Sentence Quest: Using Parts of Speech to Write Descriptive Sentences
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This multi-session activity uses students' speaking vocabularies to help them learn about complete sentences. Students first participate in a whole-group activity to create lists of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. They then write selected words on color-coded index cards. They work with the word cards to learn the essential criteria for complete sentences. Using this criteria, they collaborate in groups to create, write, and share complete, descriptive sentences. Finally, they use additional descriptive words and phrases to create complex complete sentences, which are written on adding machine tape, illustrated, and shared with the class.
From Theory to Practice
This lesson takes advantage of young children's descriptive speaking vocabularies to create lists of nouns, verbs, and adjectives that they already know. They are then encouraged to transfer these words to their own writing, while learning about what comprises a complete sentence. Using young children's knowledge of the world for a vocabulary resource gives meaning and makes connections when learning language conventions. Constance Weaver points out the difference between spoken and written language as developmental, and "that children must to some degree 'relearn' surface form as they attempt to express their underlying propositions in written language" (15).
Common Core Standards
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
- 3. Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts. They draw on their prior experience, their interactions with other readers and writers, their knowledge of word meaning and of other texts, their word identification strategies, and their understanding of textual features (e.g., sound-letter correspondence, sentence structure, context, graphics).
- 4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
- 5. Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.
- 6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
Materials and Technology
- General classroom supplies (markers, index cards, pencils, blank paper, adding machine tape, chart paper)
- Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs by Ruth Heller (Paper Star (Penguin/Putnam), 1999)
- Merry-Go-Round: A Book About Nouns by Ruth Heller (Bt Books, 1998)
- Gather all needed materials.
- Cut adding machine tape into lengths of approximately five feet each. Cut at least two lengths for each group of four students. Keep the roll on hand.
- For Session Three, students will need to be divided into three heterogeneous groups, with reading ability balanced among the groups.
- For Session Four, students will need to be divided into heterogeneous groups of four. Try to balance abilities across groups so that reading strengths and needs are distributed among the groups. If it is a mixed-age class, groups should be mixed-age.
- use prior knowledge to categorize words as parts of speech.
- use reading skills to create sentences with word cards.
- discover the required elements of a complete sentence through selecting and manipulating word order of everyday words.
- share and learn new vocabulary through role playing and collaboration with peers.
- use descriptive words and phrases to create complex sentences.
- demonstrate reading comprehension through illustrations.
- Have all students sit together near the front of the room. Before starting the lesson, read aloud to students from Kites Sail High. When finished, have students respond to the book. Ask if anyone can tell what the book was about, or what kinds of words the book was talking about.
- Talk to students about how there are different kinds of words, and that you would like them to think up some words like those in the book. Ask the students to try to think of some things that they can do; give them the examples "walk" and "run" and other simple examples. With a red marker, write a list of verbs on the chart paper as they are given. If students volunteer words that are not verbs, ask them to try to "act out" the word. Then show them that all the words on this list are things that we can actually do.
- When there is a variety of words on the chart, or the chart is filled, read the list to and with the students. Have students choose several words to "act out" to reinforce that these words are action words, and have them use the words in sentences to tell about things they can do.
- Tell students you are going to save the chart for a later activity.
- Tape one blank piece of chart paper on the board. Make sure there is enough space that you can post another piece of paper on each side.
- Have all students sit together near the front of the room. Tell students you are going to read them another book about words, and that you'd like them to see if they can tell you what kind of words they are when you are finished. Read aloud to students from Merry-Go-Round. When finished, have students compare the book to Kites Sail High. Talk to the students about nouns being a special kind of word that names something.
- Ask students to name people and different kinds of animals. Using a black marker, list nouns that students give you on the chart paper. Through questioning, help students generate a noun list that includes a variety of people and animals. Keep in mind that place and event words are not as useful for this activity. If students volunteer a word that is not a noun, ask them to try to picture that thing in their mind's eye. When finished with the chart, read it to and with the students, and have students use a few words in sentences, if desired. Students should understand that every word on the list represents a person, an animal, or an object.
- Leave the chart on the board, and tape a new piece on the left side of it.
- Ask students some questions about their clothes, e.g., "What color shirt are you wearing?" or "What shape is your pocket?" or "Can you tell me what is special about your shoes?" The purpose of these questions is to get them thinking about ways to describe things. Start listing students' adjectives on the blank chart paper, using a blue marker. Have students use the nouns on the nouns chart to help them brainstorm descriptive words. Try to elicit a variety of different kinds of words, so that there is not an imbalance of color or shape or size words. Students may need some extra support for this part.
- When the chart is filled, or you have a large variety of adjectives, read the list to and with the students.
- Tape the verbs chart on the board to the right of the nouns chart.
- Tell students you are going to use the words for a sentence game the next day, and leave them on the board if possible or repost them the next day.
An alternative strategy for gathering words for the charts is to have students cut them from the newspaper or magazines, or to do a "classroom walk" to find some already posted in the classroom.
Note: Students will be selecting a limited number of words from the charts to use for sentence-building in Session Three. Each group of four students will need two words from each chart, so the number of words that students choose from each chart will depend on the total number of students in the class. For example, if there are twenty students in the class, there will be five groups, so students would choose ten words from each chart.
- Gather students in a whole group where everyone can see the charts. Quickly review the charts from Sessions One and Two by having students read some of the words from each chart and telling how they are alike. This will depend on the overall reading ability of the class, and how much support they need.
- After reviewing the charts, explain to students that they will work in groups to choose a certain number of favorite words from the charts. Tell them that they will circle those words, and then they will write them on cards.
- Make sure that all students know how many words to circle. Tell them you would like them to use a pencil to circle the most interesting words on the list.
