Energising passages

In this post I’ll give you a strategy that can help students understand that verbs power sentences and create motion picture images. Students often choose weak verbs like ‘went’, ‘looked’ or ‘moved‘ whereas professional authors avoid these to keep action moving. Some students have trouble of thinking of verbs and the activity below is a good way to help them.

In The Art of the Sentence I provided a slide deck to support your students to use action verbs, but in this post I want to provide a simple teaching activity teaching activity from Natalie Goldberg which may be useful during this period of remote learning.

Natalie Goldberg in Writing Down the Bones designed an activity called “The Action of a Sentence”.

The Action of a Sentence

  1. Fold a sheet of paper in half.
  2. On the left fold, students write ten or more nouns
  3. On the right fold students create a list of 10 or more verbs from a specific occupation. Goldberg says “Think of an occupation; for example a carpenter, a doctor, a flight attendant,”
  4. Unfold the list and create interesting combinations and sentences.

Here is Goldberg’s example:

Natalie Goldberg – Writing Down the Bones, p88

Here are some of the interesting images she came up with:

  • Dinosaurs marinate the earth
  • The lilacs sliced the sky into purple
  • The fiddles boiled the air with their music

This would be a simple task to assign students during remote learning.

Other resources

Here is a blog post from Andrea Badgley where she completes the exercise. It’s interesting to see her combinations and how she went further with the task.

Read, Write, Think has a resource for 3 x 50 minute lessons which you might find useful to adapt for your context.

Boy Overboard

I had a request for a resource on Boy Overboard by Morris Gleitzman and so here it is!

If you want to ignore the explanation behind the resource and how I’ve designed it for you to pull bits and pieces from, scroll down to the bottom and you can find where to download the resource.

Otherwise, permit me a couple of minutes to explain my method.

A lot of the resources I’ve made are based on the first chapter or two of novels because, regardless of what is in my book room, I know I can find the chapter preview online, or in my local library.

But I also use this method as a way of introducing kids to a range of books that they might decide to read themselves. The final reason is to produce a model that other teachers can follow – its kind of like stealth professional learning.

So, as an overview, this is what is included.

Library of sentences

I’ve gone through the first two chapters and found models structures that you can choose to focus on, depending on the needs of your class. I’ve tried to save you time by listing some examples for you. This is not exhaustive, but it is a good beginning.

Here is a selection of the different models that you can teach kids from the first two chapters of this text. The grammatical term is not the focus and I have only included it here and in the document for your knowledge.


  • Panting, she gives me a proud grin.
  • I climb up out of the gully and up onto a sand dune, peering into the wind.

These are easy to teach kids and immediately improves the visual detail of their writing. As an aside, grammatically these belong to the non-finite clause category…and guess what the higher bands in NAPLAN want? They want a variety of clause structures, including non-finite clauses.


  • She’s only metres away from us now, eyes glinting as she dribbles the ball with her bare feet.

There are not a lot of examples in this chapter of the absolute, although that is partly because I am not familiar with all the various structures they take. The most common is the NOUN + ING, or NOUN + adjective. And guess what…another non-finite clause…you know what that means…

Delayed adjectives

  • It’s a great shot, low and hard.

There are a couple of these examples. I often teach this concept to my year seven kids within the first week. I want them to stop using 3 or four adjectives in a row and start to think about where to place them, that is, they can go after the noun. I’ve seen lots of Primary teachers show kids from Year 3 and up how to do this.

Adjectival/Relative clause

  • I hurry towards my ball, which is lying against one of the tanks huge caterpillar tracks.

I don’t reach the grammatical name to kids, just how to write a sentence which extends the visual detail. I want them to have whole lot of tools to draw from when writing. This is a nice example which shows more detail from the scene. (*Ahem…variety of clause structures and that test…)

Subordinate clause

  • ‘Bibi,’ I yell as I scramble up the side of the rocket crater.
  • Zoltan is looking at me as though an American air strike has hit me in the head and scrambled my brains.

There are many examples of this structure, and unfortunately, this is the basic structure that NAPLAN refers to when it talks about subordinate clauses. I use the acronym AAAWWUBBIS when teaching this.

As an aside, here is a little activity I regularly do to embed this structure and teach the grammar in context. l get kids to write a chapter titles of any material we’ve read using this sentence part. Here are some movie/book titles using this structure:

  • After the Fall
  • Although the Day is Not Mine to Give
  • As Good as it Gets
  • When in Rome
  • While the City Sleeps
  • Until Day Breaks
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Before Sunrise
  • If Looks Could Kill
  • Since Vietnam

You can do this activity with any book. I’ll probably make this into a post itself.

Action verbs

  • I slither into the gully.

To be honest, revising and choosing better verbs is an accessible activity for kids. I haven’t listed many from this text because…well…I ran out of time.

Pre reading activities

A simple story impressions activity. I wrote about this activity in this post, if you need more information.

Post reading activities

3 Level Reading Guide (Here, Hidden Head)

Again, this is to try and save you some time – you choose what is right for your class.

3 Level Reading Guides (Here, Hidden, Head) are a great way to get students discussing their reasoning. I think it is one of the good ways to develop inferencing skills.

Comprehension Questions

Maybe you want some full sentences answers written in their book – then comprehension questions are a good choice.

