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Pack in more details with Single-Sentence Contests

september 21, 2010

Pack in more details with Single-Sentence Contests

When managing the first minutes of a class period, secondary teachers often have students practicing conventions and/or working on a quickwrite journal entry. Here’s another idea. What about a single-sentence contest once a week? Provide students a simple sentence that is both short and lacking detail. Encourage them to experiment with their show, don’t tell skills and to revise it to be more descriptive but to stay within the confines of a single sentence.

The marshmallow was good.

The chocolate-covered marshmallow slipped down my throat like a small piece of heaven.

This activity encourages students to apply precise word choice, strong action verbs, detailed imagery, figurative language phrases, and so much more. And because only complete sentences qualify for the contest (no run-ons accepted), then it also pushes students to use within-the-sentence punctuation (e.g., commas, semicolons, dashes, parentheses, ellipses, etc.).

Students can read or post their sentence entries and the class can conduct a quick vote for their favorites. Maybe there is even a traveling prize or award for the winner each week.

To make this a little easier for struggling students or lower grades, you may have students work in teams.

Fall Walk Contest 2014 Sample Sentence Slide

Hold a fall-walk sentence contest.

Every word counts. . . That’s what fifth grade teacher John Stoffel, Flint Springs Elementary (Huntington, IN), pushes his writers to understand. He sets this tone early in the school year with his annual “Fall-Walk Single Sentence” contest.

The entire class spends time walking the school grounds, gathering inspiration, ideas, details, and words that describe the season of fall. Then, all students submit a single sentence by the pre-determined deadline to be judged by someone outside of the class. John even submitted a sentence or two of his own.

For 2014, John took the Fall-Walk Sentence contest one step further. He included only sentences from his students and asked judges to select their top 10 favorites. After all the votes were in, John declared everyone a winner! He celebrated with this PPT that included each student’s sentence on one slide with complimentary comments from judges included. John said that faces were beaming in his 5th grade Flint Springs Elementary (Huntington, IN) classroom when he showed the slideshow. Here are the top 10 and beyond.

    1. Watch the leaves fall off all the trees, landing in a lake of good-byes.
    2. Fall is like having the perfect apple, crisp and sweet, but once it’s gone it will take a while to get another one.
    3. Trees are burning in the sunlight; flowers are blazing in the yellow haze: this wonderful and beautiful season begins its final phase.
    4. Grasshoppers protest against change and the cold blanket of winter.
    5. An advancing army of leaves fall ready to invade the ground.
    6. The wind blows through my hair as if it’s late for a date.
    7. Fall leaves hang on the trees like ripe fruit.
    8. Under this oak tree, the brick red leaves lay on the ground staring back up, wondering what happened.
    9. The wind sends chills through every living thing like a warning of what is to come.
    10. Crickets started chirping, frogs jumped in, the wind started singing, and with the crunching of the leaves, all together it sounded like a symphony.
    11. Asters in the tall yellow grass rise like bright purple fireworks.
    12. One unique tree frog wears his copper coat and croaks in the morning sun.
    13. Green and red leaves secretly abandon the wide oak tree.
    14. Autumn’s trees, we live in her reds and greens as she dances in the wind.
    15. Colors burst from the trees like splattered paint.
    16. The limbs of this scraggly tree seem like they are trying to capture me.
    17. Golden-brown, the hawk perches, then little by little spreads his wings and soars.
    18. Sticking to my clothes, these brown and black spikey balls want to be my friend.
    19. A choir of crickets chirped in unison.
    20. Peaceful fall bugs danced to the rhythm of the tree’s colorful leaves.
    21. Up jumped a camouflaged cricket onto a dancing red leaf.
    22. The cricket blew far away, taking the dancing red leaf with him.
    23. Trees whisper as the branches wave good-bye to the brown, red, and yellow dry leaves.
    24. Decomposing bugs lay on brown, bushy, decaying plants.
    25. The oak stands still as the leaves dance off the trees.
    26. Crisp browns and reds flutter like lots of little tornados.
    27. The little, white, fuzzy wishing-flower dances with the falling brown leaves.
    28. A flock of grey birds’ wings were very loud as they flew south.
    29. The wind roared as powerful as it could and the trees shivered all around.
    30. The tall itchy grass fells like someone tickling my leg.
    31. As I walk through the dewy grass the smell of Autumn air overflows my body.
    32. Thousands and thousands of insects are laughing up a storm.
    33. As I walk I hear the wind whistling a blues-song in my ears.
    34. Fall feels like being inside a famous artist’s painting.
    35. When the cold breeze stops, the sun beaming on my hair feels like a hot shower.
    36. Winter will be here soon, but for now let the leaves dance to the ground.
    37. In the fall, everything kind of slows down and takes a break.

Here’s a look at 2013’s entries. Even John submitted a sentence for 2013. (The first four were declared the “contest winners.”)

  1. One freezing cold day the sun’s warmth vanished away.
  2. A brownish oak leaf lies on the ground with white frost outlining it like lace.
  3. The giant oak tree with the shape of a moon in it waits for fall to be over.
  4. The tip of one small leaf is all that remains green on this plant.
  5. When the wind blows, the weeds make a noise like a shaking rattlesnake tail.
  6. The blowing wind carries the light seeds into the field.
  7. I walk in the wind as the crackling leaves cling to my feet.
  8. The snake hole was too small for my hand to fit in it.
  9. In the chilly air, flying beautifully, two birds circled through the soft but smeared clouds.
  10. Dead, ripped-up yellow grass blows all over the dirty ground.
  11. The leaves turn scarlet, dandelion, and cherry in the fall.
  12. The wind blows wildly through the bare tree.
  13. Red and blue birds sing to the world, and when the wind stops blowing they start to sing again.
  14. A robin chirps madly at a squirrel.
  15. When the wind blows, green leaves fall.
  16. In the fall, when the wind blows, the leaves fall to the ground.
  17. In a big tree, eleven colorful leaves still remain.
  18. As the wind blows, leaves fly through the air.
  19. In the shiny, blue sky, not many clouds float over the trees with no leaves.
  20. Five little acorns hang off a branch.
  21. The brightness of the sun sparkled on the beautiful green grass and the colorful leaves.
  22. A gentle breeze causes a few leaves to fall.
  23. The leaves shake and shiver as the wind blows.

Teacher Comments:

To inspire her students to write fall-walk sentences, Barb Mahnesmith, 5th grade teacher at Prairie Trace Elementary (Carmel, IN) created this PowerPoint presentation. After watching the slides, each student writes a sentence to describe one of the images from the slide show.

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