“It does not do well to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that.” —J.K. Rowling,
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
“One must be careful of books, and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.”
—Cassandra Clare, The Infernal Devices
How do we get our students to write well?
How can teachers help students to string words together with poetry, grace, and meaning?
I recently attended a workshop on The Writing Revolution: The Hochman Method, an instructional approach to teaching writing and communication skills. Dr. Judith C. Hochman is the creator of the Hochman Method and founder of The Writing Revolution. Dr. Hochman was the Head of Windward School an independent school focused on teaching students with learning disabilities.
We began with sentences and sentence activities. The idea is to start small in order to help students to write better. Focusing on sentences improves the substance of writing to raise the level of linguistic complexity and clarity, enhance revision and editing skills, and improve reading comprehension.
The following 8 sentence activities were presented to help student take command of their sentence writing and become better writers.
Sentence Fragments – A group of words that is not a grammatically complete sentence. Usually a fragment lacks a subject, verb or both or is a dependent clause that is not attached to an independent clause. Teachers can post sentence fragments for students to repair. The aim is to address what is necessary to write complete sentences. For example, as a bell ringer have students identify the sentence fragments and change the fragments into complete sentences adding necessary words, capitalization, and punctuation.
the town of Macomb
does not remember her mother well
atticus finch is a lawyer
Scrambled Sentences – Another five minute do now is to have 7-9 words maximum for students to put together to make a complete sentence. One way to help students with this activity is to bold the first word of the sentence to help them unscramble the sentence.
Sentence Types – We use four different kinds of sentences when speaking and writing: Statements or Declaratives, Questions or Interrogatives, Exclamations, and Commands or Imperatives. Give students a topic or an image for them to write a sentence, question, exclamation, and command for. This strategy encourages students to think about the text and encourage precise language. To differentiate this activity you can offer an answer and have students create a question that shows synthesis, comparison, and frames their academic vocabulary.
A: direction and magnitude
Possible question: What are the two defining characteristics of a vector?
Because, But, So – Because tells why, But changes direction, and So shows cause and effect. If we want students to think critically and not regurgitate information we can have students extend a sentence with but, because, and so. Each of these conjunctions help to change the meaning of the sentence.
Hammurabi created a written code of laws . . . .
Students can complete the sentence based on what they know and understand.
Hammurabi created a written code of laws because ________________________________________________
Hammurabi created a written code of laws, but ___________________________________________________
Hammurabi created a written code of laws, so ____________________________________________________
These three conjunctions can help students learn linguistically complex language and change of direction language that can help writing counterclaims. Additional transition words for but includes: although, while, even though, however, on the other hand.
Subordinating Conjunctions – After, Before, If, While, Although, Even though, Unless, Since, When, Whenever. Rather than asking students questions about the text or material, use subordinating conjunction sentence stems to evaluate comprehension and knowledge. For example,
Since Lennie has a mild mental disability in Of Mice and Men, ________________________________________
After Lennie meet’s Curley’s wife, _________________________________________________________________
Although Lennie promised to keep the farm a secret, ________________________________________________
Students can use a given subordinating conjunction to write a sentence about a character.
Even though ________________________________________________________
If I was using the above activity with To Kill a Mockingbird, I might anticipate a student to write,
Although Tom Robinson was innocent and defended himself well, he was found guilty.
Even though Tom Robinson’s case seemed doomed from the start, Atticus agreed to defend him.
Appositives are a noun or noun phrase placed next to another noun to rename, or explain it more fully. Teachers can have students practice writing topic sentences with appositives. Another activity is to have student match appositives or fill in the appositives. Introducing appositives provides students a strategy to vary writing and help the reader provide more information. In addition, it improves reading comprehension. Another strategy is to give students an appositive and have students write a sentence around it.
Sentence Combining helps to teach grammar and usage because it requires students to gain syntactic control.
This strategy is from The Teacher’s Guide to Effective Sentence Writing by Bruce Saddler.
Let’s take the following five sentences:
People are innocent.
People are innocent according to a principle.
The principle is American.
The principle is legal.
They are proven guilty.
What did you come up with?
According to an American legal principle, people are innocent until proven guilty.
To scaffold this sentence activity you can give hints for students to use a conjunction or appositive. Additionally, you can differentiate the activity by giving the high fliers a challenge, the middle level students a hint, and for struggling or ELLs offer them a sentence starter.
Kernel Sentences – A simple, active, declarative sentence with only one verb and containing no modifiers or connectives. This activity is helpful for note taking because it gets at the who, what, when, where why, and how.
Pyramids were built.
Students state the when, where, and why. Think of this like a puzzle, students need to complete every piece of information to write an expanded sentence.
In ancient times, pyramids were built in Egypt to protect the body of the deceased pharaoh.
Whether you try all the sentence activities or just a few, activities should be embedded in the content. Teacher demonstration and modelling is beneficial. Sentence strategies can be practiced in do nows and warm ups, stop and jots, exit slips or even test items.