Click play below to hear 3 strategies for students to write detailed sentences:
Our role as literacy teachers is to grow our students as skilled readers and writers, and one of the most powerful ways to achieve this is through sentence writing. This is the second week in our four-part series on sentence writing, so be sure to check out last week’s episode, Episode 161, to get a more foundational outlook on developing sentences.
But now, students need to build on their foundation with more detailed writing. So, in today’s episode, I’m sharing 3 simple strategies that help students write detailed sentences that expand their writing.
Students are comfortable writing simple sentences, but in upper elementary, we want to work on expanding those sentences by providing more details. When trying to improve student writing, we often give vague suggestions, which aren’t helpful. Instead, focus more on providing specific strategies that really give students a framework and concrete ways to improve their sentences. Each strategy provides students with direct tools that help them expand and write detailed sentences.
Even though I only share three strategies, there are so many more ways to help your students write detailed sentences and grow as writers. But with modeling, repetitive practice, and opportunities for implementation, your students will soon master sentence writing and use each strategy independently. Stay tuned to next week’s episode, where we focus on sentence deconstruction.
In this episode on how to write detailed sentences, I share:
- 3 strategies for expanding sentences and adding details
- Ways to effectively use each strategy with your students
- The 3 ways to practice the show-not-tell strategy
- How one strategy helps with student inferential thinking on a deeper level
- Why modeling and consistency is necessary for student growth in writing
- Sentence Writing Routine Resource: Free Sample
- Sentence Writing Routine Resource: TPT Store
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Free Literacy Block Workshop
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 161, 5 Reasons Why You Need to Spend More Time on Sentence Writing in Upper Elementary
- Episode 142, How to Get Students to Write a “MEATY” Paragraph
- Episode 131, The #1 Mistake Upper Elementary Writing Teachers Make
- Episode 125, Providing Students a 5-Step Process for Writing a Constructed Response Paragraph
- Episode 101, A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills
- Sentence Writing Routine: Year-Long Routine to Practice Sentence Structure
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More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high-quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey there friend, happy Monday. I am so glad you are joining me today. We are in the second week of our four part series, all about sentence writing. So if you are just joining us for the first time, welcome, I am so glad you’re tuning in.
But before you listen to today’s episode, I would encourage you to go back and listen to last week’s episode number 161. Because in that episode, I really set up this sentence writing series and I talk about five reasons why we really need to prioritize sentence writing and upper elementary so it’s gonna give you a little bit of context for why this episode is important.
And ultimately, everything I shared in last week’s episode just reminds us that focusing on sentence level writing has such a huge impact on students growth, both as readers and as writers. And our primary job as upper elementary literacy teachers is to help our students become skilled readers and writers. And so we want to make sure that we are focusing our time and attention on things that really move the needle forward on students growth. And sentence writing is one of the most powerful things that you can focus on.
So today, for our second episode in the series, I’m going to be sharing three specific strategies that you can use to help your students expand their sentences, and really learn how to write detailed and interesting sentences.
And I think it’s important to have a variety of concrete strategies, just like the ones I’m going to share with you today. Because students need concrete steps to take if we want them to become strong writers. You know, writing is one of those things that is not necessarily natural or innate for our students. And I know when I was in the classroom, I would prompt my students and say things like, you need to add more details to your writing make it more interesting, tell me more about this.
But when we give students those sort of generic prompts, add more details make it more interesting. Tell me more. They don’t necessarily know how to practically do that in their writing. And it can feel really vague and overwhelming this idea of adding more details.
You know, students are probably wondering, what exactly are details? How do I add them? Where do I add them to my sentences, and how many details do I need to add?
So when we tell students to add more details to their writing, it’s really not a specific enough action, especially if we have students who are already struggling with writing. So if we want our students to be more descriptive writers, then we really need to give them actual strategies with very specific steps, so that they know exactly what they can do to add more details to their writing.
You know, ultimately, and we talk about this a lot when we’re talking about routines and the the power that routines have. But students need to have a framework to follow, they need to have a process to follow, they need to have specific steps, we want to make writing as specific as possible so students know the steps that they can take to move forward.
