When we teach reading, we don’t expect our students to pick up a book and read, without explicitly teaching them everything from print concepts to decoding and comprehension strategies.
So why don’t we do this with writing instruction?
In many classrooms, students are expected to just write sentences- or even stories- with very minimal instruction on what a sentence even is! The idea is that grammar, sentence structure, and revision will be taught in the context of their stories.
Yes, I know that teaching grammar and revision in context is important.
But, I also know that kids need A LOT of practice with writing sentences, or else their stories don’t make sense. Or, they need so much revision that it’s overwhelming!
Before kids can write stories, they need to learn how to write a sentence. Before writing sentences, they need to know what a sentence even is.
So, we did a lot of sentence-writing activities in my classroom, starting with oral sentences. And I want to share some of these ideas with you!
Sentence-Writing Activities for Kindergarten and First Grade
Oral Sentences Using Sentence stems/ frames
Write a sentence starter on the board and ask students to say a complete sentence with it. Have them turn to partners to tell them their sentence to make sure everyone gets a chance. Start with easy ones, e.g. “I like to…” and “My name is…” Write some of them down and discuss that each starts with a capital, ends with a punctuation mark, and has spaces between the words.
You could also integrate this practice during your morning meetings as a sharing activity.
Sentences are made up of words but some kids confuse words with syllables, so counting words in an oral sentence helps them understand the difference when the sentence includes multi-syllabic words. Counting words in a written sentence emphasizes spacing.
Describe the Picture
Display any picture on your whiteboard. Invite students to tell you something about the picture and write the sentences down, thinking aloud as you do so to point out starting with a capital, leaving spaces, using punctuation, and rereading. Have them read your sentences.
*Advanced Extension– Place numbered magazine pictures at a center and have students write the number of the picture they chose and write a sentence for it. Share by asking kids to read the sentences for picture number 1, 2, etc.
I like to use “Who, Doing What, and Where” cards for this. I start with just the “Who” and “Doing What” cards to help kids see that a sentence must include a subject and verb. Once they build sentences with these 2 parts, I introduce the “Where” cards and talk about adding details to provide more information and make our sentences fabulous.
This is great for oral sentences the first couple of times you work with the cards. Then, have kids pick cards and take them to their seats to write and illustrate a sentence.
We loved using this as a writing center, and the pack has multiple themes for use throughout the year.
It also has a digital version you can use on your interactive whiteboard, digital center, or virtual learning.
* Advanced Extension– Challenge students to add even more details to answer When, and How. I added cards for these as well in the Sentence-Building resource.
Also, teach advanced students to start with different parts. Instead of always starting with the Who, they can start with the Where. For example, “The dog eats a bone at the park,” they might write, “At the park, a dog eats a bone.”
Mix and Fix Sentences
Write a sentence on a sentence strip, then cut the words apart and place the cards in the wrong order on a pocket chart. Have kids rearrange the cards to build the sentence correctly. It’s a great opportunity to discuss clues like capitalization and punctuation.
Sorting Sentences and Phrases
I love using sorts. They are such a great way to address misconceptions! All you have to do is write some sentences and non-sentences (phrases) on sentence strips and sort them on a pocket chart. Discuss why each one is or isn’t a sentence.
*Extension– Challenge students to turn the non-sentences into complete sentences!
Write sentences on sentence strips, but omit a word so that it doesn’t make sense. Ask students where it needs a word and model using a carat mark to add it. This will help them later when revising their own writing.
Daily Shared/ Interactive Writing
I usually had a morning message ready for my students, but at the end of the day, we often wrote one together about something that happened or that we learned that day. We usually wrote it together, going through the stages of planning, drafting, revising, and editing.
First, we brainstormed ideas and chose one. We said our sentence a few times, wrote it together (sounding out and using our spelling strategies), then reread it and then revised to make it even better, by adding details, changing words, etc.
This is a great time to quickly teach a revision strategy! Sometimes, I intentionally made a mistake so that we could fix it during the editing stage. Save these and you will see how much better they get throughout the year!
Find the TWO sentences
Have you ever asked a student to go back and edit their writing for punctuation? Often, they’ll come back with periods in the wrong places, usually at the end of each line! It’s overwhelming to find where each sentence begins and ends once students have written their entire story. It’s much easier if they only have 2 sentences. All you have to do is write ONLY 2 sentences on the board and omit the punctuation. Ask students to find where the first sentence ends, then add punctuation for both.
I have an activity like this in my Pocket Dice Cards for Writing. Students roll the die because, well, everything is more fun with dice, then rewrite the 2 sentences with the correct punctuation.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you know that I just love to make kids move! Movement is a catalyst for learning and I try to incorporate it every chance I get! Teaching sentences is no exception. We stand for capitals, stomp for periods, shrug our shoulders for question marks, and do jazz hands for exclamation points when editing sentences together.
Wrapping It Up
I hope these tips were helpful to you! I know often we can’t help the curriculum we are given, but if your students are struggling with writing and your curriculum is going too fast, pause if you’re able to and take some time to teach the basics. It will go a long way!
Reply and let me know if you’ll try any of these! Do you have any favorite sentence-writing activities?