Lesson Plans: Using Sentence Structure Effectively

By Trent Lorcher

I repeatedly told my students to vary sentence pattern and lengths to no avail. Then I decided to teach them how to do it. Now I'm teaching you how to teach it.

Redirected Frustration

I felt great. I had just taught an amazing lesson on the importance of writing strong sentences. Students gave me high-fives as they High School Language Arts Class walked out the door. Finally, they would be writing effective sentences in their essays.

But when they turned in their assignments, my joy turned to horror as I read the same drivel that had haunted my existence for years. "What did I do wrong?" I cried, as stunned students snickered at my incredulity. Seconds before peppering the class with double-edged sharpened pencils, I had an idea: maybe I should come up with a lesson on writing strong sentences and teach them how to actually do it instead of just telling them how important it is. I put the pencil sharpener away, called my wife, and told her I'd be home late.

I had work to do. I had to create a lesson plan for writing effective sentences. Here's what I came up with:

Techniques for Improving Sentences

Improve those monotonous essays with these techniques:

1) Add an infinitive phrase:

Before: All I wanted to do was improve my score in timed writing and getting those improved scores became very important to me.

After: To improve my timed writing score I should practice timed writing.

2) Use a subordinating conjunction to combine sentences:

Before: I thought I did excellent on my timed writing test. My grade was much lower than I thought.

After: I thought I did excellent on my timed writing test until I saw my grade.

3) Change a statement to a question in quotes:

Before: My friend and I thought about abandoning our friend as the bear attacked.

After: I turned to Bill and asked, "Should we warn Terrance or just go?"

4) Add a present participial phrase (that's a phrase beginning with a word that ends in 'ing').

Before: We ran faster than we had ever run before as the big bear ripped out Terrance's guts with its paw.

After: Looking on in dismay as the bear ripped out Terrance's guts, we awoke from our startled state and ran.

5) Join two sentences with a comma and a coordinating conjunction (and, but, for, nor, yet, so) and create a compound sentence.

Before: We knew we didn't have to outrun the bear. We had to run a little bit faster than Terrance.

After: We knew we didn't have to outrun the bear, but we did have to outrun Terrance.

6) Add dialogue:

Before: We told Terrance to get out of the tent and run.

After: I yelled, "Terrance, there's a grizzly bear outside the tent! Run!"

7) Start with an ly word:

Before: I was sad when I saw Terrance's body strewn across the mountain.

After: Sadly, we looked at Terrance's mangled body.

8) Start the sentence with a prepositional phrase:

Before: I ran really fast the moment I saw Terrance's arm torn off and thrown across the campsite.

After: At that moment, I ran faster than I'd ever run.

* This lesson was inspired by Mini Lessons for Revision by Susan Geye, 1997, Absey & Co. Spring, TX.

For a complete semester standards based curriculum guide, follow the link.