Writing Toolbox: Composing Better Sentences

Sentence Composition with Shurley English.jpg

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.

Composing Sentences with Shurley English.png

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!

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!