Here's How Sentence Composing Will Improve Students' Writing

Julie, TeacherVision's Head of Content and Curriculum, breaks down how to teach sentence composing. She explains how this approach to teaching writing helps students understand both the how and why of varying their syntax so they can ultimately find their writing voice.

Updated on: October 1, 2019

Here's How Sentence Composing Will Improve Students' Writing

If you are a middle or high school English teacher and you’ve never taught sentence composing, stop what you are doing and read this post. Sentence composing is that good.

If your goal is for students to use a variety of sentence types in their writing, sentence composing is a very effective way to support student success.

In my experience as an instructional coach and writing teacher, I have seen and observed that we tend to teach students that there are different types of sentences: simple, compound, and compound-complex. We tell them how many independent and dependent clauses each type contains, and then we ask them to vary their sentence structure.

An assignment might look like this:

Directions: Write a paragraph that contains at least two simple sentences, two compound sentences, and one compound-complex sentence.

This is a classic example of teaching students the what, without teaching the how. It isn’t likely that students will understand how to write different types of sentences, and why if we don’t provide them with a roadmap for how.

This is where sentence composing comes in. Don and Jenny Kilgallon are the experts behind this process, and I highly recommend all of their books.

The Art of Imitation

Steven King once wrote that “stylistic imitation is a perfectly honorable way to get started as a writer, and impossible to avoid, really. Some sort of imitation marks each new stage of a writer’s development.” Sentence composing relies on imitation. Students are given model sentences from professional writers, and are asked to compose a sentence that mimics that writer’s style.

Students learn to build better sentences by replicating the style of their favorite writers, and the writers they are studying in class.

An assignment might look like this:

Directions: Read and study the sentence below. Break it into parts. Then write your own sentence that imitates it. Write your sentence about something you’ve experienced, seen or read about.

“Her heart hammering in her chest, Clary ducked behind the nearest concrete pillar and looked around it." Cassandre Clare, City of Bones.

By using this approach, you are showing students how to write different types of sentences by providing them with models they can imitate.

Openers, Closers, and Splits

When you teach sentence composing, you teach students that there are sentences with openers, which contain important information at the beginning of a sentence. There are also splits, which give readers important information in the middle of a sentence. Finally, you teach students about closers. Closers are sentences where the most important information is placed at the end of the sentence.

By using this approach, you are showing students why writers vary the types of sentences that they use, and what the effect of that variation is on the reader.

An assignment might look like this:

Directions: Write an imitation sentence about something that you have experienced or read about that contains a closer. Use the model sentence below:

“Suddenly, Gollum sat down and began to weep, a whistling and gurgling sound horrible to listen to.” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit.

Students Find Their Writing Voices

The process of sentence composing supports students to learn the grammatical tools of professional writers, and by doing so, create a set of writing practices which will support them to develop their own unique writing style. Students are not identifying sentence types, but learning how to use sentence positions in order to craft a piece of writing with purpose.

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Julie Mason is the Head of Content and Curriculum for TeacherVision. She brings expertise in blended and personalized learning, instructional coaching, and curriculum design to the role. She was a middle and high school English teacher for eight years and most recently taught at Dana Hall, an all-girls school in Wellesley, MA. She was a blended and personalized learning instructional coach for K-12 teachers at BetterLesson for two years, and she has presented at The National Principals Conference, ISTE, and ASCD where she shared her expertised on how instructional coaching builds teacher capacity in K-12 schools. She has extensive experience designing and facilitating professional development for teachers, and she oversees the TeacherVision advisory board.