We often work with children who need to experience things in many different ways before they ‘get’ it. Understanding what a sentence is – (what goes into them, how to write them etc). is one of those concepts that needs constant revisiting, in a variety of ways.
When children really understand the concept of a sentence – internalise its structure as it were – then they start to become more confident readers and writers.
Repetition is the key – but children, TAs and teachers know, the boredom factor can make doing the same things over and over counter-productive.
First of all make sure you have a working definition of what a sentence is – there should be some agreement in the school or your classroom.
Here are the three points I would always stress to ‘test’ whether a sentence is indeed a sentence:
A sentence is a complete idea.
In written Standard English you’d expect to see a capital letter to begin the sentence and a full stop (or equivalent) at the end.
A sentence has a subject and verb in it – these should ‘agree’ with each other.
Here are a few suggestions for working on sentences in different ways:
Write out 3 (or more) separate sentences on strips of card. Then chop them up – (you decide whether this is individual words or 'chunks' of sentences).
Then ask children to put them back into sentences – mixing and matching to make as many as possible. Silly ones count too – so long as they are a sentence. It will also provide opportunities to talk about how some words might need to be changed (tenses /plurals) to make sure the sentence 'makes sense' - as well as a discussion about how to best punctuate.
Find Me Out
Prepare a few sentences and ‘non sentences’ beforehand. Write them on a whiteboard or large paper so the children can see them and read them out loud with you. They then have to decide if it is, or isn’t, a real sentence. This could be done in teams of 2 or 3 as a quiz.
Examples might include:
- A strange and wonderful light (this is a phrase – no verb)
- throw another ball to your friend (will be a sentence when it is punctuated – there’s no subject written down but the subject (you) is implied so it is still a sentence)
- John and I thought the concert was really good and my mum agreed. (that’s a sentence!)
Children can then go on to make up examples for each other.
Give children an unpunctuated set of words and a ‘bank’ of punctuation to work with. For example – You have one full stop, 3 capital letters and 2 commas in your ‘bank’. Put these words in any order you like – and punctuate into a sentence. (they don’t have to use all of the punctuation in their bank if they don’t think they need to)
peter and jane whilst sitting on the bench played their guitars and sang loudly
Deliciously Descriptive Sentences
Collect words from food packaging (involve your friends and family too so your collection grows more quickly) Chocolate and cake packaging is often good for this. Cut out words like Delicious, gorgeous, crackers, fabulous, original, premium and so on.
Have a bag with these cut outs. Children choose one – they then talk to each other to make the best sentence they can, using the word.
To make it harder they have to take two of the words and use both.
They can they write the sentence out – or someone can scribe it for them – whichever is most appropriate.
Use a verb as a starting point for this one – try and choose some that have noises associated with them:
- stamping feet
- closing a door
Everyone closes their eyes except the one child you have chosen to act out the verb. Show them (or whisper) what you want them to do. They act out the verb (dancing) whilst everyone else listens carefully.
Then ask children to guess using a kind of ‘chant’. This provides the opportunity for you to make different ‘rules’ – for example all answers have to be given in the present continuous or the past tense)
You: “What is Chloe doing?”
1st Child: “I think Chloe is dancing”
2nd Child: “I believe that Chloe is skipping” (this is the present continuous of the verb)
You: " What did Chloe do?"
3rd Child: “I think that Chloe was shuffling her feet.” (past tense)
It doesn’t matter about how long the answer is so long as it is a sentence. You could write them down as each child says one and compare them.
If you have any other ideas for teaching sentences in fun ways let me know and I’ll share them .
For a host of other ideas like these why not visit our Thinking Child Network page?