Seven simple tips to improve sentence writing in students

For many students, writing is just plain tricky. And when you consider all of the different skills involved, it’s really no wonder. 

For starters, students need to know that sounds blended together create words, words carefully constructed build up to sentences, sentences are built into paragraphs based on a specific genre. This is all while simultaneously holding the ideas mentally and executing the mechanics of handwriting!

There’s a lot going on right there and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There’s also vocabulary, syntax, and tense to think about. The list goes on. 

One of the biggest stumbling blocks for many students is mastering the plain old sentence. 

  •  Many children don’t understand the structure of a sentence, and instead write sentences that are incomplete or missing key components.
  • Some students write sentences that don’t seem to have a start or an end. 
  • Other students write repetitive, short or choppy sentences that lack sophistication appropriate to their age. 
  • And for many students who struggle to write, they lack motivation and just don’t enjoy it at all. 

I want to share some simple tips on how you can significantly improve the quality of your students’ sentence writing, while also injecting some life into the teaching of grammar. 

Oral language at the start of every writing lesson 

Firstly, Talk. talk. talk. Oral language should be a focus in every writing lesson before students put pen to paper. What students can’t say, they can’t write. Starting every lesson with an oral language component is essential for effective writing.

 Teach the ‘do’ and ‘doer’ of a sentence 

So many children when asked what a sentence includes, can not say. Teaching children from very early on that every sentence has a subject and a predicate (or a doer and a do) sets children up to clearly understand what is expected in every sentence they write (or say).

Use engaging visuals

Unlike times gone by, grammar lessons should be fun, interactive and taught within the context of the writing unit. The best grammar lessons are those that are engaging and use visuals to stimulate talk and ideas. Using visual stimulus of an animal or person ‘doing’ something interesting is a great way to start the conversation or begin generating sentences with the components of the subject and predicate. It is also a good support for students with low-level vocabulary or diverse language backgrounds.

 Explicit teaching with a cooperative learning component

By teaching a sentence-level grammar lesson in an explicit teaching approach of ‘I do, We Do, You do’, the ‘You Do’ part can easily lend itself to engaging and interactive cooperative learning strategies such as: Think Pair Share, Y charts or a Placemat activity. These strategies have been proven to be highly effective in student learning.

 Multi sensory approaches and chin-ups

Some of the best grammar lessons to teach sentence-level work have been taught with a range of approaches including the physical manipulation of sentence strips, interactive visuals, and mini whiteboards boards. Mini whiteboards are a staple for any grammar lesson and can be used in so many ways. They not only increase level of student interest, but also provide multiple learning opportunities when held under their chins for teacher feedback. This immediate feedback can benefit every student many times in just one lesson, when the ‘chin up’ strategy is used.

 COPS mnemonic

The COPS strategy is a fantastic strategy for writing as it provides a scaffold for students to self reflect on what they have produced. The COPS mnemonic stands for: Capitalisation, Organisation, Punctuation and Sentence Structure. Self-regulatory frameworks like this have been proven to be highly effective in improving student writing. 

 Teach Sentence Combining as a proven intervention method

Students struggling with writing can benefit greatly from explicit teaching of ‘sentence combining’. Sentence combining has been proven to have a significant impact on the creativity and quality of student writing. It can be taught in multi-sensory ways where students can add adjectives, adjectives, or combine simple repetitive sentences to make compound sentences with connectives; or additional phrases to create complex sentences. The impact on a student’s motivation and writing improvement with a tried and tested Sentence Combining Intervention method has had significantly enhanced outcomes.

 Final thoughts

Although writing is a complex task for children to master, having a strong focus initially on writing at the sentence-level provides students the opportunity to build a strong foundation for writing a range of genres. When students are provided many lesson opportunities that are fun and engaging, generating ideas orally, within an explicit teaching approach, students can experience enormous success in producing written prices that they not only enjoy creating but also feel quite proud.

~Julie Scali

Want to find out more? 

I’m excited to share that a Sentence-Level Writing Intervention Program for Years 1-6 will soon be released, to support teachers and school leaders.

DM me your email to be the first to know!


Hattie, J. & Zierer, K. (2018). 10 Mindframes for Visible Learning. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge.

Saddler, B. (2005). Sentence Combining: A sentence level writing intervention. The Reading Teacher: Vol. 58, No. 5, 468-471.

Saddler & Preschern (2007). Improving sentence writing ability through sentence-combining practice. Teaching Exceptional children: 39 (3) 6-11.

Saddler, B. Asaro, K. & Behforooz, B. (2008). The effects of peer assisted sentence combining practice n four young writers with learning disabilities. Learning Disabilities: A Contemporary Journal 6(1), 17-31.