Sentence Stretchers

Kate Bowen, an experienced Elementary Consultant, shares an effective strategy called "Sentence Stretchers" to enhance students' writing skills. Using four sentence strips labeled A, B, C, and D, students construct detailed sentences by adding descriptors and rearranging the strips for variety. This approach improves writing quality, engages students in creative sentence construction, and suits various grade levels.

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Kate Bowen, Elementary School Teacher (ret.), Davis Joint Unified School District. Consultant, California History-Social Science Project


Hi, I’m Kate Bowen, Elementary Consultant with the California History-Social Science Project, located at UC Davis. I’m a veteran teacher with 35 years of experience in the elementary classroom.

Today I’d like to share a strategy that I have used throughout my teaching career, It’s easy and effective. One of my pet peeves as a teacher was that my student’s writing was often lacking in detail. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my students to add descriptors to their writing to make it more interesting to read. And when you have 32 students, who don’t write interesting sentences, it gets to be a little tedious. But by using the sentence structures activity, my students could see how to add detail and variety to even the most basic of sentences. Let’s get started!

Begin by distributing four sentence strips to each student. I like to use construction paper strips as students are more likely to keep the heavier paper in their writing folder. Next, I ask the students to label each strip using a marker A, B, C and D.

Ask students to write a two word sentence on strip A. This should be a subject and a verb, but teaching parts of speech is not a necessary component of this activity. You can say person, place, or thing, and action word instead of subject and verb.

Next, have students write a descriptor of that verb on strip B. This should be an ad verb that usually ends in “-ly”.

Then ask students to write a preposition phrase describing where the event took place. Write that phrase on strip C. It is helpful to have a list of prepositions for students to use like above, behind, before, under, etc. This is especially helpful for your ELD and RSP students.

Finally, ask students to describe when this moment took place and write the time period on strip D. There are many options here – at 10 pm, after walking the dog, at midnight, etc.

At this point, students will have writing on all four strips of paper.

Now I have students arrange the strips in alphabetical order A, B, C, and D. Ask volunteers to read their sentence for the whole class. My students often like to rearrange their sentence strips on the floor to have more space to work.

Tell the students that they will be mixing up their sentence strips to find more options. Ask the students to rearrange their sentence strips in C, A, B, D order. Again, ask for volunteers to share their new sentence.

Here is Garrett’s sentence in C, A, B and D order :

Over the tombstone in the graveyard, Harry jumped far at dusk.

Have students continue to rearrange their sentence strips, sharing their results:

For example, here is Eleanor’s favorite sentence in D, C, A, B order:

At midnight, in her ice palace, Elsa laughed daintily.

Eleanor is a big frozen fan.

And here is fourth-grader Henry’s favorite. He likes the. B, A, C, D:

Quickly, bill ran in his house in the morning.

I would probably work with Henry to make his sentence flow a little better, perhaps using Bill ran through his house in the morning so that we don’t have two of the same word in the same sentence.

Continue making the different combinations of sentence strips as indicated on the student handout. Your students will be amazed at how many options there are using their sentence strips.

After students have had the opportunity to share their favorites, I have students fold their sentence stretchers in half and keep the strips in their writing folders for future reference.

Now, this activity can also be adopted as a mini assessment in history class. For example:

A- Jefferson wrote

B- Diligent

C- In a Philadelphia boarding house

D- During the summer of 1776

Sentence Stretchers can also be easily modified for ELD and RSP students by providing that initial two-word sentence for strip A.

Sentence Stretchers can also be modified for the younger grades by doing this activity altogether. Again, with the starting point of that two-word sentence on strip A.

I have found Sentence Stretchers to be a successful activity for all of my students. Not only did the overall quality of student writing improve my classes actually had fun creating variety in their sentence structure. Even the most reluctant of writers were able to be successful.

I hope you find this activity as useful as I have. Have fun, and thank you for your commitment to our students.

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