ELL · grammar

Sentence Patterning Charts

How do you teach students what a sentence is? Understanding the concept of a sentence is a foundational aspect to writing, and yet the concept can feel abstract and hard to teach. The Sentence Patterning Chart, a strategy from Project GLAD, makes teaching sentences concrete and fun. Try singing some of these sentences with your students and you will agree!

Start with a blank chart that looks like this. If you are including adverbs (grades 3 and above), you will need 5 columns. If not, you will need 4 columns. Be sure to make the last column wider than the rest because it needs to fit phrases and not just single words:

Starting from blank is an intentional part of this strategy. When we co-construct the chart, students have more ownership over it. It doesn’t become “wallpaper” that we hang up but is never used by students. Furthermore, as students hear you saying the parts of speech, repeat the words themselves, and see you writing the words at the same time, they are creating stronger neural connections because it involves multiple input modalities. 

Another scaffold is color coding. Each part of speech should be a different color to help students visually discriminate between them. It doesn’t matter what colors you use, but you do want to keep it consistent across the year (don’t use blue for adjectives in one unit and then blue for verbs in the next unit). You can also add sketches next to the words if your students need that level of support, whether they are emergent readers or multilingual learners.

Gather students in your meeting area to start. Tell them: “Today we are going to be learning about all the types of words we need to make a complete sentence. The first type of word we need is a noun. Say that with me: noun! Nouns are words that name a person, place, or thing. Our noun today is _____.”

Choose a noun that students have a lot of knowledge about, for example a character from a familiar text or something they have been studying in the content areas. Write this on the chart as you are talking. Unless you use a specific person, make the noun plural.

“Next, we need some adjectives.  Say that with me: adjectives! Adjectives are words that describe nouns.  Sometimes it helps to think about your five senses and how you can describe the noun.  What does it look, sound, feel, smell, and taste like? Turn to your partner and tell them some adjectives that describe____.  ____ are so…” After students generate ideas with their partners, record their adjectives on the chart.

“Now we need some verbs.  Verbs are action words, things the noun does.  Turn to your partner and tell them some actions that ____ do.” After students generate ideas with their partners, record their verbs on the chart, putting them in the present tense.

For students in 3rd grade and above, or sometimes beginning in the middle of 2nd grade, include adverbs.  Tell students, “the next type of word is an adverb.  Say that with me: adverb!  Adverbs describe how the verb is done.  In English, adverbs usually end in -ly.

Turn to your partner and tell them some adverbs that describe____.” After you record students’ adverbs on the chart, tell them, “There is one other adverb that doesn’t end in -ly and it is well.” Add well to the adverb column.

“Our last part of speech is the prepositional phrase.  Say that with me: prepositional phrase! Prepositional phrases tell us where or when something happens.  Tell your partner where/when ____ do these things.” Write the students’ ideas on the chart. You will probably need to guide students to use a variety of prepositions, otherwise you will end up with a list of phrases that all begin with at or in.

“Now that we have all of the parts we need for a sentence, we are going to make up sentences and sing them like this!” Using sticky notes to show which words to sing, choose 2 (if using adverbs) or 3 adjectives, the noun, 1 verb, 1 adverb (if using), and 1 prepositional phrase.  Then, sing them to the tune of “The Farmer and the Dell” like this 1st grade chart without the adverb:

Or like this 6th grade chart with the adverb:

You can also do the sentence patterning chart in Spanish and sing sentences to the tune of “La Cucaracha”

Once you have completed a Sentence Patterning Chart with your class, there are so many ways to use it: 

  • Have students move around the sticky notes to create and sing new sentences. It’s okay if they are silly!
  • Use the chart during writing workshop to help students add more descriptive vocabulary to their writing.  Challenge students to add more adjectives or include adverbs in their writing, for example. Make sure the chart is hung where they can access it independently.
  • Write the words on cards, matching the colors of the chart.  Give each team a set of words and let them unscramble them to make a complete sentence.  Then teams can take turns singing their sentences to the class.
  • Using the same word cards, give each team the correct number of cards needed, but not all of the parts of speech that they need.  They have to determine what parts they have extra of and what they are missing, then go around to other teams to trade for what they need to make a complete sentence.  Tell students they have to use the correct vocabulary and not the color when making trades (i.e. “Do you have an extra noun?” not “Do you have an extra blue word?”)
  • Students create and write their own sentences on sentence strips.  If needed, draw color-coded lines as a scaffold to help students create a complete sentence.
  • Teach students about different sentence structures.  Cut the prepositional phrase or adverb column off the end and move it to the beginning and create new sentences using this different form.  Or, do a lesson about conjunctions and teach students how to combine sentences, use more than one verb in a sentence, etc.
  • Teach grammar lessons about verb tenses by changing the verbs from present to past, future, etc., or teach about subject/verb agreement by changing the noun from plural to singular and making the verbs match.

The Sentence Patterning Chart is a fun, interactive way for students to learn about complete sentences and parts of speech. Have any other tips for teaching students about sentences and sentence structure?  Share them in the comments below.

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