Creating Sentences by wuyunqing


									                            Creating Sentences
                Extract from material prepared by Pie Corbett

Swift sentence construction
Lots of children find writing difficult because they struggle with the most basic
elements – poor spelling, spidery handwriting and writing in sentences. Play the
following games on many occasions. You need a set of whiteboards for the children to
write on. Keep the sessions swift, possibly only a few minutes – think of them as
mental warm ups, syntactical gymnastics. The aim is for the children to become skilful
at creating, controlling and varying sentences for effect.

The Teaching Routine
  1.    Write up the words or sentence on a board.
  2.    Explain the challenge.
  3.    If necessary model an example on the board.
  4.    Children compose on white boards – give a time limit, say 15 seconds.
  5.    Children hold up whiteboards so teacher can see.
  6.    Teacher checks for basic punctuation, sense, quality, etc.
  7.    Whole class looks at several examples – what works, what does not work?
  8.    Whole class makes suggestions for improvements.

Making sentences
Write up one word. e.g. poodle. The children have to turn it into a sentence, e.g.

My mother has an old poodle.

Spend some time just practising this simple skill – making up a sentence. Children in
year 3 may need to revisit this simple game on many occasions to secure the
consistent use of capital letter and full stop.

A next step on is to write up two words – a noun and a verb work well, e.g. poodle
whisper. Choose words that might not normally seem to go together. This will
encourage invention, e.g.

The poodle whispered an urgent message to the postman.

The hardest variation of this game is to start with three (or more) words that do not
seem to go together, e.g. jelly shark sneezed. The challenge is for the children to
write one sentence using all 3 words, e.g.

The hammerhead shark sneezed and out shot a jelly.
When checking their whiteboards – make sure that everyone always uses a capital
letter and full stop. Get the children to ‘police’ their own sentences. They have to be
‘strict’ with themselves. Sometimes I say, ‘pretend you are me – you know what I am
looking for’. You will also pick up on spelling errors – especially those where you know
that you have taught that pattern. If some children finish ahead of others put in an
extra challenge for them, e.g. add in an adjective, strengthen the verb, extend the
sentence using ‘because’, etc.

Look out for well-chosen words or interesting sentences. Contrast these with the dull
and obvious. Push the children to take care with selecting words. Ask them – ‘Which is
better? Why? How can we change the words in the second sentence to make it more

Improving Sentences
To a lot of children the whole business of making a sentence interesting remains a
complete mystery. There are only a small number of things that you can do to a basic
sentence and you could use this as a wall poster: -

How to improve our sentences
Take this simple sentence – The dog ate the bone. Here are some ways that you might
use to make this more interesting:-
    Add words in – The shaggy dog carefully ate the old bone.
    Drop chunks in – The dog, which was starving, ate the maggot-ridden bone.
    Add on at the end – The dog ate the bone because it was hungry.
    Add on at the beginning – Although it had just eaten, the dog ate the bone.
    Change words – The poodle gnawed the bone.
    Add in a simile – The dog, like a greedy vulture, ate the bone.
    Alliterate – The dirty dog dug up the dull bone desperately.

Again, compare and contrast different ideas. Recently I selected these 2 sentences
to discuss –

The fat cat sat on the big mat.
The sly cat perched on the rough mat.

The class could see at a glance, which was more effective and had many ideas for
improving the duller sentence.

Reordering and trimming
Good writing is not just about doing long sentences. Many children ‘overwrite’ and use
too many elaborate words. One useful game is to provide a long sentence to be
trimmed back. Compare the results to see which sounds most effective, e.g.
The starving, hungry, élan, thin dog greedily ate the old, ancient bone while it was
hanging about waiting for its master to come out of the pub where he was having a
drink with his friends because it was his afternoon off work and he felt thirsty in the
hot weather.

It can also be fun to practise the idea of reordering sentences. How many ways can
you find to reorder this one?

The rain fell like diamonds, sparkling in the sunlight on the leaves.

Altering sentence types
Provide a basic sentence, e.g. The dog sat on the floor.
Then ask the children to alter it into –
    A question – Did the dog sit on the floor?
    An exclamation – Sit!
    A negative – That dog must not sit on the floor

You can have a lot of fun by taking a basic sentence and changing it by pretending it
was in a different text type –
    Newspaper – Dog sighted on floor.
    Diary – Our old poodle Daphne lay down on the floor beside me
    Report – Dogs often sit on the floor, as they are not allowed onto furniture.
    Advert – Buy now – expert floor warmer – one dog left.
    Discussion – Many people think that dogs should not be allowed onto floor
      space where young children may crawl.
     Ghost story – The dog growled from the floor and I felt the hairs on the back
      of my head prickle.
     Traditional tale – Once there was a dog that liked to sit on floors.

Lucky Fortunes
Provide a simple statement such as ’At school we keep a pet hamster ’. The children
have to add further sentences, alternatively using the words ‘unfortunately’ and
‘fortunately’, e.g. At school we keep a pet hamster. Unfortunately, it escaped from
the cage. Fortunately, the caretaker found it. Unfortunately, it was stuck in a
drainpipe. Fortunately, it had acquired the ability to talk. Unfortunately, it refused to
speak to him …

Creating several sentences
A step on from playing with a single sentence is to ask the children to create several
more. This is a crucial step and you will have to insist and check for the automatic and
correct use of punctuation. Begin with adding just one extra sentence, and then build
it up. It is helpful to have a menu of useful connectives.
The dog ate the bone. After that, it wondered over to the garage. It lay down for a
long snooze. While it was dreaming a cat came along. It was a sly cat.

(some useful connectives: after, although, as, because, before, if, once, since, that,
though, unless, until, when, where, while).

Sentence Combination
Another important game is to work on joining sentences. Many children reach a stage
where their only tactic is to use ‘and then’. Write up to sentences, e.g.

The car stopped.
The robbers jumped out.

How many ways can be found to join these together? Again – practise this often and
then refer to it in shared writing. Build up a collection of different ways to join

Sentence Imitation
Often, when working on different text types it becomes obvious that certain
sentence structures will be needed. Practise writing these using the whiteboards. You
write the basic pattern up and the children create their own sentences, imitating the
underlying structure. For instance, when looking at sentences that help build tension:

Teacher writes: Carefully, she opened the door.
Child writes: Slowly, he crept past the window.

A note about improving spelling
Whiteboards may be used for improving spelling. Again, this is not a matter of doing
the activity once or twice. Teachers have found that if they spend 10-15 minutes
everyday over a year working on spelling on the whiteboards they can improve spelling
dramatically. These teachers also refer to spelling in the course of shared writing
and draw children’s attention to those objectives within the children’s own writing.

Sentence skills
If children cannot write a sentence then they are going to find composing a whole
text successfully almost impossible. Perhaps in the past we have underestimated the
importance of the sentence. In our desire to help children be creative we can make
the mistake of dashing forwards when they have not acquired the simplest of skills.
In the end this leads to misconceptions becoming embedded. Keep practising the skill
of making sentences. As Ted Hughes said, ‘The conscious manipulation of syntax
releases invention’.
Teaching Tips
Keep it fun.
Keep the pace brisk.
Little and often.
Discuss good sentences.
Show how to improve weak sentences.
Insist on accurate, automatic punctuation.
Pick up on spelling errors that you know they know about!

Adapted from an article in Junior Education, 2002

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