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Developing Sentence Level Skills

Mar 20th 2024

The development of sentence level skills is a key component in every child’s journey to mastering language. In primary school settings, there is a great emphasis on the specific teaching of these skills from EYFS through to year 6, and new skills are taught year on year. However, some pupils may be struggling with their literacy. Pupils can fall behind at any stage and what teachers put in place to support these children is important to ensuring they are given the best chance to close the gap.

Key Stage 2 is a key period for skills development in writing, building on the foundations of Key Stage 1. Quality first teaching with well-structured writing tasks for children to use their skills gives pupils the best opportunity to learn the skills they need. Development of sentence level skills will enable pupils to become more skilled writers. Using a targeted intervention to explicitly teach these is a highly effective way to achieve this.

Working Memory

It is important to consider working memory is the cognitive process used when people hold information in mind and manipulate it. When writing, for example, working memory enables a sentence to be held in mind while each word is recalled or segmented and monitoring writing. When writing, pupils must coordinate these processes in their working memory (the brain’s system for holding and using information while completing a task). Working memory has a limited capacity so many children find this challenging. However, with extensive practice, explicit instruction, and encouragement pupils can become more adept at using the overarching elements of writing and coordinating them in working memory can become less effortful.

What do we put in place for pupils who have not made the progress we would have liked?

Once those pupils who have fallen behind have been identified, plan interventions to provide opportunities for specific skill development. Small group interventions taught by the class teacher or a skilled TA will be the most effective way to teach the sessions. The EEF report ‘Improving Literacy in Key Stage 2’ (November 2021) gives seven recommendations to consider in order to improve children’s literacy skills.

 

For pupils who have fallen behind and are working below NC expectations, practising sentence construction through sessions which are additional to class English lessons is a highly effective way to make accelerated progress. Those children taking part in the sessions should be carefully identified and interventions based on specific areas of difficulty. Ideally a class teacher would deliver the sessions to small groups or one to one but as well as being the most effective way to deliver interventions, it is also the most expensive. For any intervention not taught by the class teacher, communication between the teacher and the teaching assistant delivering is important so that learning can be assessed, progress discussed, and next steps can be planned.

Pathways to Progress is a writing intervention designed to be delivered in addition to pupils’ English lessons. The programme is predominantly aimed at pupils working just below age-related expectations and it is based on EEF research into effective interventions.

Activities to consider to build sentence level skills (Years 3 and 4)

  • Oral and physical rehearsal of sentence construction
  • Ensure grammatical understanding of a simple sentence
  • Sentence combining
  • Evaluating and improving sentences
  • Modelling, collaborative construction, independent construction

These activities will deepen understanding of what sentences are and how they can be created. You will find planned out and sequenced lessons in Pathways to Progress which cover the skills above. Pupils need to be able to understand and construct simple sentences before they are ready to move on to the next steps.

Next steps in sentence development

  • Use ‘and’ to join simple sentences
  • Sequence sentences clearly
  • Use a range of conjunctions orally (and, but, because)
  • Use coordination
  • Use subordination
  • Use coordination and subordination to join sentences
  • Use fronted adverbials
  • Expand noun phrases with the addition

Some example activities from Pathways to Progress

Once children have mastered sentence construction and different sentence types, they can move on to look at and consider different genres, their features and conventions. They can use their newly learnt sentence construction skills for a range of different purposes. A firm grasp of sentence structure will also allow for wider grammar use all the while strengthening a pupil’s grasp of sentence structure and improving their confidence.

Role on the Wall

‘Role on the Wall’ can be used to develop sentence level skills. If the teacher scribes the ideas of the children before they use these ideas to form their own ideas. This could be for simple and compound sentence development, addition of adverbs, or using a range of conjunctions successfully.

Subordinating Conjunctions

A good activity to show that subordinating conjunctions can be used to add extra details or information to a main clause, is the table below. Show pupils that you can put the subordinate clause first and it still makes sense. Pupils select one sentence each from the set and try saying the sentence both ways by swapping the clauses. Which way sounds best?

Roll and Read

‘Roll and Read’ is a great word game where the pupils roll two dice and reading the word which matches the dice e.g. (in the table below), if the pupil rolls a three and a five, the word would be three along and five down – froth. The sentence maker must make an oral sentence using the word in the context of a displayed picture from the text. Pupils then take turns to make sentences.

Once children have mastered sentence construction and different sentence types, they can move on to look at and consider different genres, their features and conventions. They can use their newly learnt sentence construction skills for a range of different purposes. A firm grasp of sentence structure will also allow for wider grammar use all the while strengthening a pupil’s grasp of sentence structure and improving their confidence.

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