Writing Sentences that Work

You don’t know what you don’t know until you are explicitly taught it. This is my motto for everything in life but especially for learning. Everyone knows what good writing sounds like. We also know a beautiful picture when we see one. What we don’t know is what MAKES it good writing or drawing. We don’t know until we break it down and think about it. Once we are taught to stop and really look at WHY we like something or WHY it works – we then learn how to improve what we are doing.

That was a lot of words to explain how to teach anything. To teach anything and everything we need to learn to look at how it works. We need to break it apart into a system and then look at the parts individually and then see if we can recreate it then finally take it and make it something original.

When we teach students how to write better sentences. We need to read good sentences and break them up. When we do this, students will start to understand that sentences contain vivid details. Details are what makes sentences and pictures come to life. It is the pizzazz.

Once they understand that. Then you can introduce the idea that details come from asking the questions. Who? What? When? Where? Why? How?

These questions help us to expand our sentences and gives the reader more “meat to chew on.”

Come up with a simple sentence and practice expanding it together.

“The girl climbed.”

Then you can say, “let’s look at our questions? For who, we know it is the girl, we can go into more detail but let’s first work with the questions. The next question is, what, what did the girl climb? Let’s say tree. For When, let’s say yesterday. Where, in the park. Why, to pick an apple. How? She used a ladder. Now, let’s put that in a nice sentence.

Yesterday in the park, the girl used a ladder to climb the tree to pick an apple.

Now, this is not the only way to expand the sentence. You could have come up with different variations. You could have even split it into more sentences. Next time you write a sentence try ways to expand the sentence. This gives the reader more information so that they can create pictures in their head and really feel like they are part of a story.

Let’s look at the sentence we wrote and write even more variations for that sentence. We want to teach our students to look at the idea behind that sentence. Why is this an important detail. How does this sentence move the story along. Although, the sentence is expanded it is not necessarily good.

Yesterday in the park, the girl used a ladder to climb the tree to pick an apple.

That sentence can be broken up into smaller sentences with a lot more flavor. We want flavor in our stories. So let’s try that.

Ask, “In this sentence, what part of the sentence is not really important to move the story along? It can be the who, what, when, where, why.”

Let’s say that knowing the time and place wasn’t important because the time and setting was already set up in the story in the beginning. So let’s just expand the next idea.

The girl used a ladder to climb the tree to pick an apple.

Ask the student, “why is this important to know?” This is a really important question if the student has not developed their idea enough. If it all makes sense in the context of the story, etc. Now, explain that they expand the sentence by giving more details about what ever is an important aspect of this sentence. For example, if the story is about the apple making them sick, then the student can go into more details of the apple. If the ladder is important and foreshadows something in the story they can give more details about the ladder.

This sounds like it might be difficult for kindergarteners, let alone any elementary student to understand. But believe me, if you are spending a lot of times picking up these kinds of details in their reading they will naturally do this with their writing.

My best advice is before you are really teaching these concepts in writing – make sure that you are doing it when reading mentor texts. Have students start to recognize sentences that really are special in mentor texts and analyze what makes them work. These little activities of first noticing and then trying to replicate them yourself is just part of learning and should be encouraged. Good luck!