I am ashamed to say that I have offered this futile advice to many children in many classes across many schools during my time in the classroom. On reflection, those words had very little impact. In reality, those who knew where the full stops should go, for the most part did not forget them; and those who had a shaky understanding of sentence structure and demarcation, continued to have a shaky understanding despite my timely advice. For those children, it was not so much a case of having forgotten where the full stop should go: the reality was that they did not really know where it should go in the first place.
Now as an English adviser, it is the barrier to age-expected writing that I encounter most frequently during my school visits. I often work with teachers who lament the children’s seemingly laissez faire approach to sentence demarcation. For KS2 teachers, the panic is often palpable: ‘How on earth will I get them to showcase their use of dashes, colons and semi-colons when they don’t seem to be able to master the full stop?’
Fixing full stops across KS2 training was born out of a desire to provide teachers with strategies to address this. The reasons for a child entering KS2 with insecure knowledge in this area can be manifold and is carefully unpicked in our training Securing full stops at KS1. Let’s focus for now on some proven strategies for getting children in lower KS2 back on track.
To support my explanation, I have organised the different techniques under headings, however, in truth, each of the strategies probably sits between and across several headings. Furthermore, the headings are not meant to draw teachers towards a preferred technique based on a notion of preferred learning style. Instead, they are to signify that the ability to understand sentence structure no doubt relies on an amalgamation of many input processes. By tapping into as many of these as possible, we may have greater success at securing this tricky bit of learning for as many children as possible. In the experience of the school where I supported, a combination of the techniques, planned over a unit of work and repeated little and often, seemed to work best.
‘Hearing the sentence’ techniques:
Much like alien word games in KS1, where children are asked to spot alien words amongst a collection of real and made-up words, pupils are presented with sentences and non-sentences derived from the model text. First, they listen to the sentences/non-sentences and then sort them into the correct category whilst discussing their decision. This activity allows teachers to judge the children’s ability to succinctly express their understanding of what a sentence actually is, and to offer any additional technical language to help clarify their understanding.
Teachers take key single-clause sentences from a model text and cut them into two. The children match up the beginning of the sentence with the correct ending reading them aloud to check that they sound complete. This should be followed with a discussion about how they know which parts to put together, and whether they have spotted any patterns in the sentence structure. The beauty of this simple technique is that children have opportunities to re-read sentences many times over, all the while helping them to attune their ear to the sound of a sentence and draw their eye to the repetitive structure.
This technique is much like the Sentence Match-Up activity above. However in this version, the teacher takes several sentences and cuts them up into individual words (having removed the obvious clue of the capital letter at the start) and invites the children to re-build the words into the original sentences. This should lead to discussion and debate, while the children have yet more opportunities to express their understanding of sentence structure.
Stepping stone sentences
This is a powerful one! In this activity, children are asked to plan their sentences in advance of writing, but are scaffolded in doing so by physically stepping from one sentence to the next. Using visual ‘stepping stones’, the children are invited to rehearse their first sentence when stepping on the first stepping stone. When this sentence is shaped and secure, the child can step onto the next stepping stone and relay the next sentence that they intend to write, and so on. This works well modelled as a whole class activity and then as a small group activity for those children who needed a bit more securing. The children are then invited to write and to use a full stop to represent the ‘stepping stone’ from one sentence to the next. This activity proved powerful as the children had a visceral memory of ‘moving’ from one sentence to the next. Having engaged in physical movement from one sentence to the next, children are less likely to allow the sentences that they had rehearsed to merge into one another.
Count and check
This technique has proven to be effective for some children who prove persistent in their neglect of full stops and who often miss out key words within their sentences. Before writing, children voice their sentence to the teacher who can help to shape/refine it as necessary. When the sentence is perfected, the child records the sentence using a sound button and then replays it, counting the number of words within it. They record this number in the margin before writing. After writing, they count to check that they had recorded the number of words in their original sentence, putting a tick above each word and ending with a full stop. It is time consuming, but it works. Time is well spent in Lower KS2 revisiting ‘hold a sentence’ strategies used within KS1. This may include building their sentence using counters to represent each word prior to writing to support with oral rehearsal and then self-regulation to ensure each counter has a corresponding written word. Dictation of single clause sentences using children’s known GPCs can also be used to support children with hearing, seeing, saying and then writing single clause sentences. By spending time on these early concepts we then know that the foundations are strong and we can then continue to build.
Transparent sentence structures
Underpinning all of the sentence-level work described above, teachers should ensure that - when the lesson objective relates to developing understanding of sentence structure - they adhere closely to the structures specified in their year group’s Programme of Study. Perhaps the children who struggle most with sentence structure have been pushed too hard, too fast, to write ever-increasingly long and complicated sentences, and by doing so, they may not have had enough opportunities to see the regular and predictable pattern of single and multi-clause sentences. To support, teachers can strip back the complexity of the sentences that they model and draw the children’s to attention to the predictable and repetitive way in which the sentences begin. When the children have been alerted to the common sentence starters, they are much more likely to be able to spot the boundaries between independent sentences.
For more strategies, including video exemplification to showcase the teaching of sentence structure, follow the links to book onto our popular training:
Original Blog created by Penny Slater, additions by Amanda Webb.