I have not cracked the code, but I am coming close to a grammar system that (almost) guarantees students will write in complete sentences. When I started a 6th grade teaching job about 15 years ago, my teammate handed me a binder called Sentence Writing Strategies**. I attended the training for it at University of Georgia, and it has changed my grammar world. Teachers, if you can attend a training session in your area, run– don’t walk!
I am able to adapt the key elements of the Sentence Writing Strategies and fold it into whatever grammar textbook my school has at whatever grade level I am teaching. Basically, I use my grammar textbook in the Sentence Writing Strategies order.
Step 1: Teach some basic parts of speech and then begin introducing each sentence type (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex). The steps in My Grammar Plan take me about 6-8 weeks with 4th graders. The order is the key!
Students mark prepositional phrases, infinitives, verbs/helping verbs, and subjects in every sentence– IN THAT ORDER– every time. If students can do this well, they can more easily identify all of the other “stuff”. Parents, if you are working with a child at home who struggles with complete sentences or identifying parts of sentences, following these steps will help.
Step 2: Begin simple sentences. Writing Strategies gives you formulas for simple sentences. Each simple sentence (independent clause) must meet 3 criteria. A sentence must have a subject, a verb, and make sense on its own.
Step 3: Build the folders. Is anyone familiar with magnetic poetry? I had a set of the little word magnets on my refrigerator for a long time and thought my students could move word pieces a la magnetic poetry around to create sentences. My students know the definition of a simple sentence and can identify the parts of a simple sentence, but actually executing the simple sentence was proving to be a bit of a challenge.
I sealed white mailing envelopes and cut them in half to make pockets. You could use coin envelopes or library card pockets too. You will need to cut the height down some, so little fingers can reach into the pockets. My pockets are about 2 1/2 in. tall. I glued the pockets to the left side of a manila folder and labeled them. I created a sentence building space with directions on the right side of the folder. In each pocket are small cardstock chips with the word choices for each part of the sentence we know to date.
I put the students in groups of 2 or 3 and gave them each a folder. The students used the word chips in the folders to build simple sentences. After they created a sentence, they transferred the words to a piece of notebook paper and marked the sentence to check for any errors.
My next plan for grammar domination is to expand the folders. I thought I could add pockets for adjectives and adverbs. I can keep adding to the sentence types, so students can build compound and complex sentences… then I will need coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. The possibilities are endless. What else can I do with my folders?
** For more information about the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning, Strategic Instruction Model®, search Learning Strategies: Sentence Writing – Fundamentals in the Sentence Writing Strategy and Proficiency in the Sentence Writing Strategy or click on the link above.