Teaching Sentence Structures

Strategies for Sentence Building
  Since communication is our first goal, Writing Alive introduces the five sentence parts the first week of school. When several learning channels are used simultaneously, student retention and comprehension increase. Students manipulate, construct and revise the five colored sentence shapes because:

colors increase attention
span and recall by 82%.

shapes allow students to
experiment with language.

verbal rehearsal enables
students to hear, see and feel.

Beth Slingerland and Orton Gillingham conducted research to prove that students with one or more weak learning channels can learn when instruction is delivered simultaneously using three or more of the senses: sight, sound, speech, taste, smell and feel (Slingerland, 1980).

Writing Alive uses the five parts of the sentence to explicitly teach different sentence structures and grammar skills.  While primary students use the sentence shapes to learn to build a simple sentence, middle school students use the sentence shapes to vary sentence structures, enhance their thesis statements and learn how to write rules to explain their evidence. (Example from the Middle School Argument Introduction: As a rule, when people fall down stairs, they reach out and try to block their fall.)

Teachers introduce subjects with round green apple slices or green apple candy rings. Subjects can be nouns or verbal phrases. Students learn to identify subjects in sentences and circle them.

Teachers introduce verbs with food that makes the mouth show action – grape jelly bellies, grape taffy, licorice or pop-rocks all show action. Students learn to identify the main verbs in sentences and mark them with three purple peaks.


Teachers introduce objects with watermelon since objects complete the thought and make sentances juicer by showing what or whom. A watermelon slice shape is the symbol for the object.


Teachers introduce pink prepositional phrases with cotton candy. Prepositional phrases begin with a preposition and make the sentence sweeter by showing when, where and how. Students identify prepositional phrases and later participial phrases in sentences by drawing pink cloud shapes around phrases.


Teachers introduce clauses with mini Hershey Bars because clauses make writing richer. Clauses begin with subordinating conjunctions (although, as, when, while, unless, until, because, if, since). Clauses contain subjects and verbs in addition to their main subjects and verbs, so they create complex sentences. Students identify clauses by drawing a brown rectangle around them. Students also use clauses and coordinating conjunctions to form compound-complex sentences.


In order to increase student reading and writing levels, students learn to use different types of sentence structures: simple, compound, complex and compound-complex. When students know how to read and compose these sentence structures, they can read higher level texts and use varied sentence structures in their own writing to clearly communicate their positions to their readers.




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