Monday, March 6, 2017

Using Sorts to Improve Sentence Writing

If you know me, you know that a good sort is one of my favorite instructional strategies. I actually think my grade level colleagues get sick of me saying, "Let's use a sort to start that lesson!"

BUT I really believe in the power of classifying to help students develop their ideas and hone their meta-cognitive skills. (If you haven't read Classroom Instruction That Works: Research Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement, I highly recommend it. This is an affiliate link!)

So when I realized a few of my students were struggling with writing complete sentences, I immediately thought a sort might help them identify what a run-on sentence is and then we could work on fixing it!

To do this activity, we used a set of cards with examples of complete sentences, run-on sentences and sentence fragments. (You can make your own, or you can grab the ones I used in this resource.)

Set Up
First up, I spread all the cards out on the table. Instead of telling my group the categories ahead of time, I asked them to read the cards and see if they noticed anything they might have in common. They took turns reading each card aloud. The kids noticed that there were some cards that were "missing something" and some cards that were missing punctuation. They weren't quite sure about the others.

Discussion and Naming Categories
After reading aloud each card and sharing what they noticed, I asked them to think about how they would group the cards. They settled on "missing something," "missing punctuation" and "not missing anything." As a group, they sorted all the cards into their chosen categories. Once they were finished, I helped them name the groups with the "proper" names for each: sentence fragments, run-on sentences and complete sentences.

Fixing Up Some Sentences
At this point in the lesson, I was able to tailor it slightly toward the specific students in my group. This group happened to be writing lots and lots of run-on sentences, so I chose to focus on that skill for the group. (Depending on your students you could focus on fragments at this stage or a little of both!) We chose one of the run-on sentences from the cards and I wrote it on my mini-whiteboard. The group discussed where the punctuation should go to make it "sound right," and then fixed it up.

We did two examples together and then I asked them to fix two with their partner. (In the resource, there is a page for practicing correcting fragments and run-ons that you could use!) Reading the run-ons aloud really helped them to hear where the punctuation was missing. They even created some compound sentences using conjunctions once they got the hang of it!

Independent or Partner Practice
On this particular day, we were writing a response to some articles and videos about our science unit on weather. I asked the group to go back to their writing, look for any run-on sentences and use what we just learned to fix them up. And luckily for me, Google drive saves any and all changes the students make, so I was easily able to see if they could apply their learning!

I noticed that this student was able to find some lengthy run-ons and add the correct punctuation! Certainly not perfect, but I was happy to see some transfer into their everyday writing.

Wrap Up
Since this lesson, several of the students in the group have reminded me about their learning and shown me how they are using their new skill in their writing! I'd call that a win!

If you are interested in using this resource in your own classroom, you can check it out on TpT! There is also a Back to School version if that suits your needs! Just click the pictures below.

Happy sorting and happy sentence making!