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The Impending Sentence Structure Crisis.

The pandemic may affect writing standards, but we can mitigate this with better sentence openings.

I could always tell if I hadn’t done a good job teaching, if I read a pupil’s work and it lacked any variation in sentence structure.  This typically happened on extended writing tasks: I’d cast my eye across the sentence openings to see an abundance of articles (‘a/an’ and ‘the’) and pronouns.  Further inspection of the work reveals a lack of commas and lots of short sentences.  Whilst it’s not a big problem if you’re teaching lower key stages, it becomes a stumbling block for GCSE practice papers.

It’s likely to be a big issue when all pupils return to school.

Firstly, I’d like to clarify that the schools my daughters attend, and the school at which my wife is a Head, have all done a sterling job with remote learning.  That said, it does have its limitations.  There is increased pressure on teachers to cater for their Teams and Zoom calls as well as for the children of key workers, who are actually in attendance (in greater numbers than in the last lockdown).

A simple tip to improve sentence variation is to look at both ing verb sentence openings and adverbial sentence openings.  Particularly of the ‘ly’ variety. 

I walked down the street.  I saw the sun shining

could become 

Walking down the street, I saw the sun shining.


Quietly strolling down the street, I glanced over at the glorious sunshine.

Each version improves as there is more detail, but the fundamental difference comes in the change of sentence structure when we put the subordinate clause first.

I’ve written before about the importance of children reading their own work here, and this develops that process - actively looking to make improvements.  There are lots of formulas that can help focus this process, but one I used with some success was S, ing, ly, v and punctuate which stands for,

S - short sentences to create impacting - ing verb sentence openings

ly - adverbial sentence openings (or fronted adverbials, or ly adverbs)

v - vocabulary- try to improve some words

Punctuate - use a variety of punctuation to embellish the writing where appropriate, but using commas in particular.

This is a useful formula for pupils to apply to any work that might be a little dull to read.  

Why not give it a try?  You can download a poster to help here.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

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