Improving Sentence Structure

Nov 7, 2008 by

Student writers often fall into these two traps when constructing sentences:

1. The Grocery List
The writer’s description is just a list of adjectives or attributes.

     E.g.: The car was old, rusty, scratched, dirty, broken-down, unreliable.

2. The Broken Record
The writer begins each sentence the same way. Sentences are usually short, choppy, and monotonous.

     E.g.: She had long, blonde, braided hair. She had a polka- dotted dress. She had bright pink lipstick. She had a scarf tied around her neck.

 

Can you guess which trap this student writer fell into? Click to enlarge.

Strategies to overcome these pitfalls:

  • Separate the grocery list—give each detail its own descriptive sentence.
  • Replace repetitive pronouns with more interesting alternatives.
  • Use a different subject.
  • Combine some shorter sentences.
  • Begin some sentences with –ing verbs instead of nouns.

These strategies come from Super Story-Writing Strategies and Activities by Barbara Mariconda, Scholastic, 2000.  I highly recommend this book which is filled with wonderful practice activities for a variety of writing crafts.  See below for some examples of sentence fluency practice exercises.

Separate the Grocery List

Example:

It was a bright, sunny, hot summer day.

To use this strategy, the writer gives each adjective in the above sentence its own descriptive sentence.

“bright” = I shielded my eyes from the bright afternoon sunshine.

“sunny” = There was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun burned stronger than ever.

“hot” =   I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I looked for a shady spot to rest.

The revised piece looks like this:

I shielded my eyes from the bright afternoon sunshine. There was not a cloud in the sky, and the sun burned stronger than ever. I wiped the sweat from my forehead as I looked for a shady spot to rest.

 

Replace Repetitive Pronouns

When a writer begins each sentence with the same pronoun, the piece can be improved by simply replacing those pronouns with a synonymous word or phrase.

Example:
He was so tall that he actually towered over a nearby pine tree. He was wearing a pair of tattered overalls that hung from his lean frame. He was carrying a fishing pole and a garbage can. I stepped closer to get a better look.

Revised:
The enormous man was so tall that he actually towered over a nearby pine tree. The extraordinary creature was wearing a pair of tattered overalls that hung from his lean frame. The mysterious giant was carrying a fishing pole and a garbage can. I stepped closer to get a better look.

 

Use a Different Subject

Example:
She had long black hair.

Revised:
Long black hair cascaded over her shoulders.

 

Combine Shorter Sentences

Demonstrate this strategy for your students by writing a paragraph consisting of short, choppy sentences:

I have a dog. He is brown. He is fluffy. His name is Jack. He likes to sleep with me.

Next, combine some of the sentences to improve the sentence structure:

I have a brown, fluffy dog named Jack. One of his favorite things to do is sleep in my bed with me.

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