- Arrange the students in three groups, and give each group one chart and one pencil. As students are working, move from group to group to check on their work. As each group finalizes their list with the correct number of circled words, give them index cards and a marker that matches the word colors for that chart. It is very important that the color-code remains consistent.
- Have students carefully write one circled word on each index card. If they make a spelling mistake, give them another card. Make sure they are writing the words clearly and as largely as possible on the card. As students finish making the word cards, they should be encouraged to read the words over in their group. When all are finished, they are ready for the sentence-building activity.
- Hang the charts back up on the wall, out of the way. Collect all the word cards from the students.
- Rearrange the students into new groups of four. Each group will need some clear table space. Give each group of students two noun cards, two verb cards, and two adjective cards. Then have each group choose one card of each color and ask them to put the others aside.
- Ask the students to use these cards to help them make sentences. Let them know that they will need to add some other words, like ‘the' or ‘a', and that they might need to change the form of the red words (verbs); for example, ‘run' might need to be changed to ‘ran' or ‘runs' depending on the sentence.
- Give students a minute to work with the cards, and then have each group share their sentence. This should be done fairly quickly.
- Have students trade at least one of their words for the one they put aside (the same color) and repeat the activity.
- Collect all the words written in black (the nouns) from all the groups, then have them try to make another sentence.
- Give students a few minutes to work with the cards they have. Circulate among them, observing their attempts and listening to their conversations.
- Ask the groups to share their sentences. Hopefully, no groups will have sentences to share, but they might try. If they volunteer a ‘sentence' that includes a noun that's not there, remind them again that they can only add words like ‘the' or ‘a' or ‘an' and change the form of words they already have.
- Ask each group of students what problems they are having, and let them share whatever they have to say. There should be some recognition that they don't have all the words they need to make a sentence.
- Tell students you're going to try it again. Go around to each group and give them two noun cards back, while collecting the red word cards (the verbs). Have students try again to create a sentence with the words they have. Observe their attempts. Ask again whether they have had any problems, and let them share their thoughts.
- Finally, give each group back their verb cards, and let them make one more sentence. Ask what was easier this time. Ask each group to respond.
- Bring all the students to the front of the room again. Ask them to tell you what they've learned about sentences. Write their responses on chart paper headed with "Sentences have......" This chart will become a simple rubric for assessing sentence quality. Leave the chart up for Session Four.
- Have students reflect on their work from the day before; have them tell what they remember or what they learned. Review the criteria for sentences from the "Sentences have...." chart by having students read it with you.
- Tell students they are going to work together in groups to try to have a sentence contest, and that they are going to write the longest sentence they can that makes sense. Then model a sentence for them.
- First, write the following across the top of the board, with ample space between them:
when? who? what? how? where? why?
- Have a student give you a noun and write it on the board, separate from and below the string of question words. Have another student give you a verb and write that next to the noun. Add "The" or "A" at the beginning to make a simple sentence, e.g., "The cat ate." or "A man jumped." Ask a student to give you a word that will describe what the person or animal in the sentence looks like. Add that word to the sentence, e.g., "The black cat ate." or "A tall man jumped." By asking students questions and eliciting one word or phrase at a time, have students help you build a long, descriptive sentence. For example, ask students where, when, why, how, to add to the sentence.
- When you have a long, complete, descriptive sentence (not a run-on), have students read it with you. Show how each part of the sentence relates to one of the words above the sentence. Leave the sentence on the board as a model.
- Have students get back into the same groups they used for Session Three. Give each group a sheet of paper and a pencil and eraser. Have them start with a noun and verb, and let them begin work on their long sentences. As students work, circulate among the groups, asking questions to help them expand their sentences. Examples of questions to ask are, "What time of day was it?" or "Where was this happening?"
- Have students read completed sentences aloud to you as a group (chorally). An appropriate finished sentence would be one that is as descriptive as possible without being a run-on. A good suggestion to give to students is that, in this lesson, a sentence can only have one "and" in it.
- When sentences are complete, students will transfer them to adding machine tape. Each group should use a different color marker, and all students should take turns writing. If a length of tape becomes full, just tape on another strip. If students make a spelling mistake, have them cut the word off and replace it with a new piece of adding machine tape.
- Collect the sentence strips to use in Session Five.
- Have each group share their sentence with the rest of the class by holding it up and reading it aloud with the audience.
- After all groups have shared their sentences, have each student illustrate the sentence written by their group. Remind them that their illustration should show everything that's in the sentence. Have students give some examples of how they might illustrate the ideas.
- When all sentences and illustrations are finished, have groups share their long, long sentences again with the whole class, and tell about their illustrations. Hang the sentences and illustrations up on the wall to celebrate!
- Have students cut words from newspapers or magazines, or find them in the classroom on charts and posters.
- Put the student-written word cards in small plastic or paper bags. Add cards that say "The" and "and" and some blank cards to each bag. Let students use the cards to make, write, and illustrate new sentences as part of a center activity. Encourage them to make new word cards to add to the bags.
- A fun way to reinforce syntax and parts of speech is by using the random sentence generator Web page or "mad-libs" Website.
- Explore Lionel's Tall Tales Sentence Generator, from PBSKids Between the Lions site with students. As the site explains, "Even the goofiest sentences have a who, what, where, when, and why. Discover this as you make a zillion different silly sentences."
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Teacher observation and anecdotal notes about individual student participation in whole group and small group work.
- Quality of written sentences, in relation to conventional grammar and usage.
- Relationship of individual illustrations to the sentence being illustrated.
- Individual student responses for the "Sentences have.... " chart.
- Use of learned information in individual student writing, as evidenced in subsequent writing tasks.