Expanding Sentences Effectively

One of the areas my students struggle the most is with writing expanded sentences.  They are so very good at writing short, simple sentences with no detail.  You need an essay full of short, three word sentences and my students are your people!

But good writing isn't made up of simple sentences alone.  An author plays with sentence length to really convey meaning.  I want my students to be able to do the same.  I want their writing to sing the way that any other author's does.  However, that is no simple task!  The kids are content just writing about Jim going to the park with no further detail.

So I decided to set out and see if I could teach my students how to expand sentences in a clear, coherent way.

We have been talking a lot about how to make narratives better.  I am always asking them who did what when where why and how?    So I thought I would use that same idea to get the kids to expand their simple sentences.  I gave them a very simple sentence.  

The man went shopping.

I then asked them to draw it.  After about 2 minutes of drawing, the students shared their sketches. Every single one of them had a different drawing.  Some added a picture of Target.  Some drew the man with a car.  Others had him on a skateboard.  There were some with a grocery cart.  The sentences were so different because the sentence wasn't detailed enough.  

Working together, the kids and I started asking ourselves who was the man?  Did he have a name?  Was he old?  How did he get to the store?  By car, plane, roller-skates?  If he came by car, what kind was it?  A Corvette? If so, was the man wealthy?  The students brainstormed this and more on a simple template I gave them.  
We then began to revise the sentence so that we could expand it.  I had the students write the expansions right on top of the original sentence.  Once it was fully expanded, the students then set out and redrew the sentence.  This time around, the kids were all able to get a much more similar picture to each other!   This really helped to drive home the point that the more details there are in a sentence, the easier it is for the reader to visualize  the intended meaning.

The next day, I had the students work in pairs with the same idea.  This time, they wrote the expansion in pairs instead of as a class.  They used the same ideas from the previous day and expanded a very short sentence.  I asked the pairs to then write their sentence on a chart paper to compare what they each wrote.
Finally, on the third day, I had the students each expand a different simple sentence on their own.  They used the same expansion strategy of asking themselves Who? What? When? Where? Why? and How? and then drew a picture of their expanded sentence.  Once these were all done and displayed, I made it more of an interactive activity.  The students put a sticky note over their drawing.  The other students then came up and tried to draw the pictures themselves.  They tried to see how close the pictures would match based on the expanded sentence!

Overall, this set of three lessons really have set the kids up on a great path towards more detailed sentences.  They are more conscious of what they are writing and how.  Our next step is to venture into revising using those third expanded sentences.  Making them clearer, more precise, and less long winded (because, let's face it, the kids liked to over expand at times ;) )  

If you would like my exact lessons and all of the printables, you can pick them up here.

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