For one year, I taught an introductory college English class. As I corrected the papers, I was always surprised at the limited sentence variety in my students’ essays. A lack of sentence variety can make it difficult to read a paper. Yet, there are some easy solutions to this problem. Teaching sentence variety to students in elementary school can help them become better writers. Here are a few tips to help students write better sentences.
Short sentences pop. They command attention from the reader. However, too many short sentences strung together may sound choppy. On the other hand, writers shouldn’t use too many long sentences in a row because the reader may become bored or have trouble comprehending the sentence. Thus, teaching students to vary their sentence lengths is a good idea. Have students choose one paragraph and count the words in their sentences. In my opinion, a short sentence is less than 10 words. A medium sized sentence is between 10 and 20. Anything over 20 words is a long sentence. Then, you can have students use highlighters to go back through their papers and color code their sentences. They shouldn’t have a paragraph that is all one color. This would indicate that they didn’t have any sentence length variety.
Sentence variety also relies on its structure. Young children will learn simple subject-verb sentence structure. For example, I ran is a sentence. By teaching students a few different structures, educators can help them with sentence variety. Here are a few different ways to start a sentence:
With a prepositional phrase: In the morning, I always eat a healthy breakfast.
Start the sentence with a gerund phrase: Running through the rain is always exhilarating.
Start the sentence with a participle phrase: Rubbing his eyes, Jared reached for a cup of coffee.
It is important to note that gerund phrases act as the noun at the beginning of a sentence while participle phrases describe the subject. In every paragraph, teachers can have students try to use at least one of these sentence structures.
Editing a paragraph is one way for students to practice writing better sentences. Teachers should give students a paragraph with sentences that are all similar in length and structure. Then, they can edit it.
Rough draft: La Jolla is a beautiful place to visit. It is a beach community in San Diego. The college UCSD is in La Jolla. People come from all over the world to see the seals at the children’s pool. The sunsets are a sight to see. Visitors can snorkel in the cove, go shopping or try kayaking. There is fine dining, casual eateries and coffee places to hang out at too.
Here is an example of an edit with a greater variety of sentences: Nestled in San Diego, La Jolla is home to UCSD, a four-year university. In addition, people come from all over to view the seals at the children’s pool and enjoy the picturesque sunsets. For fun, visitors can go snorkeling, kayaking or shopping. In La Jolla, fine dining, casual eateries and coffee houses are plentiful. It is a beautiful place to visit.
Teaching sentence variety can help students become better writers.
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