Sentence Building

This is especially for the lower levels, but upper levels can benefit from this as well. With ESL, making sentences can be difficult especially if students don’t understand what each part of a sentence is and why. Here are some sentence building activities and strategies to try. Practice makes perfect!

  1. Stretch a Sentence – please click on link. This is a good way for students to create longer sentences and understand the ordering of a sentence.
  2. Categories (subject) – there are many ways to create categories, but for a simple example, students can focus on subject. Subject means who is the sentence about? Who is doing the action? Brainstorm different kinds of subjects. Subjects CAN be non-living things or places! But to start out easy, maybe just write about people and things. You can mind map subjects. Have students find subjects in sentences in their reading, creating them, in their gallery book, etc. They can highlight or make a shape to represent subject.
  3. Categories (verb) – going off of subject, the same can apply for verbs. Have students brainstorm what verbs are. You could also include a mini lesson on tenses if there is time. Again, students can highlight or draw shapes when finding verbs. Explain that verbs can also be internal, not always physically outward. ex: felt, heard, love, think, etc.
  4. Categories (object) – object can be very tricky as sometimes, object is an object phrase. More information about its role here.
  5. Order of Adjectives – this can be a fun activity for students as this can make for a veryyyyy looongggg sentence! In English, we use adjectives in a specific order, otherwise it doesn’t sound right. The order usually follows: Quantity or number, Quality or opinion, Size, Age, Shape, Color, Proper adjective (often nationality, other place of origin, or material), Purpose or qualifier as described on this website. example: There were five, ugly, large, 1-month-old, square, brown, German, cardboard, art boxes. Have students describe something very simple but by using as many of these adjectives in order. Students can then draw a picture of that object. Some worksheets to get you started can be found here.
  6. Unscrambling – unscrambling sentences forces students to really understand the meaning of words and the order of a sentence. You can definitely create your own in class or there are several worksheets (some fill in the blank) that can be writing or even cut out and glue. Site 1. Site 2.

Reading Strategies

Sometimes, reading can be hard to teach. Hopefully, some of these strategies can help teachers think of different way to approach reading especially for students that aren’t quite grasping the reading or the students that need a different challenge:

A. Actual ways to read:

  1. Popcorn – choose a student to read and then after a paragraph or sentence, that student will choose another student. The second student chooses another student, etc. (whole group)
  2. Script – assign a character to a student where they read only those parts out loud. One student could be narrator. Rotate per page, chapter, etc. (whole group, small group)
  3. Draw – randomize when and how much each student reads during class. (whole group, small group)
  4. Partner – students can read out loud to each other and take turns.
  5. Audio – not always an option, but listening to an audio recording (or the teacher!) can help students hear and learn reading expression.


B. How to make reading stick:

  1. Prediction – before reading, ask students to review what has happened. Then, have students think of what could happen next. Look at the pictures. Reread the last page, paragraph, or sentence of the last reading. Share ideas through writing, partner work, etc. You could even have students vote on some ideas and see if they are right! Definitely can do this after reading as well. ex: I think… because…
  2. Venn diagrams – great for understanding rich characters or events by comparing similarities and differences. Talk about those differences and whether they think anything will change.
  3. Sticky notes – students can most definitely use sticky notes inside their books to jot down notes about a character, setting, plot, or write a question. To branch off of sticky notes, you can use this as an ‘exit ticket‘ by having students answer a question by writing it down and giving it to teacher before heading off to break time / lunch time. This gives the teacher a good idea of what they are understanding or not understanding. You could even have different questions for each student if you choose.
  4. Create a picture – and I don’t mean drawing a picture. I mean reminding students to make a story in their head when reading. I usually tell them, “Make a movie in your head!” as I’m pointing to my brain.
  5. Point – some students literally look at the ceiling or pick at their shoe while others are reading. For one, that’s rude, for two, what are they getting out of reading the bottom of their shoe? I keep my students responsible for their reading by having them follow the story by pointing to the words (and making a movie in their head!). An extra popcorn challenge can mean students are reading but then teacher says popcorn randomly and if the second students doesn’t know where we are, start the page over!
  6. Mapping – this involved more writing but is a good visual representation of a story. Usually, it should be four – five boxes labeled with setting, theme, characters, problem, and solution. Students can write a sentence or two along with a drawing representing the setting, characters, etc.
  7. Summary notes – even with lower levels, I have tricked my students into creating their own summaries by having them tell me what happened in the beginning of the story and now the middle (ending will be for after the story has been read). I usually write it on the board with a B and M with a line between them. Students then give me ideas of what has happened. I would then guide students and ask, “What happened after ______?” and students that really understand the story can give excellent summaries–without even looking at their books!
  8. Game – I have created two teams in my class and randomly select student names to answer questions about the story. I threw in some vocabulary as well and they can get pretty competitive! Quite fun for the students and it reiterated what we have learned. Sometimes learning happens after reviewing materials rather than drilling new things all the time.

*It is OKAY to interrupt reading and have discussions during the reading! Don’t always wait until the end of the day’s reading–by that time, some information will be lost and can be overwhelming for students!*

Hopefully some of these strategies can help in your classroom. Modify as you see fit. Writing this down has helped me rethink about how I teach reading and what I need to include more of.