November 20, 2007

Methods of Teaching Sentence Fluency

Methods of Teaching Sentence Fluency Summary  (Ideas from the active classrooms of teachers from around the world!

  • Decide on a topic with the students. Roll a die. The number it lands on shows how many words must be in the opening sentence. Keep rolling the die to have students create sentences to match the number rolled - without using the same first word used to begin the initial sentence. Continue for 8 to 10 sentences.
  • "Lots of Color"

    Use a well-written paragraph from a favorite novel; type it on the computer, highlighting the first word of every sentence in a different color if the word is different. A great visual to demonstrate how many different ways an author begins a sentence. Then have students use crayon to do the same with their writing. ~ KA
  • N2SSA rule: No 2 Sentences Start Alike. The rule meant that no 2 sentences could start with the same phrases on the same page or paragraph, depending on the age.
  • I also LOVE reader's theater. I think the more children can read aloud, whether it is their own work or someone else’s is so beneficial.
  • Read into a tape recorder. That way he can practice, or even erase sections. He could play the tape for a small group or the class when he's ready. It may be an issue of shyness rather than confidence in his reading. You might even begin by having him just tell his story rather than read word for word. Those strategies helped by learning disabled students start to develop confidence in themselves. ~ Pat
  • Vicki Spandel offers the following suggestions:
    1. First, as teachers we must not be shy or hesitant ourselves but actively model reading aloud.
    2. Second, encourage students to read aloud as often as possible and appropriate.
    3. Third, have young writer's read aloud into a makeshift PVC pipe type telephone to amplify their unique individual voices
    4. Lastly, consider having them perform an age appropriate scene from a famous drama or read aloud from one of their favorite poems...(193). ~ TJ
  • Have your shy student read to another adult in your school. It my school it is not uncommon to see a student reading to the principal, nurse, secretary, custodian, etc. ~Jeanette
  • I wanted to let you all know that the PVC phones mentioned in CYW on p. 123 are fantastic!! The child just whispers into the phone and can easily hear the words said. We actually call them whisper phones. I'm definitely going to have the students use them as they write. ~ Karen A
  • The most important lesson I will take away from our module on Fluency is: READ ALOUD. Children need to hear their own work read aloud. They need to learn to identify places that make them say, "I have to fix that." or 'I like the way that sounds." ~Jeanette
  • Have students listen to audio recordings performed by authors that they are acquainted with and discussing their reactions.~ JA
  • The books by Chris Van Allsburg have several options on how to use this book to enhance writing fluency at www.writing.fix. Just scroll down until you see Sentence Fluency. ~ Nita
  • Spandel's quote from Mem Fox on p. 58 was interesting: "...vocabulary and a sense of rhythm are almost impossible to 'teach' in the narrow sense of the word. So they learn by being read to ... a lot!". Shel Silverstein and Jack Prelutsky are my favorites. ~ Karen A
  • I really appreciated your post recalling Presidents John F. Kennedy's inauguration and Robert Frost reading one of his poems. I too watched the inauguration ceremonies on TV and heard one of America's preeminent poets voice and the powerful effect of his sentence fluency. Wasn't that a great way to be introduced to poetry! To see poetry have a place of honor at the table when the transfer of power was being celebrated by the worlds most powerful nation.; I Have a Dream speech  ~Tom
  • After reading the "extra readings" such as "Poetic Sense: Sound &; Imagery" and listening to the lecture where it states, "Poetry readings, choral reading and verbal performances of any kind are Sentence Fluency exercises," hearing the masters read their own work.
  • How wonderful that you remember Robert Frost reading Apple Picking Time! I love Robert Frost's poetry and remember my high school English teacher reciting The Road Not Taken. I don't think I would remember that poem if it was not for the rhythm and fluency. Poetry's fluency allows us to remember the verses as a song and I think that's important. Frost's Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Day is another favorite and a memorable verse: But I have promises to keep, And miles to go before I sleep. I'm sure we all remember this one. ~Diane
  • I find that imitation is one of the best ways to get anyone, of any age started in writing - period. Not many students will end up pirating someone else's style. ~Meg
  • The text states, "Sentence fluency is the rhythm and flow of language." It also states, "Skillful writers find ways to hook sentences together. They also read their own writing aloud to get the sound and rhythm. Fluency is readily measured by how easy it is to read text aloud and to weave in plenty of expression as you do so." (Spandel, pg 10)
  • I also have used song lyrics in my poetry units. This is a GREAT motivator for middle school students, especially 8th graders. I have found that this age (approximately 14 years old) is the beginning of self-discovery and that they are really getting into the "lyrics" of songs, not just the artist. Lyrics are poetry put to music, and even if you read the lyrics without the music, the fluency really comes through. There is a resource called "Hip Hop Poetry and the Classics ~ Meredith
  • Get your hands on some Reader's Theaters ~Meg
  • Having students read their own work aloud is a fine tactic. Combine this with reading anonymous strong and weak examples and you reinforce the lesson even more. This is a good way to help those who don't have the 'ear' to hear problems in their own writing! ~Den
Concerns about reading aloud:
  • Do other teachers find that imitation takes over for personal style when oral works are shared in the context of teaching style/voice/sentence fluency? How is this addressed? Some resources I have seen encourage teachers to have students model their work on a great writer...but can't students get stuck in doing this? ~Tiffany
  • Students might begin with imitation of authors because they are unsure of how to write fluent sentences. By giving our students many opportunities to hear and write fluent sentences as well as to identify sentences lacking fluency we can help them recognize that fluency comes in many forms. This also gives them a number of ways to create fluency in their own writing. Most kids are storytellers if we give them the tools and the space to make mistakes along the way. ~Pat
  • I think Spandel's title for sentence fluency, "Variety and Rhythm" is right on and it is exactly what I plan on emphasizing when I do teach this trait. So often, I see the predictable subject/predicate, subject/predicate sentence structure that I can clearly see how this is one trait that needs attention in my students' writing. We happen to be reading "The Monkey's Paw" right now and the climax of this story, when read aloud, provides a really powerful opportunity for teaching sentence fluency and how the pacing and placement of fragments add to the suspense of the plot. Reading aloud is a biggy with this one.

