Welcome back to our second post on the importance of sentence-level writing. Today, I’m excited to share three specific sentence expansion activities with you. We all know the importance of adding details to make writing more interesting, but students often struggle with the “how” of it. So, let’s dive into these strategies and make the process easy and fun for your students!
We often tell students to “add more details” to their writing to make it more interesting and engaging. However, sentence expansion can be a vague and overwhelming task for them. They might wonder:
- What are details?
- How do I add them?
- Where should I add them?
- How many details are enough?
It’s time to provide them with a clear framework and practical strategies for adding those important details. Before we get into the sentence expansion activities, you might want to go back and read last week’s blog post on the importance of sentence-level writing. The first blog post in this series will help you better understand why upper elementary students need explicit writing instruction – especially at the sentence level!
Alright, let’s dig deeper into three sentence expansion activities to help your students expand their sentences and become more descriptive writers.
3 Must-Know Sentence Expansion Activities
Activity 1: Using the 5W Questions
The 5W questions are a fantastic strategy to help students add more details to their writing. They are especially effective for narrative writing, such as personal narratives, fictional stories, or written responses to characters in a story. The 5W questions are:
- You can even add “How” for an extra touch. Let’s see how students can use these questions to construct sentences from scratch.
Start with Who and What
Teach your students that every sentence needs at least a “Who” and a “What.” Begin by asking them to identify the subject (Who) and the action (What) in their sentence.
- Who? Kelly
- What? Is running
So, they’ve got a complete sentence: “Kelly is running.” But wait, we want them to go beyond the basics.
Now, encourage your students to answer the question “When.” When is Kelly running?
- When? During cross country practice
Now, the sentence has more detail: “Kelly is running during cross country practice.”
Ask: Where is Kelly running?
- Where? At the golf course
Now, the sentence is even more detailed: “Kelly is running at the golf course during cross country practice.”
Finish with Why
Lastly, address the question “Why.” Why is Kelly running?
- Why? Because she is getting ready for the state meet
Now, the sentence is packed with information: Because she is getting ready for the state meet, Kelly is running at the golf course during cross country practice.
This strategy helps students add details step by step. They’re essentially answering questions, which makes it an easy and effective way to expand sentences. You can use this as a quick, on-the-spot activity when you have a few extra minutes in class. It’s also great for reading responses when discussing characters in a text. Moreover, students can use the 5W questions for revising their own writing. Teacher Tip: Provide them with a color-coded key for the 5W questions, and they can underline and enhance their sentences by identifying which details are missing.
Activity 2: Adding Appositives
Appositives are a fabulous way to provide more information about a noun or noun phrase in a sentence. An appositive follows another noun or noun phrase and offers additional context or identification.
For example, if you have the simple sentence “Kelly is running during track practice,” you can use an appositive to add more information about Kelly.
- Kelly, the fastest runner on the varsity team, is running during track practice.
- You can see how the appositive “the fastest runner on the varsity team” provides more detail about Kelly. Appositives can be added to both simple and complex sentences. They’re like bonus information about a noun in the sentence.
You can try this simple process for teaching your students how to write with appositives:
- Have them write a sentence.
- Identify the main noun or noun phrase.
- Ask them what additional information they can provide about that noun.
- Show them how to add the appositive to the sentence, always setting it apart with two commas.
Here are more examples to illustrate:
Ralph will be performing at the concert tonight.
Ralph, a talented violinist, will be performing at the concert tonight.
Mount Everest is a challenging climb.
Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world, is a challenging climb.
Appositives are fantastic tools because they offer students the flexibility to choose how they want to add details to their writing. While you don’t want every sentence to have an appositive, it’s a great strategy to diversify sentence structures and add interest to their writing.
Sentence Writing Routine Free Sample
If your students struggle to write at the sentence level, this new literacy routine is going to be your new best friend. Each day of the week your students will engage in a quick (yet effective) sentence writing task that will help them become more confident and creative writers. Say goodbye to fragments and boring sentences, and say hello to complex sentences with lots of details!
Activity 3: Show, Don’t Tell
The third sentence expansion activity is all about teaching students to “show” instead of “tell” in their writing. This means using sensory language to paint a vivid picture with words, rather than directly stating the obvious. Encourage them to describe actions, express emotions, create vivid settings, and use dialogue to convey feelings and intentions.
- Describing Actions: Instead of saying, “She was scared,” encourage students to describe actions through thoughts, behaviors, and physical sensations. For example, “Her heart raced as she tiptoed down the creaky, dimly lit hallway, her breath coming out in shallow, nervous gasps.”
- Expressing Emotions: Instead of writing, “He was sad,” they could write, “Tears welled up in his eyes, and he slumped in his chair, staring at the floor.”
- Creating Vivid Settings: Instead of stating, “They were in a forest,” students could write, “The dense, green forest enveloped them in a cool, earthy embrace. Sunlight filtered through the thick green canopy as Marco and Megan walked across the shadowy mossy ground.”
- Using Dialogue: Instead of summarizing a conversation, students can use dialogue to reveal characters’ thoughts, feelings, and conflicts. This allows readers to infer emotions and intentions. For instance, instead of saying, “She was angry,” they could write a dialogue exchange where the anger is expressed through words and tone.
Teaching students to “show” instead of “tell” helps them develop their inferential thinking skills, making them more confident readers. They learn to reverse engineer opportunities for readers to make inferences, improving their comprehension skills.
These sentence expansion activities will empower your upper elementary students to become more descriptive writers. Remember, mastering these techniques will take time, practice, and plenty of modeling. Don’t be discouraged if your students don’t immediately apply these strategies independently.
Becoming a skilled writer is a journey, and these strategies are valuable steps along the way. I hope you found this post helpful, and I encourage you to share it with your teacher friends. Let’s spread the word and help more educators unlock the potential of their students’ writing skills.
Don’t forget to come back next week for an in-depth look at how to deconstruct sentences!
Think about your next steps…
- If you feel inspired by this post, check out Episode 162 of the Stellar Teacher Podcast to learn more about why using these simple sentence expansion activities is important for your upper elementary students.
- Check out our Sentence Writing Freebie and start building your students sentence writing skills today!
- Join us inside The Stellar Literacy Collective, where you will get access to a resource library filled with reading and writing resources that will help you save time and feel more confident in your ELA instruction.