Language activities

I’ve written a few activities based on the sentence models. I haven’t designed this so that you would ask a student to do every single one, but you select the activity pertinent to your students. It might be as simple as find the structure in the text (you’ve got the answers in the sentence model library), or it might be a simple unjumble or sequence. You could use add them to the comprehension section, or you could project an activity on the board for the students to complete as a ‘Do Now’ task when they enter your classroom

Let’s write

I’ve made a simple writing task where students respond to an image. I usually ask for one to two paragraphs, but I ask them to include the structure(s) that we have been looking at in class. It means that we get to continually practice and reinforce these key focus areas.

I make it a points system which means that we are focusing on the mechanics and style and not the ideas. The added bonus is that students assign the points themselves and I do a check validate. This is rapid marking, and it can be done in class as your review their short paragraph. I think this is one way of working smarter.

I’ve taken this concept from Harry Noden’s work which I wrote about in The Art of the Sentence. You can adapt this to include peer review, and it is a peer review task that works because the criteria is so explicit and focused.

You can preview the resource here:

Or you can download it from the resource page.

I’ll aim to keep releasing something I think is classroom ready and applicable each week, so if you’d like, subscribe by email and you’ll get it direct to your inbox. As always, feel free to leave a comment.

The art of the sentence

I’m conscious that readers want to get to the point and not hear about my Damascus road conversion. So in this post I’ll:

  • outline some basic ideas and provide you with explicit teaching slide decks to download.
  • link you to Harry Noden’s Image Grammar where you can learn more about the brushtrokes mentioned below. Every Secondary English teacher should have a copy of Noden; I think it should be used in University Education method.
  • point to other outstanding resources by by Don Killagon and Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined, which contain some similar ideas.

The sentence structures and slides below will be useful for the teaching resources, if you wish to use them.

These tools are used here in the context of narrative writing, however the sentence structures are applicable to persuasive. The participle phrase concept is used in Seldon Bubble theory

Brushstrokes to improve writing

Harry Noden calls writing a type of painting, and various sentences are like brushstrokes. He has 5 main brushstrokes which are explicitly taught: the participle, appositive, absolute, action verbs, and delayed adjectives. Jeff Anderson in Mechanically Inclined extends this idea to any sentence form. The slide decks below are things I have put together, inspired by Noden, Anderson and Killagon. Use them and adapt as you see fit.

On this page you will find 9 slide decks to support you and your students. These are:

  1. The participle
  2. The appositive
  3. The absolute
  4. Action verbs
  5. Delayed adjectives
  6. Subordinating conjunctions/adverbial clauses
  7. Coordinating conjunctions
  8. Adjectival/Relative clauses
  9. Extending simple sentences

The participle

This is an excellent tool to teach students. The first few slides contain some teacher notes, and the later slides contain some extended concepts. Remember, this has not been designed as a single lesson, but a resource to pull ideas and activities from. This simple tool will make instantly make changes to your student’s writing.

Download a copy of the deck

The appositive

Another great tool from Noden is the appositive. Essentially it is a noun phrase which renames an earlier noun. Noden describes this process of extending visual detail with these brushstrokes as zooming in on an image. This structure is used across all KLAs

Download a copy of the slides

The absolute

The absolute phrases combines a noun and a participle. There are other versions, but this is enough to get you started. Noden and Killagon provide a simple trick for creating absolute phrases; remove the verb ‘to be’ and you probably have created an absolute phrase. 

Download a copy of the slides

Action verbs

Noden’s section on Action verbs is brief, yet comprehensive. Poor writers often lurch for adjectives and adverbs rather than the finding a specific verb. This is an excellent tool to teach students and is great as a simple editing tool.

Download a copy of the slides

Delayed adjectives

Noden uses delayed adjectives as a simple way to teach style. I don’t have a ppt for this because the concept is so simple. By way of illustration look at how this sentence is improved with when the adjectives occur after the noun:

1. A drunk guy staggers into my field, red-eyed and swearing.

2. Senora Wong, diminuative but not fragile, ruled with an iron fist.

3.Words were exchanged, brief and hushed.

4. Nausea began to spread through his stomach, warm and oozy and evil.

Each one of the sentences above could have the adjectives or adjective phrase placed before the noun, but the rhythm would no be as nice. Consider: Brief and hushed words were exchanged.

So, teach writers to think about delaying the adjectives to after the noun it describes.

Adjectival/Relative clauses

Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined has some excellent instructions around the adjectival phrase or relative clause. For struggling writers, this gives them another tool to expand the visual detail of their sentences.

Download a copy of the slides

Adverbial clauses/AAAWWUBBIS

The mnemonic I use for this is taken from Jeff Anderson. You don’t have to use AAAWWUBBIS (a-whoo-bis); it is the one stuck in my head. AAAWWUBBIS is a list of the common subordinators:
After, Although, As, When, While, Until, Before, Because, If Since

At NAPLAN marking training they use a different one (A WHITE BUS), which has a couple less.

Download a copy of the slides

Simple sentences

Expanding simple sentences with phrases, or rearranging the phrases and adjectives.

Download a copy of the slides

Coordinating conjunctions

This is an excellent tool to teach students. 

Download a copy of the slides