  • I think for me your description of fluency singing is just right. However, I have to remind myself that fluency or the type of flow in a piece of writing is different if the writing is a story or if it is expository. In my ear, they can both have wonderful fluency but the way that is achieved is definitely not the same. ~ Pat
Can you teach fluency with any other trait?
  • I had a hard time distinguishing between voice and fluency for a bit, so I thought maybe I could teach them together. Now, the more I read and the more I read aloud and notice good sentence fluency, I see the distinct differences and I think I need to make sure my students see them too. The voice of a piece reflect who the author is and fluency is more of a skillful art of writing good sentence that add a rhythm to the piece. ~ Meredith
  • I find interesting the idea of bundling word choice and voice into a trait called style, and I highly disagree with that concept. Why take the clearly defined, relatively easily identifiable traits of word choice and voice and combine them into an ambiguous, relatively meaningless category called style? In the business world, the concept of "style" is used to promote conformity to company or departmental standards. In some of the writing departments where I've worked, the motto has been "many writers, one voice," and that is achieved by strict adherence and strict editing to detailed standards of "style," which include predefined word choices, terminology, formatting, page layout, punctuation, capitalization, organization, etc. In short, "style" includes all the traits and is used to strip individual characteristics from writing.
  • I think that a writer's style evolves from application and evaluation of all the traits -- it is the end result, the high quality, holistic synthesis we hope our students will achieve. ~ Tricia
  • I agree with all of you - I wouldn't bundle this trait with anything else either. For my younger students, it's important for them to learn about and focus on one aspect at a time. I think that helps them better understand what to look for in good writing. It's also easier for them to understand as we conference and talk about voice or their organization, etc. I've seen that same blank look where Pat, It is so interesting how different "worlds" bring their own perspective and objective to the work place. ~KA
  • I am thinking that the sentence fluency trait, with its emphasis on reading aloud, is the cumulative trait in that reading aloud improves and reinforces all other writing (and reading) traits and skills.. ~Tom
  • I would not bundle sentence fluency with another trait either as Trisha stated. I think if the organization and punctuation are not correct then the story won't flow. Both Culham and Spandel state that sentence fluency is an auditory trait. ~Diane
  • I honestly would not bundle sentence fluency with any other trait. I think how sentences flow should be in a category all by itself. If it would go with any other trait, I would put it with conventions. I would only suggest this because if you are missing period, commas, or other mechanics, or if there are too many the sentences do not flow together properly. ~Trisha K
  • You raised precisely the important question, of how fluency is more than just varying sentences, using transitions, and varying sentence lengths. Fluency really is the music of the piece and we've got to examine the whole to hear it. The context, purpose, and audience all play some role in determining fluency.
  • I'm glad you raised the issue of different types of writing. In technical, "how to," or business writing, the characteristics of sentence fluency can be quite different than in creative writing. For example, starting each step in a procedure with an action verb is considered very good form in technical writing, as is consistent use of terminology, rather than the variety of word choice that might be more pleasing in fiction or poetry. Coming from a career in technical writing, I can definitely say that sentence fluency is a major issue -- I wouldn't call it singing, but cadence, consistency, and concision are probably the watchwords for procedural and business writing. ~Tricia
  • You pointed out precisely what makes strong technical writing. The action verbs at the beginning of sentences and the repetitive use of the same sentence structure can really emphasize a point when not overdone. I think we need to examine the effectiveness of the writing techniques our students use without condemning any one element for what is generally a weakness i.e. starting all sentences with the same word or using only short simple sentences can also be used to wonderful effect in the right hands.
Questions for further thought:
  • I would love some suggestions to help a child who struggles with the confidence to read out loud, but writes very well. He always wants someone else to read his original work. How do I help him come out of his shell? How long do I let him have others read his own writings? ~Kerry
  • Do other teachers find that imitation takes over for personal style when oral works are shared in the context of teaching style/voice/sentence fluency? How is this addressed?
  • As writing teachers, how can we create safe environments for our students to risk expressing those strong voices? All children have that sense of passionate voice but are often unwilling to let us see it for fear of criticism or rejection, the lessons of the editor's red pen. How can we encourage that joy of writing? ~Pat

1 comment:

Mark Pennington said...

Effective essay instruction starts at the sentence level. All too often, we focus on the end product and not on the process. How to Teach Essay Strategies gives teachers three practical tips on how to improve essay sentences.