How to Teach Sentence Writing

How do you teach a kindergartener or first grader to write a complete sentence? When students start reading simple words, they can start to learn about writing complete sentences. This lesson on writing complete simple sentences can start as a foundational skill in kindergarten as well as be taught at any level that requires the practice.

How do you teach a kindergartener or first grader to write a complete sentence? When students start reading simple words, they can start to learn about writing complete sentences. This lesson on writing complete simple sentences can start as a foundational skill in kindergarten as well as be taught at any level that requires the practice.
Teaching kids to write complete sentences can be tricky business. They usually learn pretty quickly that a sentence begins with an uppercase letter and ends with a period.  The trouble comes when we start teaching basic sentence structure, which is so important to understand, as this skill is needed to build more complex sentences later.

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Laying the Foundation

Do you have students who write sentences that are missing basic connecting words? To help with this, we have to build an understanding of how words work in a sentence, in particular, the role of function and content words.

Function words include the, to, why, and such. These words have little or no meaning attached. Content words name specific objects and they include nouns, adjectives, and main verbs. We need those little (function) words to help make sense of the big (content) words. To get students to understand this, write the words kid and box on the board or on a sentence strip like the one below.

Talk about the meaning of each word and tell students that these are called content words. They each have a specific meaning.

We know what the two words mean. If someone was to say, “Kid, box.” would we know what they were talking about?

Next, using a different color, fill in the function words The, is, on, and a, so the whole sentence reads, The kid is on a box. Explain that the words you added are called function words. These words have little to no meaning, but they are still important to the sentence. These words connect important information so we can understand. Discuss how we now have a clear picture of the message. Content words help us understand the main idea of what is being communicated and function words help connect the information.

Place the words out of order to make the point that word order is important as well.

Prepare some word cards with a mix of content and function words and provide some time for your students to create their simple sentences.

Writing Sentences

When teaching students how to write a complete sentence, it is necessary to mention that a sentence is made up of two main parts: the who or what, and what happens. This is called the subject and predicate. Give the kids a few examples and write them on the board.

These phrases show examples of who or what:

  • the kid
  • mom
  • the rug

These phrases show examples of what happens:

  • got on the bus
  • can get an egg
  • was wet

Talk about what each phrase is or what it means. Write a few sentences as a class reinforcing the use of a capital letter and end punctuation. Talk about how each sentence is a complete thought. Each part alone means something, but it is not a complete thought.

Once students can write simple sentences, give each student a set of function cards and a few select content cards. Have the students work in pairs or independently to make sentences of their own. Remind them of the importance of the function words and the word order. If you wish, have the students write their newly formed sentences so they can share with you and the class.

Creating a strong foundational understanding of sentence structure is critical to future writing success. By understanding and then building on those skills, students will be better able to grasp grammar and more complex sentences as they grow as readers and writers.

Continued Practice

For an additional activity try this. Write two lists on the board, one of who or what, and one of what happens. You can use student or adults they know, like teachers or other staff members. Choose some funny things to happen to them. I might say “hopped on one leg”, or “lost his tooth”, or “ate a spider”. The kids get to pair one item from each list to make a new sentence. They can do this aloud, or you can have them write the sentences down on paper. Assist as needed and encourage kids to create and connect a variety of subjects and predicates.