Is my sentence complete?


Explicit teaching

There are different types of sentences. Students at the Foundation stage need to write accurate simple sentences using nouns and pronouns. Students also learn to compose some basic compound sentences using common conjunctions such as ‘and’ or ‘but’.

As students learn to apply their beginning writing knowledge to compose texts, be aware that their ideas may become jumbled or meaning lost through the effort of writing. Teach students that texts are made up of words that make meaning and sentences should express a complete idea.

Common sentence structure errors that prevent writing from making sense at sentence level include:

Missing words – If words are left out then meaning can be lost and if a noun, pronoun or verb is missing the sentence won’t express a complete idea.

Example 1: He on a chair/He sat on a chair.
Example 2: Sat on a chair/The boy sat on a chair.

Incorrect word order – If the subject is in the wrong position meaning can be completely altered and if words are in the wrong order the idea often no longer makes sense.

Example 1: The chair sat on a boy/The boy sat on a chair.
Example 2: The boy sat a chair on/The boy sat on a chair.

General strategies

Engage students with frequent experiences of hearing accurate texts read aloud. Prompt students to consider what idea a sentence conveys and what happens if words are left out or word order is changed.

Teachers should encourage students to re-read what they have written to check at sentence level that the ideas are clear and important words or phrases are not out of order or missing. This will support more complex forms of sentence structure at later stages of learning.

Rehearsing and verbalising ideas before writing are useful strategies to assist students to organise their thoughts. In Kindergarten students (particularly EAL/D) may have limited or no print literacy. Do not rely on student self-correction or prompts such as: ‘Does that sound right?’

Explicitly teach sentence structure by demonstrating what is possible with nouns, pronouns, conjunctions and word order and what is not. Use definitive statements to teach sentence structure, e.g. The words in this sentence are in the wrong order; This sentence does not make sense; This sentence is missing an important word.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: sentence doctors

Can be done in a whole class or small group context.

  • Prepare three or four sentences from a familiar shared text. Display enlarged sentences with some words removed (initially leave spaces to indicate missing words) or with jumbled word order.
  • Inform students which text the sentences are from but that there are some mistakes and today they need to be sentence doctors.
    • Try to include a sentence that could be fixed in more than one way.
    • Try to include a sentence that has lost the key idea, e.g. “Hush was (missing word - invisible)”
  • Read the sentences aloud together and ask students to contribute ideas for fixing the sentences.
  • Record any coherent suggestions and display.
  • Be prepared to explain any suggestions that do not make sense, students (particularly EAL/D) will need support to understand why words need to be grouped in certain ways to express certain ideas.
  • Re-read the shared text to find the original sentences and compare these with students’ suggestions.

Activity 2: making sentences

This exercise can be a whole lesson, a regular literacy activity, a lesson break or writing warm-up to support students’ familiarity with making sense through word order and organising ideas.

  • Use sentences from familiar or everyday texts cut up into words and reconstruct them to make meaning.
  • Use simple or compound sentences to differentiate the activity for your students’ learning readiness.
  • Include or remove sentence punctuation to differentiate the activity for your students’ learning needs.

Variation: students add words and conjunctions to join ideas to the assembled text and form a compound sentence.

Variation: students attempt to complete this activity in pairs or individually once they are familiar with it.

Extension: use a sequence of 2-3 sentences from familiar or everyday texts cut up into words and reconstruct them to make meaning.


Australian curriculum

ACELA1435: Expressing and developing ideas: Recognise that sentences are key units for expressing ideas.

NSW syllabus

ENe-9B: Outcome 9: demonstrates developing skills and knowledge in grammar, punctuation and vocabulary when responding to and composing texts

ENe-9B - Understand and apply knowledge of language forms and features: demonstrate an awareness of nouns, pronouns and conjunctions.

Teacher resources

  • A comprehensive and easy to use grammar reference text for teachers: Derewianka, B. (1998). A Grammar Companion for Primary Teachers, Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association.
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