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Teaching Students How to Combine Sentences and Improve their Writing

By Trent Lorcher

Improve writing by teaching students how to combine sentences effectively. This lesson plan with examples from a veteran teacher will help.

An Accidental Discovery

After reading 200 essays with nothing but simple sentences, I curled up in a ball and lay in the corner, wailing. I knew I had to do something to end the misery. I pulled out my Chemistry for English Teachers Manual, opened it to page 23, set the graded essays on my desk, and began mixing a potion that would destroy all paper fibers within 236-feet. Luckily, the recipe used the word combine twelve times, which gave me an idea. I called my Mom, told her to save me some leftovers, and grabbed my lesson plan book.

I had work to do. I had to come up with a lesson plan about sentence combining:

Read and Display a Paragraph with Only Simple Sentences

Even though I had just read 200 horribly written essays with nothing but simple sentences, I still had to come up with a horrible paragraph of my own, not wanting to single out any particular student. Save yourself the trouble and use my horrible paragraph (not one single compound sentence, complex sentence, infinitive phrase, or relative pronoun), if you wish. My feelings won't be hurt.

Plan ahead when visiting Big Bear Lake, California. You don't want to sleep at a rest stop. You don't want to use railroad ties for firewood. Big Bear Lake is near San Diego. It is near Los Angeles. It is near Las Vegas. There are many campsites. There are lodges. There are RV parks. They fill up fast. There are many hiking trails. Bring sturdy shoes. Sandals are not optimal for hiking. Many pro athletes live there. There's a lake at Big Bear Lake, California. Big Bear Lake is at 7,000 feet above sea level. The water is cold. Swimming is discouraged. Boating is encouraged. Fishing is encouraged. Kayaking is encouraged.

Write the above paragraph on the board and read and discuss it with the class. Show them the following suggestions for sentence combining.

Ways to Combine Sentences

Take two sentences and make a compound sentence

Example: Water at Big Bear Lake is cold, and swimming is discouraged.

Insert modifiers, adjectives or adverbs, to combine sentences

Example: Swimming in the cold water is discouraged

Use a prepositional phrase to combine sentences

Example: Near Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas, Big Bear, California is easily accessible.

List items in a series to combine sentences

Example: Park rangers encourage boating, fishing, and kayaking

Use a subordinating conjunction to combine sentences:

Example: Unless you want to sleep at a rest stop using railroad ties as firewood, plan ahead.

Use a dependent clause beginning with a relative pronoun (which, that, whom, whose, or who):

Example: Big Bear Lake, which sits 7,000 feet above sea level, is home to great fishing, kayaking, and boating.

Use participial phrases to combine sentences:

Examples: Planning ahead eliminates the need to sleep at rest stops and the need to use railroad ties as firewood.

  • Instruct students to combine sentences using the above techniques.
  • Paragraph challenges motivate students to write well.
  • As groups of students share their revisions, have them identify the technique. Write the examples (not the ones I provided) on the board as you review.

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