Why is it so difficult to get students to write complete sentences?
Complete Sentences: Teaching them is the bane of my existence.
I hope it’s not just me. I hope it’s a developmental thing and that all elementary teachers deal with this glitch. Especially teachers working with the later elementary years, like me. Teaching kids to write complete sentences can be a tough road to hoe.
I wish not to quell any student excitement for writing. Even more, I alway hope to make lessons and reviews on sentence structure and complete sentences meaningful. Avoid the drill and kill. But as students get older, they start to buck at the rules and at writing conventions.
Yes, you are correct, some of our students do write complete sentences brilliantly! I imagine those kids sitting at home each night with their noses glued into a 1,000-page novel. They must be the highly-dedicated readers, the ones looking at complete sentences all day long, every day. One sentence after another, after another.
But, for the most part, my students just don’t do it on a consistent basis. I fret and parents worry.
This could partly be a result of virtual school. For myself, I’ve found writing to be the most difficult thing to teach from a distance. Unless students are sitting right next to you, most will whip out a lousy sentence fragment as fast as they can and say they’re ‘done writing.’
This year, I thought I had the advantage: Being able to model it over and over again on a screen for all to watch. And yet, each time I ask the kids to paraphrase a sentence, most seem to lose their capitals and punctuation. Proper nouns? Forget about it!
The properly written sentence can be sitting right above the sentence they’re writing and it makes no difference. For whatever reason, those capitals can’t make it down one or two lines.
It could be a result of our broken school year. The constantly changing expectations and the deep pivots we have continuously made without warning.
Or it could be a side effect to screen culture, instant gratification, texting and tweeting.
Whatever it is, something must be done!
Review after Review after Review….
Why is it so hard to get my students to write complete sentences?
This past fall, I thought I had reviewed writing conventions until they were bored silly. I thought, maybe some of this is a bit remedial but it still seems to be needed. Capitals, subjects, predicates, punctuation. We just need to knock the rust off a bit and the kids will be up and running again in no time.
We talked in great length about common vs. proper nouns. Over and over again I reminded them, “this is a common kid mistake that for whatever reason I see happen year after year – forgetting to capitalize proper nouns.”
This past Monday we reviewed strategies for paraphrasing. Together, we went over two example sentences about our dwarf planet, Pluto.
I asked the kids to point out what elements makes these sentences complete. Someone quickly responds, “starts with a capital and ends with a period.. or whatever. It could be a question mark too I guess.”
So far, so good.
“What else makes these complete sentences?”
“Needs a noun and a verb.” Some of the older, more astute classmates chime in, “a subject and a predicate. Sometimes even a direct object but not always.” Bravo, students. Bravo.
Here’s where the tide shifts..
The Shift of the Tide.
Next, I will ask them, “What do we do with proper nouns?”
I’ll ask again. I channel the calmest teacher voice I can, “Someone out there must remember what the difference is between a proper noun and a common noun?”
What I’m holding back from saying is, we did like five review lessons on proper nouns, this year alone. I almost did a sixth, but thought it was overkill so I held back. I guess I was wrong!
Finally, one of those highly dedicated reader type students will muster up the courage to say in front of their peers, “You capitalize proper nouns.”
And yet, this seems to often get lost in translation for most of my students. Proper nouns are capitalized.
Today, we again went over the four criteria I consider ‘must haves’ for all complete sentences.
Four Things a Complete Sentence Must Have:
- Composed of a subject & a predicate (aka an independent Clause)
- Starts with a capital letter
- Ends with a punctuation mark
- All PROPER NOUNS must be Capitalized!!
Let’s quickly look at each of these criteria items a little more closely.
1. What’s an Independent Clause?
I know it sounds fancy pants, but it really isn’t. An independent clause simply means it can stand on its own. It’s a complete thought and conveys a clear message. Students tend to understand this quickly when working through sentence analysis and other types of sentence structure exercises.
A noun and a verb. A subject and a predicate. A sentence as concise as “I will.” Simple perfection.
For whatever reason, fragment sentences tend to creep in to student writing over time. A few simple reminders, clear examples or quick writing exercises will help get students back on track.
2 & 3. Starts with a capital, ends with a period.
As fragments creep in, capital letters and punctuation seem to creep out.
I think this simply comes down to rushing. Similar to remembering subjects and predicates, a few reminders usually stop this shortcutting.
4. What the heck is a Proper Noun, anyway?
I will admit, this one is a tough one. The monkey wrench. It’s sabotage.
Has anyone out there had any luck with upper elementary students remembering the difference between common and proper nouns? It seems like such a simple concept. Yet, here we are in May and…
Nouns belonging to many are called common nouns, like cats and dogs. Those having special names are proper nouns. This includes nouns like Garfield and Scooby Doo. Since they are special, we capitalize them.
The word proper comes from the Latin word proprius, which means one’s own. We capitalize a noun when it refers to a specific person, place, thing or idea!
I have developed some advanced noun study exercises which seem to help drive this idea home. After working through a few examples together, the kids seemed to quickly recall this convention. Now, if only they would remember it!
Reading, Reading, Reading
All roads seem to always circle back to this: Reading from an early age is so critical for the development of a child’s brain. This is true for many different reasons. In my blog, READING JUST 20 MINUTES A DAY! I discuss how focused, challenging reading is so important for everyone (big and small) to do each and every day.
How much reading is your child engaging in? I mean real reading. The ‘pick up a book and sit quietly without screens’ reading. It doesn’t even have to be a long period of time. It can be done in as little as 20 minutes a day! No really, it can.
Current research supports reading from a printed book format helps even further. The printed format seems to offer higher levels of comprehension and retention than reading text from a computerized screen:
DO WE READ DIFFERENTLY ON PAPER THAN ON A SCREEN? BY MARIA GILJE
“When reading long, linear, continuous texts over multiple pages that require a certain amount of concentration, referred to as “Deep Reading,” the reader often experiences better concentration and a greater overview when reading from a printed medium compared to a screen.
It has been shown that consistent and daily reading, especially when assisted by an adult, have a significant impact on individual academic progress. Researchers now believe the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is simply reading to children.
In the 2017 article, Do we read differently on paper than on a screen?
Maria Gilje Torheim wrote:
“An interesting finding in some of the empirical studies is that we tend to overestimate our own reading comprehension when we read on screen compared to on paper. Some studies have shown that we believe we have understood the text better, when we read from a screen. However, it has been found that we tend to read faster on screen and consequently understand less compared to when reading from paper.”
Vocabulary, Vocabulary, Vocabulary!
My students moan when I remind them of this. But, it’s true! What is the best way to learn new words? Reading a new, challenging book; opening up a dictionary to a random page; or simply talking to other people! Listen and learn!
Mastering vocabulary leads to a greater confidence when speaking, writing and in commanding our language. Believe it or not, I still have a student or two who will pick a big print dictionary up off the book shelf and page through it during the school day. When asked why, I’m told so they can find cool, new words.
I tell them they’re going old school.
Do you have more suggestions for encouraging children to write complete sentences? Do you have a suggestion for another blog topic? Please send me an email with your ideas and experiences at email@example.com.
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