Monday, 19 November 2018

Building Sticky Note Sentences

The EEF's KS2 Literacy Guidance has as one of its recommendations that teachers should 'develop pupils' transcription and sentence construction skills through extensive practice' (recommendation 5).

It states that 'it is important to promote the basic skills of writing—skills that need to become increasingly automatic so that pupils can concentrate on writing composition... this includes the sentence construction. If these skills are slow or effortful then this will hinder progress in writing composition. High-quality practice is essential to develop fluent transcription skills.'

Writing grammatically accurate sentences is something that many children really struggle with. This is particularly so for those who have less exposure to the English language either orally or in print. As a result, children for whom English is an additional language and children from low income backgrounds, for example, may need a more step-by-step approach to learning how to write sentences.

The EEF guidance goes on to say that'sentence construction can be developed through activities like sentence-combining where simple sentences are combined so that varied and more complex multi-clause sentences are produced. Initially, the teacher can model this, but pupils should go on to work collaboratively and independently. Pupils need to learn to construct increasingly sophisticated sentences, for meaning and effect, with speed.'

Now, the activity that I am going to write about in this blog post is neither innovative nor complicated - it is a very simple activity carried out by teachers all over the world and it is not something I claim to have created (in fact, I'm very sure I've received training from Alison Philipson, Philip Webb and Jane Considine on very similar activities). However, the fact that it does seem to help children means that it is worth sharing here on my blog.

The Context

The lesson that the photos come from was with a mixed attaining group of year 4 children. They had been reading the beginning of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the work completed in the session was based on Chapter 1.

This activity could be adapted for any year group - more on this later.

The Activity

The purpose of this particular lesson was solely to help children to write grammatically accurate sentences. However, this could be used to cover many writing objectives, for example, using connectives, writing fronted adverbials, including parenthesis, using accurate punctuation, etc.

To begin with, based on the chapter of the book, we generated some very simple sentences based on the summary of the chapter that they had written during their reading lesson. With one group I wrote all the words on the board - they had to transfer the words one onto each sticky note and then rearrange them into 4 sentences (they knew there were four as there were four full stops and four capital letters).

Two children rearranging the words to write the 4 sentences.
With the 4 sentences I deliberately demonstrated how simple and short sentences can be. We discussed whether or not a sentence with only two words was really a sentence - we decided it was although I didn't completely go into the language of 'subject' and 'predicate'! Instead we talked about it having a noun and a verb. Some children were surprised that two words could make a full sentence.

Here are the four sentences we generated for use in the rest of the activity:

The four sentences we generated as a starting point
The first sentence edited to give information
about 'where' and 'when'. This was written after the
sticky note activity.
For this activity we decided to help the children to think about the potential content of a sentence using some of the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, Why, When). We worked out that so far all of the sentences we had written contained the 'who' and the 'what' (we planned to leave the 'why' to another day as it would involve a greater range of conjunctions).

Next, I modelled how to include the 'when' and the 'where' by adding information to the sentences. Once we had transfered the additional words onto sticky notes we were able to play with the sentence, moving parts and making changes to things like capital letters and full stops and adding in commas.

By moving parts of the sentence around we were able to reinforce some prior learning about fronted adverbials.

In our particular example we discussed how certain rearrangements didn't really sound right and didn't make much sense ('Sitting on a bank, Alice was on a hot day and she was bored'). Instead we opted for: 'On a hot day, Alice was sitting on a bank and she was bored.'

The fact that the words of the sentence were written one on each sticky note meant that children were physically able to rearrange the words in order to find something that made sense. The children did not struggle to move entire clauses because they had seen the whole clause added at once (and knew that the purpose of it was either to add information about 'where' or 'when' something happened).

The children worked in pairs - here is one example of the first sentence before the 'when' clause was added.

Here is one example of the first full sentence before it was rearranged.

My example on the board. An alternative way to model from the front is to use larger pieces of paper folded in half and
hung over a 'washing line'.

Once this had been modelled, and the children had had a go at playing with the modelled example, I asked the children to have a go at adding 'where' and 'when' clauses to another of the sentences: 'The rabbit ran'. Children first worked on sticky notes but were soon able to form their sentences orally before writing them in their books.

Some children demonstrated an over-reliance on the use of 'on a hot day' so I challenged them to use either 'before' or 'after' to write about 'when' the rabbit ran.

Adapting this activity

This activity, or versions of it, could be used from the very beginning of a child's writing journey. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Ordering words in sentences
  • Adding adjectives or adverbs
  • Replacing nouns with pronouns
  • Improving vocabulary
  • Including action and/or dialogue into descriptive writing
  • Using commas, colons, semi-colons, dashes, brackets
  • Joining two sentences with conjunctions
  • Adding relative clauses
  • Changing tense
  • Editing and revising to add/remove information
With any of these as a focus the basic requirement is to have something to write about (a picture, a story, a video clip) and to start off by writing the simplest sentence possible (2-4 words is all that is needed). Sentences can then be quickly built to the point where the desired objective becomes the focus.

I would love to hear from those who've done this kind of thing before and from those who try it for the first time.; please share examples of the work you and your class create!

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