Sentence fluency is a difficult trait to master. Because we often speak in short choppy fragments or long, gangly run-ons, students bring those habits into their writing. They write how they speak. It doesn’t take long for students to realize that if they just write short, choppy, simple sentences, they will be grammatically correct. Unfortunately, this creates a lack of sentence length variety.
Addressing sentence fluency involves more than just adding words to a sentence to make it longer. It is also an opportunity to teach parts of speech. A sentence can be elongated by inserting:
- Individual words (e.g. adjectives, adverbs)
- Phrases (e.g. prepositional phrases, items in a series)
- Clauses (e.g. dependent and independent)
- A sentence, and more.
This is also an opportunity to teach how punctuation marks work within longer sentences. This may include: semi-colons, colons, commas, dashes, parentheses, ellipses, etc. It’s more than just adding words to elongate a sentence; it requires proper use of punctuation to turn a simple sentence into a compound or complex one.
To aid in these lessons, the Dice Game can be a fun strategy. Start by revealing a simple sentence to students (e.g. I found my book.). Then, using a game die, roll to determine how many additional words students will be challenged to add to the sentence. If you roll a two, then two words need to be added to the original sentence (e.g. I found my green science book.). Go back to the original sentence and roll again. If you roll a five, the students have to add five words to the original sentence. Always go back to the original sentence (e.g. Somehow, in this messy room, I found my book.) And keep in mind, there are limitless ways to revise the sentence to add five words.
Consider the many uses of the Dice Game. It works great as an oral activity initially. If students can’t add words or phrases orally, they won’t be able to do it in their writing. (This is especially fabulous for primary students, ELL, and special needs students.) Then, to differentiate for your high ability and secondary students, have students roll two dice at a time. Using two dice could add up to 12 additional words to the original sentence.
First introduce the Dice Game as a whole-group lesson, but then provide a couple sets of dice so students can apply it more independently. It’s a great literacy center idea for primary teachers. And upper grade teachers can have students utilize it as a revision strategy.
Kim McShea, 2nd grade teacher from Mark Delay School (Darien, IL), has fun with this activity in her classroom year after year. The kids enjoy working as a group and independently! Thanks for sharing!
Great Teacher Comments:
Rachel Crabb, 5th grade teacher from Smith Elementary (Martinsville, IN), has another equally fun way for students to assess their sentence length variety. Using the math rulers provided for standardized testing, Rachel has her students record the length (in inches) of each of their sentences. They then individually graph their sentence measurements to see if they are varying the lengths. What a visual way to assess sentence fluency while incorporating some important math skills. Love it!