Teaching Sentence Writing and Sentence Structure

Teaching Sentence Writing and Sentence Structure
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You may want to begin teaching sentence writing by explaining exactly what a sentence is and is not.

What is a sentence?

A sentence must have a subject and a verb that can stand alone.

Sentence: Jenny walks. – Jenny is the subject, walked is the verb, and those two words together can stand alone.

Not a Sentence: When Jenny walks. – Although this sentence has a subject and a verb, it cannot stand alone, therefore it is not a sentence.

Next, explain the three types of sentences.

The Three Types of Sentences

Simple Sentence: A simple sentence has one subject and one verb. It does not have any clauses.

Examples of a Simple Sentence:

  • The baby cried.
  • The baby cried loudly. This is also a simple sentence. (Loudly is not a clause, it is simply an adverb describing how the baby cried.)

Compound Sentence: A compound sentence contains two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction.

Example of a Compound Sentence:

  • My mom went Christmas shopping, so my brother and I stayed home. (“My mom went Christmas shopping” and “my brother and I stayed home” are both independent clauses. “So” is the coordinating conjunction.)

Complex Sentence: A complex sentence has an independent clause and one or more dependent clauses.

Example of a Complex Sentence:

  • When Grace joined the soccer team, she did not expect to spend so much time at practice. (“When Grace joined the soccer team” is the dependent clause and “she did not expect to spend so much time at practice” is the independent clause.)

Tips for Writing Better Sentences

Introductory Sentences

When teaching sentence writing, you may discover that your students want to start each sentence with a subject every time. This is boring and tedious for the reader. Teach them to start some of their sentences with introductory phrases.

Example: After the game, David and Julie are going to the Homecoming Dance. (“After the game” is an introductory phrase.)

“Advanced” Punctuation

By advanced, I mean use punctuation like semicolons, colons, and ellipses.

Example: Mrs. Baker assigned two chapters to read tonight; I will start reading as soon as I get home.

Vary Sentence Length in Paragraphs

Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more boring than reading an essay where all the sentences are the exact same length. When teaching sentence writing, teach your students to vary the length of their sentences. Model this to help them understand.

Teaching sentence writing is really the backbone of many writing courses. Of course, no one knows your students better than you. If they have already mastered the art of sentence writing then there may not be much need to teach it. However, in my experience, it really helps. Even the most experienced writers sometimes need to get back to the basics, if only for a brief amount of time, if we want to continually improve our writing.