So there are a ton of strategies you can share with your students to get them to expand their sentences and add more details. I’m just going to share three of them that I think are pretty simple, and they’re things that you could start doing today. But please know that these are not the only three that you can use with your students. There’s really a lot of options when it comes two ways that you can help your students grow as writers.
So three strategies to help your students add details and expand their sentences. The first one is using the five W questions to help students add more details. And the five W questions can be a really great strategy to help students add more details to their writing. You know, using the five W’s questions can really work with any type of writing, but they can be specifically helpful when students are exploring narrative writing.
So if students are writing a personal narrative if they’re writing a fictional story, or even if students are doing some sort of written response, or a summary about characters in a story, these five w questions can help them add more details to the writing And just in case you’re unfamiliar with the five w questions, they are who, what, when, where, why? You could even throw in the bonus, how if you really wanted to get fancy, but it’s not necessary.
These five w questions can really help students construct a sentence from the very beginning. And the five w questions remind us of the information and the details we want to include in a sentence. These questions can also help students add details to an existing sentence when they are revising as well.
But let’s first talk about how to use the five w questions to help students write a sentence from the very beginning. So as students are drafting, or if they’re just doing a sentence level writing activity, they can use the five w questions to write their sentence.
Ultimately, we want to teach students that at the very, very smallest level, or at the very least, the minimum, every sentence has to have a who, and it has to have a what. Who is the sentence about? What are they doing? So what is the action? And so we want to make sure students start with those two questions.
So when students are getting to write a sentence, you can teach them start with the who. Let’s say we’re going to write about Kelly. The next question we ask is doing what what is Kelly doing? Running. So if students are going to answer the question Who and What, then they should have a complete sentence. And if we use our examples, Kelly is running.
But as you can hear from that sentence, Kelly is running is a very simple and basic sentence. And it’s probably pretty similar to the types of sentences that your students are feeling very comfortable writing. And we really want our students to get used to this idea of adding more details to the writing.
So after students answer the questions, who and is doing what we can teach them to answer the question, when. When is Kelly running? Our answer to that is during cross country practice. So we can add this when detail to our sentence. So now we have the sentence Kelly is running during cross country practice.
So after we answer the who the what, and the when we can teach our students to answer the question, Where. Where is Kelly running? We’re gonna say she’s running at the golf course. So we can add this weird detail to our sentence. Kelly is running at the golf course during cross country practice.
And after we answer the who, the what, the when, and the where we can answer the why. Why is Kelly running? Because she’s getting ready for the state meet. So we can add this why detail to our sentence, and we’re going to add it at the beginning as a dependent clause. So our sentence is now because she’s getting ready for the state meet, Kelly is running at the golf course during cross country practice.
So because we can answer the five w questions, and we know how to add these details in one at a time, we can take the simple sentence Kelly is running. And we can turn it into a super detailed sentence that gives students a lot of information and is written as a complex sentence. So now we have because she’s getting ready for the state meet, Kelly is running at the golf course during cross country practice.
So this is a super easy strategy for students because they are slowly adding in one detail at a time. And they don’t have to think about what detail to add. They just have to answer the questions. So this is something that you can have your students do if they are writing like a paragraph or an essay, but this is also an activity that you can just do with your students. Anytime you have a few extra minutes, and you want them to practice their sentence writing skills.
This is also an activity that we include in our sentence writing routine. If you have not grabbed a sample of that yet, I would definitely encourage you to check it out. It is one of our most popular resources. Teachers absolutely love it. And so do students, you can grab it at stellarteacher.com/sentences.
And like I said, teaching students to slowly add details by asking questions is something very practical, they can do they feel confident doing. And it’s a great way to teach them to build a sentence that has a lot of details in it.
But like I mentioned earlier, this also works great to use as a revising strategy. So if students are, you know, revising a paragraph or an essay, and one of the things you want them to do, is to add details. You can teach them to use the five w questions to assess their current writing, and determine where they can add details in.
