The aim of this article is to explain the importance of teaching at the sentence-level and to give teachers guidance on how to teach at the sentence-level successfully.
Teaching students to construct coherent and meaningful sentences is essential if we want them to convey their ideas happily and successfully (Young & Ferguson 2022). Sadly, teaching at the sentence-level is too often overlooked or neglected.
📝 Sentences are the building blocks of writing
Sentences are the building blocks of writing. Many writers spend the majority of their writing time considering (and reconsidering) the sentences they write. They regularly ponder, write and rewrite. This is because every sentence is deemed to be its own mini composition.
It’s important to remember that sentences are informed by the sentences that have come previously and by the sentences we plan to write next. Sentences are conceived at the text level and they are produced in the context of the other sentences that surround them.
📝 Enhancing clarity and cohesion
Proficiency in sentence construction improves the clarity and readability of students’ writing. Clear sentences are easier for both the writer and the reader to understand.
📝 Grammar and conventions
Sentence-level instruction is a perfect opportunity to reinforce typical grammar conventions, punctuation, and capitalisation. These are vital for effective written communication. See our Grammar Mini-Lessons and No More: ‘My Pupils Can’t Edit!’ A Whole-School Approach To Developing Proof-Readers for more information.
📝 Supports higher-level writing skills
Proficient sentence construction helps when children are trying to deal with other complex aspects of writing and being a writer. For example, thinking at the sentence-level reminds children to consider the needs of their audience. See our eBook The Science Of Teaching Primary Writing for more details.
Effective strategies when teaching at the sentence-level…
Writer-teachers should explicitly teach and model sentence construction, including capitalisation, punctuation, and word order. Visual aids and examples will enhance students’ understanding. To see example lessons and visual aids, donwload our eBook: Sentence-Level Instruction.
Here we see a writer-teacher sharing the function of relative clauses alongside some written examples. This poster will stay up in the writing classroom for weeks or even months. Alongside it, the teacher will have a poster full of examples taken from their own writing, children’s literature, and their students’ writing.
Provide sentence starters and visual prompts to assist students in generating their own sentences. These prompts can be tailored to the class writing project. Children’s use then transitions to their personal writing projects too.
✅ Trying it out
Give students some time to experiment and engage in playful exploration before they use and apply their sentence learning to their own composition that day. See this article for more guidance.
Encourage revision as a natural part of the writing process. You shouldn’t limit your sentence-level instruction to only the drafting phase of a class writing project. For more information, see this article.
✅Integration with reading
Connect sentence writing with reading great mentor sentences. Analysing other authors’ sentences can make sentence structure, voice and style seem possible and probable for students. See our eBook: Reading In The Writing Classroom for more information and guidance.
✅ Developmentally appropriate expectations
Have developmentally appropriate expectations for each year group and understand that sentence-level proficiency develops over time and through repeated practice. Indeed, it’s a life-long process of development! See our eBook: Sentence-Level Instruction for more details and guidance.