Since the beginning of the school year, we have been focusing on organizing and writing complete paragraphs. Students can now organize a plan, write a variety of topic sentences, and compose a complete paragraph. It is now time to make our writing better – we are going to revise!
For years, we told our students to “add more details” or “make your writing more interesting.” Looking back, I’m sure they were all thinking, “It is already interesting. I don’t know what she’s talking about. I know – I’ll write my final copy in cursive.” Adding details and variety to sentence structure takes deliberate instruction and practice.
In mid-November we began a writing engagement which links both sentence fluency and preparation for the holidays – “The Messy Thanksgiving Table.” Imagining a Thanksgiving table which has been visited by some rather rambunctious guests, we wrote a basic sentence in the middle of our paper:
The turkey sat on the plate.
Prior to writing, everyone sketched how they imagined the turkey looking on the plate. As a group, we added a phrase to the beginning of our sentence, along with inserting adjectives and a where to our sentence.
Sitting on the silver platter, the leftover turkey is laying in a forgotten puddle of gravy.
After sharing our expanded sentences, we repeated the process with the sentence:
The mashed potatoes dripped.
It was soon transformed into:
Dripping down the side of the bowl like an avalanche, the mashed potatoes settled on the tablecloth and hardened into rocks.
The students were ready to take off on their own. As they chose their Thanksgiving treats, we discussed different ways to vary the sentences. Students considered when, where, and why as they revised their basic sentences describing the messy Thanksgiving table.
In order to transform these descriptive sentences into a piece of writing, we needed both an introduction and conclusion. As we discussed appropriate ways to begin and end this piece of writing, the students naturally realized that the sentences would flow into a compare and contrast piece of writing. All they needed to do was write a description of the table prior to the meal, with their newly revised sentences describing how the table looked after dinner! Excited about the writing, they eagerly went to work, brainstorming words which would be used to paint a picture of a dinner table waiting for Thanksgiving guests. Some student samples:
Before the Thanksgiving dinner, the turkey was warm and the table was shinier than a knight in shining armor. After dinner, the table looked completely different.
Before the Thanksgiving meal, the silverware was shining and the tablecloth was clean. The lights were shining like crystals on a sunny day and the food was in pretty bowls.
Before Thanksgiving dinner begins, all the food is steaming, mouths are watering, the tablecloth had no stains, all the napkins were clean, the silverware was sparkling and everyone was dressed nicely. Thanksgiving dinner was perfect, until dinner was over.
It was simple to add their stretched and revised sentences describing the Thanksgiving calamity to their introduction. A simple conclusion completed the writing!
It took us hours to clean up the mess. We are never inviting those people to dinner again!
As students shared their writing with peers, they were eager to repeat this process with another topic. Their suggestions were to describe the aftermath of Christmas, a birthday party, a sleepover or the classroom on the first and last day of school.
As we continue writing in class, whether it be in response to text, curricular areas, or prompts, we will reflect back on our Thanksgiving writing as an example of sentence fluency! The activity had achieved my best hope for my writers – they were engaged writers who were successful in improving their sentence fluency.