth grade digital edition.

Sentence Pattern Study: Pattern 4

Pattern 4 with Shurley English.jpg

Welcome back to the third entry in my series about sentence patterns. Remember, if you recognize the pattern of a sentence’s core parts, the grammar of the sentence (or its word arrangement) will make more sense. So far, you know about Pattern 1, Pattern 2, and Pattern 3.

Now…on to Pattern 4. For this sentence pattern, you need to pay careful attention to verb. Take a look at our sample sentence:

Pattern 4 with Shurley English.png
Pattern 4 Chickens with Shurley English.png

In Pattern 4, we use a linking verb instead of an action verb. The linking verb links the subject noun to the noun that comes after the linking verb. A noun after a linking verb is a predicate noun (PrN). You know you have a Pattern 4 on your hands when you can read it forwards and backwards:

Chickens are birds  -OR-  Birds are chickens.

Even though the reverse sounds funny, it’s still true. Here is a list of common linking verbs that make this kind of connection happen: am, is, are, was, were


Look at these other examples of Pattern 4 sentences. Notice the linking verbs!

1. Cars are machines.

2. A butterfly is an insect.

3. A cat is a feline.

4. A dog is a canine.

5. The sun is a star.


Remember: If a noun comes after a linking verb and basically renames the subject noun, you have a Pattern 4!

Sentence Pattern Study: Pattern 3

Sentence Pattern 3 with Shurley English ELA.jpg

Last week, we began our study of sentence patterns. Remember, if you recognize the pattern of a sentence’s core parts, the grammar of the sentence (or its word arrangement) will make more sense. Last time, we discussed Pattern 1 and Pattern 2.

Today, let’s start our study with a new Pattern 2 Sentence: Jackson throws some bread. Remember, transitive verbs (V-t) transfer action to an object.

Pattern 2 Review.png

Now, let’s remake this sentence into a Pattern 3. We will simply add an indirect object (IO).

Pattern 3 Sentence with Shurley English.png

The chickens get the bread Jackson is throwing. That makes the chickens the indirect object. Here is the pattern: SN V-t IO DO.

You can talk yourself through it like this: 

Jackson throws what? bread – direct object

Jackson throws bread to what?  chickens – indirect object


The chickens are the indirect objects that get the bread. Now, practice some Pattern 3 sentences on your own, using these steps:

Step 1 – Substitute the subject noun, verb, and direct object in your own sentence.

Step 2 – Add an indirect object that can receive your direct object…and still make sense!

Next time, we’ll learn about Pattern 4!

Sentence Pattern Study: Pattern 1 and Pattern 2

Sentence Patterns with Shurley English.jpg

Learning English grammar can be tough, but, as the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. So, I am taking the high road on this series and making it visual—thereby sparing well over 980 words…and your sanity!

If you are up on your brain science, you know that our brains seek patterns to make sense of the world. In English, even our sentences fall into patterns. If you recognize the pattern of a sentence’s core parts, the grammar of the sentence (or its word arrangement) will make more sense. Look at this:

Pattern 1 with Shurley English.png

This sentence follows the SN V pattern. In Shurley English, we call this Pattern 1. We know who the sentence is about and what he is doing.

Now, watch as the pattern changes to Pattern 2.

Pattern 2 with Shurley English.png

Pattern 2 sentences have a SN V-t DO pattern (DO stands for direct object). You still have the subject noun and a verb, but the verb is transitive this time. Transitive verbs (V-t) transfer action to an object. In this case, Jackson has become the object that gets chased…by the chickens. (Run, Jackson, run!) Jackson is now the direct object that is getting chased by the chickens. Jackson receives the action of the verb, chase.

Next time, we’ll learn about Pattern 3. (Stay tuned!)

How to Improve the Structure of Sentences

Writing Sentences with Shurley English.jpg

Teaching students to vary the word order that they use in their sentences to add interest and variety is a skill that you can model as you support your students in their growth as budding writers.  Of course sentence fluency is one of the effective traits that good writers develop to improve their ability to communicate. Mover and Shaker lessons support this particular expertise as they show students how to modify sentences to shake things up a bit and move words around.  It gives them the power to make important decisions that enhance their ability to effectively communicate with their readers. As your students grow in their revision skills they will improve the content of their writing with better word choice and improved sentence structure. Our Mover and Shaker lessons are all about improving the structure of sentences as students think critically about word order.

Here is an example of how Mover and Shaker lessons unfold:

  1. The student writes their revised sentence from their Sentence Blueprint.  (To review a Sentence Blueprint lesson, click here.)

  2. The adjectives that describe the subject are moved from in front of the subject to after the subject noun which they modify.

