Text structure

Sentences are key units for expressing ideas. Students at the Foundation stage are using sentences in writing to express one or two ideas. To structure short spoken, written and multimodal observations, recounts and descriptions students at this stage need to compose effective sentences using appropriate word order.

Strategy

Explicit teaching

As students learn to apply their beginning writing knowledge to compose texts, 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 are used to express ideas.

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

Missing words

If words are left out then meaning can be lost and the sentence won’t express a complete idea.
Example: The boy on a chair/The boy sat on a chair.

Incorrect word order

If words are in the wrong order the idea is often changed or 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

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 detailed concepts of accurate grammar for text structure at later stages of learning.

Rehearsing and verbalising ideas before writing are useful strategies to assist students to get their thoughts organised. Although some students may have an innate sense of organising words to express ideas in writing, in Kindergarten students (particularly EAL/D) may not have the necessary breadth of experience. Students may have limited or no print literacy. Do not rely on student self-correction or prompt questions such as: ‘Does that sound right?’

Explicitly teach sentence structure by demonstrating what is possible with word order and what is not. Students will rely on teacher cues so use definitive statements to teach word order, e.g. The words in this sentence are in the wrong order; This sentence makes sense; This does not make sense.

Engage students with frequent experiences of hearing accurate texts read aloud. Comment on the organisation of words and ideas. Prompt students to consider what words mean in a particular order and what happens if that order is changed.

Activities to support the strategy

Activity 1: sentence doctors

Activity 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: writing conferencing

This is an effective and individualised approach to encourage self-checking and self-correction however it can be time-consuming as it is best conducted 1:1. It can be implemented as a regular element of your literacy program or to check-in every few weeks.

  • Schedule for a time in the day when students are largely independently occupied (e.g. DEAR or Developmental Play) – you will aim to conference with each student in your class over a week.
  • Call students over to work with you one at a time.
  • Ask students to read their latest written text aloud to you (ideally something written that day).
  • If students notice errors as they read aloud praise them and encourage them to self-correct.
  • Draw students’ attention to errors they have not noticed but allow a little time for the student to attempt correction.
  • If they are unable to attempt correction assist them by modelling the correction.
  • Focus on ideas and sentence structure first and leave spelling corrections until the end (unless the student identifies spelling errors to correct).

References

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: recognise that sentences are key units for expressing ideas

NSW literacy continuum

WRIC4M2: Aspects of writing, Cluster 4, Marker 2: Writes to express one or two ideas.

Teacher resources

Student resources

  • ‘Make a sentence’ is a fun and interactive game for students to practise putting words in order to make sense and work out the ideas in a sentence.
    www.bbc.co.uk/schools/.../big_sound/full
  • A simple interactive sentence writing activity to model and rehearse accurate sentence level text structure (can be used for modelling any type of sentence structure):
    www.ictgames.com/writing_runway_v2
  • ‘Monkey Business’ is an engaging game for students to put words in order to construct sentences:
    www.earobics.com
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