A Straightfoward Literacy Strategy

Require class members to use complete sentences to improve literacy within your classroom, or perhaps, in the entire school.

By Noel Woodward

students with their teacher in the classroom

Teachers know about the importance of literacy. They see the benefits of strong literacy skills in their classrooms and look for ways to help their readers and writers succeed and improve their skills. There are specialized programs and regimens, specific strategies and involved processes designed to help improve literacy skills. However, sometimes these programs are overwhelming, expensive, or just not quite right for a particular teacher’s curriculum or classroom. And, with the Common Core State Standards around the corner, teachers in every subject will be looking for ways to add literacy support into their teaching. While at a meeting this year, I heard one of the simplest and most valuable ideas for strengthening literacy skills: complete sentences.


Implement in Individual Classrooms, or School-Wide

Require students to use complete sentences. It almost sounds too easy. In a way, that’s why it is such a powerful idea. I know that I expect my class members to respond in complete sentences, but do I always enforce this? No. Sometimes it feels like such an accomplishment that I’ve gotten an individual to respond to something, that I just let a one-word answer slide. However, it is really not difficult to enforce a complete-sentence policy. After each incomplete sentence, I could simply say, “Please repeat your response using a complete sentence.”

The teacher who suggested this idea at the meeting is a stickler for complete sentences. She marks each fragment in written work and insists that every member of her class respond using complete sentences. This strategy is clear, costs nothing, and could enrich any class.

The Common Core literacy standards are soon to come into effect and schools are looking for ideas to help out subjects that are not typically related to literacy. Consider implementing complete sentences as a whole-school strategy. In every class, learners would be asked to write and speak using complete sentences. Expectations would be consistent and therefore easier to enforce. The misconception that you only need to write well in English class would no longer exist—fully formed ideas and commentary would be a required component of every class.

A Scaffolded Approach: Sentence Frames

Although I’d like to believe that every writer knows how to put together an academic sentence, this is not true. For learners who need a little extra help, sentence frames can be an easy scaffold to provide. For written work, consider writing the frame on the assignment page or putting it up on a slide so that everyone can see it. I know that many teachers have posters of sentence frames upon their walls. For an oral response, a frame can be thought up on the spot. Think of how you would respond and write that up on the board as a model. Learners can use your language to develop their own vocabulary and ability to create academic sentences.

Scaffolds don’t only have to be for learners who need extra help. Provide more complicated and academic language as the year goes on in order to help all levels of learners to expand their vocabulary and enhance their literacy skills. Something as simple as requiring class members to respond in complete sentences could help any student get to the next stage of literacy.

Resources to Improve Learners' Sentences:

Sentence Fragments

As practice for writing complete sentences, have your class identify and remedy fragment sentences. This worksheet includes some general rules and examples as well as an activity that could be completed quickly.

Creating and Illustrating Sentences

Although this lesson is intended to help build a strong base for sentence writing in youngsters, it could be easily adapted for older ages. Learners use paper strips with parts of sentences written on them to make complete sentences. After playing around with the words, class members then draw their sentence.

How to Identify a Complete Sentence

Give this colorful presentation to your class to help them understand complete sentences. The focus of the presentation is asking two questions to identify whether a sentence is complete or not: Who? and What is it doing? Without getting into details about the parts of speech, the presentation shows viewers what a complete sentence looks like and what questions a complete sentence answers.