Tactile sentence craft

This extends the previous post where I provided a simple activity for students to play around with sentence structure and craft. All of this stuff builds on the ideas I wrote about in The Art of the Sentence. This activity adds a layer of complexity and creativity through the range of phrases students could choose. You will find the resource at the end of this post.

The activity has a list of participle phrases and their punctuation to be used as an opener of a sentence, a closer to the sentence, or a interrupter of the subject and verb. The images below show the openers and interrupter participle phrases.

Below are the main clauses – which you would use with the opener and closer phrases. The second image of the main noun and verb enables students to flexibly create their own interrupters using the participle phrases. You should be able to get some interesting combinations with this activity.

Here is the what I would generally do with this activity. The first focus on the opener and closer structures. This limits the choices and students are only dealing with a few strips of paper/laminated cards or digital artefacts. When students have created some combinations and shared them, continue to reinforce the language conventions and the discuss the impact of the different choices.

Then add complexity to the task and distribute the interrupters, main noun and verb phrases. There are a range of different possibilities students will come up with. The image below shows some possible combinations.

Make a copy of this resource

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.

Grammar in context #1

In this post I’ll show you a few ways to embed the basic subordinate clause into your teaching. This is one of the clauses assessed in Australia’s National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). This approach can be used with the various sentence structure concepts I outlined in The Art of the Sentence.

This approach is easily differentiated – for struggling writers you focus on learning how to write the structures, and for stronger writers you can use the structures as way of teaching and embedding grammatical knowledge and concepts.

Below is the Stage 3 indicator for Outcome EN3-6B (this is built upon in EN4-4B and EN5-5B).

  • understand the difference between main and subordinate clauses and that a complex sentence involves at least one subordinate clause (ACELA1507)

The general ‘rule’ is that when you begin a sentence with one of these words, you are likely to need a comma at some point to separate the clause. The image below contains the common subordinating conjunctions, easily remembered by the mnemonic AAAWWUBBIS (ah-woo-bis). NAPLAN training uses the mnemonic of A White Bus.

Here is a table of examples of this structure

The approach

How can I make this content statement part of a regular instructional practice and not as a standalone grammar instruction unit? The steps below are a rough guide of what I do, progressively adding detail.

  1. Begin with a model sentence(s) and interrogate what kids notice about the model sentence. Ideally this should be the simplest model you can find to explain the concept.
  2. Draw attention to the use of punctuation and discuss what the punctuation in doing in the sentence.
  3. Imitate the sentence as a joint class construction.
  4. Provide opportunity for independent imitation of the model sentence. This will give you rapid formative feedback on student skill.
  5. Look for examples of the structure in the texts your class is reading. Collect examples and use these as WAGOLL samples (What A Good One Looks Like).
  6. Repeat this routine on a daily basis with different models. Provide a mnemonic to remember the common subordinators
  7. Interrogate the model sentence – where are the verbs, which part is the essential meaning, can the sentence be rearranged without impact on the meaning, which part can be deleted and the sentence still make sense, which part is only a ‘part of a sentence’.
  8. Consider naming the relevant parts (main clause, subordinate clause)
  9. Look for examples in daily texts.
  10. Quick write opportunities with the success criteria being the use of this sentence structure. Students review their piece identifying the concept.

Other activities

The key is to continue to embed these concepts into daily conversation and writing. Apart from some of the writing activities mentioned above (Quick Writes and Imitation of model sentences) here are a couple that I think are great to do to reinforce and develop these ideas further:

  • Chapter titles
  • Parallel writing structure

Chapter titles

One activity is to get students to write chapter titles using only the subordinate clause. These are titles that begin with the common subordinators in the list above. It is an easy task to implement and it provides the necessary practice that some students need. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss the grammar of the sentence, if the students are ready for that.

Here are some samples for you:

  • When in Rome
  • While the City Sleeps
  • Until Day Breaks
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Before Sunrise
  • If Looks Could Kill
  • Since Vietnam
  • parallel writing structures

    Parallel structures are a way to create rhythm and beat in writing. We can use grammatical and literal repetition to help students to emulate professional author craft.

    Harry Noden uses this sentence as the base for students to build some parallel structures:

    “The old cabin made me feel close to nature.”

    He then adds the subordinate conjunction when:

    When I awoke to the aroma of burnt fire logs, when I looked out the window and saw the morning fog roll across the lake, when I felt the slight chill of the mountain air, the old cabin made me feel close to nature

    You can see how the rhythm and beat has been impacted by this grammatical and literal repetition. If they know the model, then look for ways to help them use it. Ask them to create parallel structures using the subordinating conjunctions.

    Other resources

    You can download this explicit slide deck, if it is useful to you, on the subordinate conjunctions. You can find it in the Art of the Sentence post.

    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.

    Story Impressions – an excellent prereading activity

    I unearthed this prereading strategy in a journal paper on evidence based practices. The strategy was shown to improve student reading comprehension in both Primary and Secondary students.

    The strategy is simple; you provide a list of words from the story/article in a vertical column and students make a prediction about the text. The screenshot below from What Works in Secondary Writing (p.35) outlines the process.

    I love this strategy because of how easy and effective it is in the classroom. It is a predicting activity which develops vocabulary and gets students writing, providing me with a short text to look at the basic mechanics of what they are doing, and is a stimulus for students to articulate their thinking in a class discussion. Best of all, the evidence suggests that it works to improve student comprehension. It’s a win on all fronts!

    The quote below is from a study of using Story Impression with High School Students.

    SI [Story Impression] method is effective because it prompts readers to engage in several processes important to reading comprehension rather than focusing on a single process such as making predictions or the activation of prior knowledge.

    The Effect of Story Impressions Preview on Learning from Narrative Text

    Below is a link to a research paper on using the Story Impressions Strategy with Primary students.

    Story Impressions: A Prereading Writing Activity


    So, I really like this simple activity and it is one of my go to prereading tasks. Below is a sample from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. All of the resources I have developed (you can get them from the resource page) have a prebuilt story impression task

    Story Impression sample

    [EDIT 9.50PM – If someone reads this far, here is my offer. Go to the resource page and comment on a novel you’d like a resource for and I’ll make one for you.]

    [EDIT 7.06AM – I’ve got three extra requests so I’ll have to end the offer above. Feel free to pop on over though and see what else is coming]