So one of the things that you could have them do is to create a color coded key for those five W questions. After they’ve written their paragraph or their essay, and they’re revising, you know, they can create a little symbol on the side of their paper. Maybe they’re who in every sentence is a green, maybe the word What is a yellow, The when is a blue, and so on and so on.
So as they’re reading over the sentences they have written, they can identify the who in each sentence and underline it with green, they can identify the what in each sentence and underline it with a yellow. They can identify the when in each sentence and they can underline it with a blue.
And this can be really great because it is going to be a visual cue for students to see what colors are they missing. If they notice that most of their sentences only are green and yellow, meaning they only have the who and the what, then that’s going to be a reminder to them that they might want to add in some when details they might want to add in some where details they might want to add in some why details.
So the five w questions can also be a really effective revision strategy for your students as well. And again, one of the things I really love about it is that it’s very specific, and it’s very concrete students know exactly what they should be doing.
Okay, another strategy that can really help your students add more details to their writing, is to teach your students to add in an appositive to their writing. And if you’re anything like me, the first time you hear this word, you’re like, an appositive, what’s an appositive, I’ve never taught my students to use in an appositive.
And that was sort of my reaction when I started doing a little more research on writing. And I was like, I don’t I don’t know if I know what the positive is. So how can I teach my students but trust me, it’s simple. And this is a great thing to teach your students.
But an appositive is a noun, or a noun phrase that follows another noun or noun phrase, and it’s separated by a comma before the appositive and a comma after the appositive. And it ultimately provides information that further defines or identifies the noun in the sentence.
So for example, let’s go back to our simple sentence of Kelly is running during track practice. That is probably the type of sentence and the length of sentence that your students would write. But we can add in an appositive to really help us identify and describe who Kelly is, and give us more information about that person.
So we could add in the appositive, the fastest runner on the varsity team, to tell us more information about Kelly. So our new sentence would be Kelly, comma, the fastest runner on the varsity team, comma is running during track practice. And if we want to get really fancy, we could even use the super expanded complex sentence that we built using all the five w questions, and we could still add in the appositive to it. So then our sentence would be because she’s getting ready for the state meet Kelly, the fastest runner on the varsity team, is running at the golf course during cross country practice.
So appositives can be added to simple sentences. And they can be added to complex sentences. And in an appositive is really just bonus information about a noun about really the most important noun in the sentence.
So to teach your students to include in a positive, have them write the sentence, have them identify the main noun or noun phrase, and then ask them, what’s an additional bit of information, you can tell me about the noun. And I like using that word bit because we’re not adding a ton of information, we’re not adding a lot of extra details, it’s just one small little piece of information that we want to share about that noun. And then we want to show them how to add it into the sentence.
An appositive is going to follow the noun that it is talking about. And it’s always going to be set apart with two commas. So a comma before the appositive, and a comma after.
So here are some more examples. And I know that hearing this is not as easy as if you could actually see it. So if you’re sitting next to a piece of paper, maybe actually even jot these things down.
So our original simple sentence might be Ralph will be performing at the concert tonight. But we could add in an appositive so we say okay, what’s an extra little bit of information that we can share about Ralph. So adding in an appositive or new sentence would be Ralph, comma, a talented violinist, comma, will be performing at the concert tonight. So now we know the type of instrument that Ralph plays. It gives us a little bit extra information and details about Ralph.
Another simple sentence might be Mount Everest is a challenging climb. But we could add in an appositive with a little bit of extra information about Mount Everest, and now we would get Mount Everest, comma, the tallest mountain in the world, comma is a challenging climb. So now when our readers read that sentence, they have an extra fact or an extra detail about Mount Everest because we added in that appositive.
Appositives are really great, because it’s a really easy way for students to add in more details, and they learn a really quick tool that they can use to add in a variety of sentences, and it really changes up their sentence structure. We want students to understand that to be a really strong writer, we don’t want all of our sentences to sound the same, we don’t want every single sentence to be a simple sentence.
Additionally, we don’t want every single sentence to include an appositive, but it really is a great strategy to give students and you know, you can even encourage them or challenge them try to include an appositive in every paragraph that you write. So at least one sentence in your paragraph is going to have an appositive, and it’s just an easy way for them to add in more details.
