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March 31, 2023

3 Easy Activities to Improve Student Writing

Build Better Sentences with Syntactic Awareness and Sentence Manipulation

Syntax, also known as the rules of grammar, refers to the way words, phrases, and clauses are arranged to make up a sentence. When students are exposed to oral language (like read alouds) and increasingly complex written texts, they build syntactic awareness and are able to apply it to their writing. Teachers can help students build “sentence sense” with quick routines focused on manipulating sentences. 

1. Sentence Scramble– If your students are struggling to write complete sentences, engage them in a Sentence Scramble to help them understand the basic building blocks.

Students are given a sentence that is split up into individual word cards. They must rearrange the words to create sentences that follow the rules of grammar. Use sentences from curricular content (like Science or Social Studies) so that students are also building background and strengthening content knowledge.

2. Sentence Elaboration– If your students are writing short sentences with limited vocabulary, try the Sentence Elaboration routine. This activity helps to build awareness of subordinate clauses, prepositional phrases, and adverbial phrases, which are the key to more complex sentences.

Give students a simple subject, then ask a series of “W” questions to expand the sentence– who, what, where, why, which, how. Try this activity in small groups where you can differentiate by limiting the number of questions. 

3. Sentence Combinations– If your students are writing short, choppy sentences with limited variation, try this sentence combination routine. This process demonstrates how to make writing more readable and engaging, while also teaching important grammar “connectors” like pronouns and conjunctions. 

Image credit: Twinkl.com

Use the FANBOYS acronym to help students remember the most common coordinating conjunctions, which help connect ideas in a sentence. Begin with familiar sentences from stories and content area subjects. Teach students that too many independent clauses (shown below) can make writing feel choppy. Show them how to join these sentence parts together with a coordinating conjunction (FANBOYS) to create better flow. 

Manatees typically swim in shallow, slow-moving water, but they can swim up to 20 miles per hour. 

*When sentence combining, be sure to teach the use of pronouns like “they” in the example above. 

Improving writing skills is a process that requires practice and patience. However, there are simple and effective activities that can help students build syntactic awareness and improve the quality of their writing. Sentence Scramble, Sentence Elaboration, and Sentence Combinations are three easy-to-implement routines that teachers can use to help students manipulate sentences and make them more readable and engaging. By incorporating these activities into their teaching, educators can help their students become more confident and skilled writers.

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