Sentences are the basic building blocks of writing. There is a growing body of research showing that sentence combining and sentence expanding are effective ways of improving students’ writing by teaching them the skills associated with developing elaborate and complex sentences.
There are also several advantages to this type of activity:
- It is quick.
- You can systematically introduce students to different grammatical concepts.
- Punctuation can be taught and used correctly.
- It can be used as a teaching, learning or assessment tool in any subject.
Hochman and Wexler (2017) provide a number of variations of sentence combining and expanding, plus provide examples of how these techniques can be used across different subject areas.
- Begin by providing students with a list of complete sentences and sentence fragments (be careful to include any punctuation marks). These can be in any subject area.
- Students determine if the sentence is complete (C) or a fragment (F).
- Fragmented sentences are converted into complete sentences.
- Appropriate punctuation is added to all sentences.
Example after teaching a unit on tigers
- many species of tigers
- around 3,000 tigers live in Asia
- taken over their habitat
- but they can live up to 26 years
- the average lifespan is 10 years
- Introduce the four types of sentences – statement (S), command (C), questions (Q), exclamation (E).
- Teach the punctuation associated with each of these sentence types.
- Provide students with a list of sentences. Students determine the type of sentence and punctuate correctly.
- Students formulate their own examples of each type of sentence on a given topic.
Example after teaching a unit on food groups
- It is important to eat 2 ½ cups of vegetables every day.
- Eat two pieces of fruit every day.
- Is it healthy to eat sweets every day?
- I am so fortunate to have complex carbohydrates in my diet.
Conjunctions Joining Phrases
- Students are given a sentence stem and asked to write three separate complex sentences using a different conjunction each time.
- The first conjunction is ‘because’ and requires students to explain why the sentence stem is true.
- The second conjunction is ‘but’ and requires students to indicate an alternative to the sentence stem.
- The third conjunction is ‘so’ and requires students to show a cause and effect between the sentence stem and the added phrase.
Example after teaching a unit on fractions
- Fractions are like decimals because… (they indicate part of a whole)
- Fractions are like decimals, but… (they are written differently)
- Fractions are like decimals, so… (they can be interchanged)
- Make a list of subordinating conjunctions (before, after, if, when, although, since, while, unless, whenever).
- Discuss the relationship between the two phrases in sentences that use these conjunctions (e.g., ‘although’ implies the two phrases contain contradictory information; ‘before’ indicates a chronological order; etc.).
- Provide three sentence stems each beginning with a different conjunction for students to complete
Example after teaching a unit on magnetism
- Although magnets attract metal, …..(they don’t attract paper)
- If a magnet is suspended from a piece of string, …(it will always point north)
- Unless opposite poles on a magnet are brought together, … (two magnets will repel each other)
Hochman, J. & Wexler, N. (2017). The Writing Revolution: A Guide to Advanced Thinking Through Writing in all Subjects and Grades. Jossey-Bass: CA