Sentence Fluency Activities and Minilessons
Sentence Building Game
Read aloud Two Feet by Gwen Pascoe to introduce this activity. Then give students a simple sentence. Go around the class having one student at a time add to the sentence. Each student should change or add just one word or phrase at a time. Continue until the sentence is too long to make sense or be worded appropriately anymore. Clue words students can use to help them elaborate include: who, did what, where, when, why, how. While this can be a fun game to get students to compose longer sentences, be sure to emphasize that longer doesn’t always mean better. A good piece of writing will be balanced with longer and shorter sentences placed in such a way that the language flows smoothly and naturally. This type of writing will need to be modeled many times through reading aloud, shared and modeled writing experiences, and sharing examples of student writing.
Building Better Sentences
Give students a simple sentence: My dog ran. Ask students to elaborate on this sentence by using these “building blocks”: when, size or color (or other adjective), name a place, add a name.
Original Sentence: My dog ran.
When: yesterday afternoon
Size or color: enormous
Name a place: at Depot Park
Add a name: Rufus
New Sentence: My enormous dog Rufus ran through Depot Park yesterday afternoon.
Reading Aloud to Yourself
Sentence fluency is an auditory skill as much as a writing skill. Students need to hear what their writing sounds like. A fun way to get students to read their writing aloud to themselves is to have them read into a “fluency phone” (pieces of PVC pipe assembled into the shape of a phone).
Compare Two Versions
On the overhead write a paragraph that contains short, choppy sentences that all begin the same way.
I have a dog. He is brown. He is fluffy.
His name is Jack. He likes to sleep with me.
Then rewrite the paragraph, combining some sentences and using different sentence beginnings.
I have a brown, fluffy dog named Jack. One of his favorite things to do is sleep in my bed with me.
Ask students to compare the two versions. Ask which one they like better. Which one sounds better? Why? This mini-lesson will need to be repeated many times before most young writers will be able to use this revision strategy independently.
Sentence or Fragment?
Use this activity to help students distinguish between complete sentences and sentence fragments. Dictate a sentence or a fragment to the class. Ask, “Is this a sentence or a fragment?” If it is a sentence, students put their thumbs up. If not, they put their thumbs down. Begin with obvious examples at first and gradually increase the difficulty as students catch on.
Provide a sentence for the class and write it on the board:
The elephant is the most interesting animal at the zoo.
Ask students to reword the sentence by placing different words at the beginning:
The most interesting animal at the zoo is the elephant.
See if they can reword it again:
Of all the animals at the zoo, the elephant is the most interesting.
Repeat with other sentences.
Highlight First Words
This activity can be used to help students become more aware of the sentence variety (or lack of it) in their writing. Using a piece of writing from a shared or modeled writing lesson, have students highlight the first few words in each sentence. Ask students if they see any patterns. Do all of the sentences begin the same way? How can we change some sentences to add variety? After seeing this modeled several times, students who are writing longer stories can try this in their own writing.
Expanding Sentences with Color Poems
Read aloud Hailstones and Halibut Bones by Mary O’Neill. Have each child select a color to write about. Ask, “If you could taste this color, what would it taste like? If you could hear it, what would it sound like?” Repeat with all 5 senses. Have students record their ideas on a planning sheet.
On their first drafts most students will use simple sentences such as,
“Blue is the sight of the sky.”
“Pink is the taste of watermelon.”
Encourage them to expand these sentences to include more description to create mind pictures for the reader:
“Blue is the sight of the sky when the cumulus clouds
are moving to different parts of the sky.” by Jaymi
“Pink is the taste of watermelon squirting juice
in my mouth when I bite into a piece.” by Kelly
After students complete their drafts on the planning sheets, have them write color poems using some of the words and phrases and then illustrate.