  3. Commas are placed around the adjectives.

  4. This improves the sentence fluency by adding interest and variety to the sentence format.

Mover and Shaker Sentences with Shurley English.png

As you teach your students all of the various Mover and Shaker lessons you will be giving them tools they can use throughout their future college and career choices. You will be expanding their understanding of how the use of word order can assist them in emphasizing various points in their sentences. Additionally, it expands their learning from not only understanding the effective use of word order in sentences, but to also grow in the realization of how word order is successfully utilized in the overall composition. Why not give our Mover and Shaker lessons a try to see how they add some variety to the writing of your students?

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David Lutz

David, a former classroom teacher, administrator, and self-proclaimed grammar nut, considers the oddities of English vocabulary and grammar his playthings! He received his degrees in elementary education, teaching, and curriculum design from CMU in Fayette, MO, and the University of St. Mary, Leavenworth, KS, respectively. His career has been a colorful collage of experiences in education, ranging from Kindergarten to Adult education and parenting classes.


He and his wife, Marjorie, have been blessed with 30 years of marriage, three grown sons, a cherished daughter-in-law, and the smartest, cutest grandson on the planet! He’s worked for Shurley Instructional Materials, Inc., for over 11 years and loves to help students and their teachers learn to love language and language learning as much as he does.

What is a prepositional phrase?

Prep Phrases with Shurley English 2.jpg

Have you ever tried to describe something without using a prepositional phrase?  Well, it’s almost impossible!  Although prepositional phrases are not a requirement in every sentence, they certainly do help us:  (a) add details, (b) create interest, and (c) make spatial and other relationships clear.

A prepositional phrase begins with a preposition (P) and ends with an object of the preposition (OP).  The OP can be a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause

Prepositions with SHurley English 1.png

A prepositional phrase can also include one or more words between the P and OP.  These words are called modifiers because they modify the OP.  Since the object of the preposition is a noun, pronoun, gerund, or clause, modifiers within the prepositional phrase will most likely be adjectives (Adj).  Adjective labels include:  (a) regular adjectives (Adj), (b) article adjectives (A), (c) possessive pronoun adjectives (PPA), and (d) possessive noun adjectives (PNA).

Prepositions with SHurley English 2.png

Did you know that a prepositional phrase can modify like an adjective or adverb?  It’s true.  Prepositional phrases can function either as adjectives by modifying nouns and pronouns or as adverbs by modifying verbs, adjectives, and adverbs.  These prepositional phrases add important details to sentences, and their location can help you identify them as an adjective or adverb modifier.


Here are some facts to know about an adjective phrase (or adjectival phrase):

  1. An adjective phrase modifies a noun or pronoun.

  2. A prepositional phrase functioning as an adjective modifies like a one-word adjective by telling what kind or which one.

  3. More than one adjective phrase can be used to modify the same noun.

  4. Location: 

· An adjective phrase usually comes directly after the noun or pronoun it modifies.

· If two prepositional phrases are located together, with one right after the next, most of the time, the second phrase will be an adjective phrase that modifies the object of the first phrase.

· Sometimes, the prepositional phrase that comes directly after a direct object will not modify the direct object, but will modify the verb.


Here are some facts to know about an adverb phrase (or adverbial phrase):

  1.  An adverb phrase usually modifies a verb but can also modify an adjective or adverb.

  2. A prepositional phrase functioning as an adverb phrase modifies like a one-word adverb by telling how, when, where, why, or to what extent.

  3. Location: 

· When an adverb phrase modifies a verb, it can be located directly after the verb, at the beginning of the sentence, or it can be separated from the verb it modifies by being located somewhere else in the sentence. 

· An adverb phrase can also follow another prepositional phrase.

It’s Application Time! Review the sentence below during your discussion on prepositional phrases. Take notice of how the prepositional phrases help us:  (a) add details, (b) create interest, and (c) make spatial and other relationships clear.

Prepositional Phrases.png
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Jamie Geneva

Jamie Geneva is the Senior National Consultant at Shurley Instructional Materials and is a seasoned subject matter expert in the realm of English Language Arts.  Her career with the company began during the days of the Shurley Method binder, which was pre-1st Edition, and has spanned across three decades.  Over the years, her various roles have included teacher, presenter, state representative, consultant, manager, and most recently, a Shurley English Digital Assistant.  You might not recognize her face, but her voice could certainly sound familar.  That’s because she’s recorded Jingles, Q&A Flow Sentences, and other Shurley English content for many, many years. 

Jamie and her husband, Garret, live in the foothills of eastern Oklahoma. She loves spending quality time with her family, traveling, reading, cooking, and staying connected on social media.

Ms. Geneva received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education and her M.Ed in Public School Administration from Northeastern State University in Tahlequah, OK.