After struggling with this problem myself, I developed a three-step process to help my students turn boring sentences into super sentences. I began by teaching them the difference between fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. Then we practiced revising and expanding basic sentences to make them more interesting. After I modeled the activity and they practiced it in a whole group setting, they played a game called Sentence Go Round in their cooperative learning teams. The difference in their writing was dramatic! Before long, they were adding more detail to their sentences without creating run-ons in the process.
Step One - Mini-Lesson on Sentences, Fragments, and Run-ons
Begin by explaining that complete sentences can be short or long, but they must have two basic parts, a subject and a predicate. The subject tells who or what the sentence is about, and the predicate is the action part of the sentence, or the part that tells what the subject is doing. If it's missing one of those parts, it's a fragment. If it has a whole string of sentences that run on and on without proper punctuation, it's a run-on sentence.
- Rabbits hop. (Your students will say it's a fragment since it's so short, but it's actually a complete sentence.)
- The big brown fluffy rabbit in the garden. (Looks like a sentence, but it's missing a predicate.)
- Rabbits love to eat carrots and one hopped into our garden and I thought it was cute even though it was eating the carrots. (A run-on of course ... kids don't usually have trouble spotting these, but you might want to have them find all the subjects and predicates to make your point.)
- The hungry rabbit hopped into the garden because he wanted to eat a carrot. (Even though this one is long, it's not a run-on because it only had one subject and one predicate.)
After your students can distinguish between fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences, it's time for them to practice their sentence-writing skills by learning how to revise and expand basic sentences. This activity should be modeled in a whole group or guided literacy group first, and older children can do the activity later in cooperative learning teams. To start the activity, you need a set of task cards with basic sentences that lack detail. I used an example from the Fall Sentences to Expand freebie for this lesson, but you can also use one from any of the below. You'll find all four Sentences to Expand freebies on the Writing File Folder page on Teaching Resources.
Whole Class Modeling:
- Start by selecting a basic sentence from the one of the freebies above. Let's use "She picked apples." Write the sentence on the board or show it to the class using a document camera.
- Explain that "She picked apples" is boring, but if we ask ourselves questions about it, we can add details that answer the question and make it more interesting. For example, if we ask "Who picked apples?" we can name someone specific. Demonstrate how to make the change as shown below.
- It's still a boring sentence, so let's ask, "How many?" and say that Mary picked a dozen apples.
- Go through the same process, each time repeating the revised sentence and asking another question. After 4 rounds of changes, it might look like the one in step 4 below.
- Next, repeat the process and actively involve your students. Ask one student to randomly select a sentence card and write it on the board.
- Then ask all students to think about a question they could ask and how they could revise the sentence to add one detail. It can be more than one word, but it shouldn't be more than a short phrase that answers that question. If all students have individual dry erase boards or chalkboards, ask them to write down their revisions and show them to you.
- Call on one student to come forward and display his or her revised sentence.
- Repeat the process three or four more times until you've created a sentence that's detailed and interesting, but not a run-on.
Step Three - Cooperative Learning or Small Group Activity
The first two steps are the perfect segue into Sentence Go Round, an activity for cooperative learning teams or small groups to practice expanding sentences. The product below includes sample sentences for the teacher to display, as well as printables for students and a sorting activity to practice identifying fragments, run-ons, and complete sentences. Sentence Go Round also includes activity directions and question cards to prompt students as they are creating their new sentences. A recording page is provided for students to write each basis sentence and the final expanded version. All of the student pages that are in color are also available in black and white.
I hope your students enjoy these lessons and Sentence Go Round as much as mine did, and that it results in them writing super sentences instead of boring ones! Don't forget to download the free seasonal sentences that I created to go with the ones in Sentence Go Round.