Some students struggle to write strong, effective sentences. They get the job done, but the results are often pretty basic because their ideas are underdeveloped and the writing lacks flow. One strategy that can make a big difference is sentence expanding.
Showing students the art of sentence expanding pushes them to create longer, more detailed sentences. And, like anything we teach them, I believe it’s so much more effective if we show them how to do this, rather than tell them.
Let me show you how I do it.
Start with a choppy mentor text
First, I project this paragraph from a persuasive essay and tell my kids that I want them to listen carefully as I read it out loud to them. I say that I want them to assess its effectiveness and to jot down any comments or advice they would give to the writer to help improve the writing.
When they hear it read aloud, students are pretty quick to point out that it sounds choppy. I ask for reasons why that is so, and we discuss the fact that all of the sentences are short. Then, if they haven’t said so already, I’ll ask if there are any underdeveloped ideas, sentences that need to provide more detail.
(You can grab this introductory lesson by here).
Give students the vocabulary they need for sentence expansion
My next step is to launch into some lessons on sentence expanding. One issue I often have with this process is that students don’t always know the vocabulary they need to discuss sentence construction.
In my district, students don’t have to parse sentences (a good thing, I believe, but that’s another story). This means that they usually don’t get many lessons on the parts of speech and sentences. So when I start talking about phrases and clauses and modifiers, I can get some blank stares.
I’m OK with this, however, because I think it’s far more effective to learn the vocabulary when you need to use it for an authentic task – like improving your own writing, rather than labelling random sentences.
Use collaborative exercises to help students learn
Therefore, I created a lesson that gives them an overview of the vocabulary they need, as well as some group exercises that help them become familiar with both the language and the process of expanding sentences.
For example, one activity requires that each person in the group write a simple sentence on the top of a piece of paper. Then, they pass the sheet to the person on their right. The next person has to add another part of speech or a phrase to expand the sentence. With yet another activity, I use stand up stations to get them moving and expanding.
If you’d like to try my sentence expanding lessons and activities, you can check them out here. And, if you’d like more ideas for improving student writing, read this post.