Okay, the third strategy you can use to teach students to add details to their writing, is to have them practice the show not tell strategy. And basically what show not tell is, is teaching students to use sensory language or really descriptive language when they are writing to help them become more descriptive. So rather than just directly telling the reader something or stating the obvious, they’re going to add in details that really help the reader paint a picture.
So here’s some examples of what it could look like to show not tell because there’s a lot of different ways that this could show up in students writing. You can teach students to really use describing actions or spend time describing actions instead of telling readers what is happening in a straightforward manner. So basically, we’re encouraging students to describe actions through really vivid and specific details.
So for example, if a character is scared, don’t just say she was scared. Instead, we want our students to describe the character’s actions and reactions. So maybe instead of saying she was scared, they would write her heart raced as she tiptoed down the creaky, dimly lit hallway. Her breath was coming out in shallow nervous gasps. So if you read that sentence, it’s obvious that the character is scared, but there’s a lot more detail and it’s a lot more interesting to read than just stating the obvious.
Another example to teach students to show not tell is to have students really express and develop emotions. So if students are writing how they or another person or a character is feeling, show them how they can communicate feelings, through thoughts, behaviors, and really physical sensations.
So for example, instead of writing, he was sad, they could write tears welled up in his eyes as he slumped in his chair, staring at the floor. Again, it’s another example of rather than stating the obvious, they’re using really descriptive details to communicate that the person is sad.
So another way to show not tell is really by creating vivid setting. So instead of just merely stating where a scene or the setting takes place, encourage students to really try to transport the readers to the setting by describing what it looks like and what they might experience if they were there. We want our students to describe sights to describe sounds, smells, textures.
For example, instead of saying, 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.
Obviously, this is a little bit more advanced of a strategy, because it requires students to already have some decent writing skills, and probably to have a really strong vocabulary. But this is something that you can start off doing in very small ways, you know, and it works really well with these kinds of examples with actions and emotions and settings.
And I think the really cool thing about teaching students to show not tell and their writing is that it also helps them understand inferential thinking on a deeper level. Students really start to understand this idea of how to reverse engineer opportunities for their reader to make inferences in their writing, which can ultimately help them feel more confident when they are reading on their own.
So if they are reading a text, and they have to figure out how a character feels, they might realize that they don’t necessarily need to scan the text to look for specific feeling words, but instead, they can pay attention to a character’s thoughts or behaviors, and use those clues to help them identify how a character is feeling.
So these are just three strategies that can really help your students become more descriptive writers. And just to recap, they are the five W’s questions to build and expand sentences, adding appositives to give more details to the nouns in a sentence and then using the show not tell strategy.
And with each of these, just understand that it is going to take a little bit of modeling, and repetitive practice in order for your students to really be able to master this and independently use these strategies on their own.
So don’t get discouraged if you try one of these strategies today, and your students don’t immediately start using them on their own. Becoming a skilled writer really does take time. But if you consistently use these three strategies every single week, and you really model to your students, and you remind them and you give them opportunities to practice these strategies, they can definitely help your students on their journey of becoming a skilled writer.
So hopefully, you found this episode helpful. Don’t forget to tune in next week, it is going to be the third episode in our sentence series. And we are going to be talking all about sentence deconstruction. I’ll be talking about what exactly sentence deconstruction is, and why we need to incorporate it into our instruction.
And one final request before you go. If you enjoyed listening to today’s podcast episode, and you found it helpful, would you please share this episode with a teacher friend. Texts a link of this episode for them to listen to, maybe you want to tell your team about it at work, or maybe you want to share it on social media.
I love putting together these episodes and it really is my sincere hope that they are helpful and that they are encouraging. And ultimately, we want to get this podcast in the ears of as many teachers as possible. And really word of mouth recommendations are one of the best ways to share podcasts.
So if you could take a minute today and share this episode, or any of the Stellar Teacher episodes with a friend that really would mean the world to me. Thank you in advance for your support of the show. I am really looking forward to next week’s episode. I think it’s going to be a fun topic to talk about. And until then I hope you have a really stellar week.