Chapter 7: Enhancing Meaning & Voice with Sentence Fluency

Books with Lyrical Sentence Fluency:

The Adventures of Marco Polo by Russell Freedman. Good examples of long clear sentences that draw in readers.

Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies. Examples of interesting sentence starters.

A Christmas Memeory, One Christmas & the Thanksgiving Visitor by Truman Capote. Examples of better word choice, imagery and voice.

Strategies for Teaching Sentence Fluency:

  1. Write Poetry- Writing poetry may be an easy gateway for students who struggle with writing complete sentences. Single words and sentence fragments are often found in poetry and beginner writers may do very well at creating poems in this form.
  2. Encourage Students to Read Aloud- Being able to read out is a large part of sentence fluency. Have students practice searching for a piece of writing and preforming it to the class. Following is a list of books that students could perform orally from:Hoops by Robert BurleighPoetrees by Douglas FlorianMirror Mirror by Marilyn Singer
  3. Math Talk by Theonni Pappas
  4. Insectopedia by Douglas Florian
  5. Dogteam by Gary Paulsen
  6. Remind Students to Read Everything They Write Aloud- Reading our own writing aloud is the only way to see if sentences have rhythm and do not sound awkward. Encourage your students to read everything they write out loud to check for sentence fluency. Editing is a much easier task if students read aloud as they go, not just when finished.
  7. Teach Students What a Sentence Is- Your students are not going to write fabulous sentences if they do not fully understand what one is. Have students practice writing simple subject-verb sentences individually before working with a partner to improve sentences as well as making sure they are able to write one. With your class you can play a game called “Sentence or Not.” Display a short sentence or sentence fragment for the class to see. If it is a sentence remain sitting, if it is not a sentence stand up. Students can discuss as a class why they made their decisions. It will also give students better insights to what counts and makes up a proper sentence.
  8. Build a Sentence- step 1: name the subject that is going to be written about. The larger the words are written at the topic of the page, the better. Step 2: add the verb to the subject. Tell your reader what the subject is doing. You can ask your students if their sentence is already a complete sentence (in most cases it would be). Step 3: describe the subject. Students should add an adjective to their sentence to add detail and begin the story. Step 4: tell how. Students should then add an adverb to their sentence. This addition creates a better image of whatever the students are writing about. Step 5: tell where. Prepositional phrases should be added now to add detail to the sentence and create a scene. Step 6: tell why. Participles are now added. This gives the sentence some meaning.
  9. Model Ways to Deal with Choppy Sentences- Show an example of a short paragraph that only contains choppy sentences. As a class brainstorm ways to transform the paragraph into proper sentences. Some sentences can be complied together, some removed completely, details added and punctuation used.
  10. Model Ways to Deal with repetitive Beginnings- Again model an example of a short paragraph that has very repetitive beginnings. Let students discuss for a couple of minutes what they thought of the paragraph before editing it together. Show how simple it is to cross out the repetitive words and add substitutions. Sentences can be combined in order to avoid repetition of the topic words or subject.
  11. Try Sentence Aerobics- Have students sit in groups of five or six. Every student should write one short simple sentence that they know is true and is general. Every student passes their paper to the left. Each student has one task each time their pass their paper, but it changes after every pass. After the first pass students will read the sentence, and then begin the same sentence in a different way. Pass. Rewrite the sentence but start it with a pronoun. Pass. Rewrite the sentence but start the sentence with if. Pass. Rewrite the sentence but turn it into a question. This exercise allows students practice with changing a sentence. They will also see how easy it is to create a whole new sentence with only a couple additional words or punctuation.
  12. Remember an Old Friend: Sentence Combining- Have students begin practicing combining two sentences together. With your class brainstorm words that you can often use to combine sentences. Then have them combine three sentences, then as many as they can.
  13. Break the Rules (At the Right Moment)- Fragment sentences and run-on can be used in writing at the right moment to create voice and style present. Writers should be encouraged, once the demonstrate they can write proper sentences, to use fragments in their writing to create punch and dramatic effect.
  14. Teach Students to “Hit the End Note”- students should be exposed to sentences that are powerful at the end. The punch of a sentence should be at the end. A sentence is used to carry the reader to the most important, exciting part. So writers should write an engaging enough sentence that readers cannot wait to get to the end. The number 231 is a perfect visual example to show students of where they need to improve their sentences. The most important part is the end of a sentence; the beginning is next and the middle last.
  15. Avoid Weak Beginnings- Compile a list with your class of beginnings that are used to often in their own writing. Have students practice writing starter sentences avoiding the beginnings listed on the board. Another exercise for students would be to give them a piece of writing with tired beginnings and have them edit it individually. Students can share their revised copies to demonstrate how many different ways a sentence can start.
  16. Help Students Master Parallel Structure- Having parallel structure in your writing gives it rhythm. Give students examples of sentences that are not parallel and have them edit them to be parallel.

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