Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Writing Sentences

I was teaching a literacy lesson today for third graders.  There was a reading selection and then 3 pages of worksheets about the lesson.  I went over the directions for each section of the worksheet, slowly and carefully.  I emphasized that the students were to write their answers in COMPLETE sentences.  I reviewed what a complete sentence was: it begins with a capital letter; it ends with punctuation, and it expresses a complete idea.  I gave and elicited examples of complete sentences and sentence fragments.  Then I let the students work.  They worked very well and were completely focused on their work.

When they finished, they were to bring their work up to me to review, before turning it in.  AT LEAST two-thirds of them had failed to write complete sentences.  WHY??? Did they not understand  the directions? No, they understood the directions. Did they think that their sentence fragments were sentences?  No, they realized that they were not complete sentences.  WHY didn't they do the assignment correctly?  Blank looks.  So, I sent them back to re-do it.  And re-do it.  And re-do it.  Some of them took three or four tries before they were even close.

Oh, and these were gifted students.  I really don't understand why this is so often the case - and it is.  Not just in schools for gifted students, but for kids in a lot of elementary school classrooms.  They learn to spell a word for spelling instruction, but they spell it wrong in writing class.  They learn correct grammar on worksheets, but fail to use it in an essay.  They know how to write complete sentences and they know they are required, but they don't write them.

I am still puzzling out WHY???


  1. Hello Laura,

    I too am a substitute teacher. I love the job! I am in my 2nd year with Albuquerque Public Schools. Previous, I worked for 10 years in public schools in Maryland. I recently also beginning subbing in Rio Rancho Public Schools, which is also part of the Albuquerque Metro. I have had the same trouble getting the students to write complete sentences. And like you,I am puzzled too why students in the 2nd and 3rd grades have so much trouble writing complete sentences. I often wonder too, not only with writing but other subjects, it seems like you have to tell them over and over again what to do, and I do not recall having as much trouble when I lived back east. And a couple of weeks ago, I saw something very alarming on the front page of the local Sunday paper. There were some copies of letter written by high school seniors. When i saw these letters, I could not believe my eyes! Most of them wrote like grade schoolers. like first graders. Poor sentence structure, bad spelling and just about every grammatical error! I wish I had the answer to your questions. Maybe we blog more about this and come to a conclusion. Looking forward to your reply!

  2. I have thought a little about this since I wrote this blog post. So far, I have come up with three, slightly related possibilities:

    1) Teachers don't usually have time to hold them to the standard. With class sizes getting larger and larger, getting through written work takes longer and longer. There is so much to "cover" in a day, it is hard to hold students accountable for doing the work correctly. This is especially true if the teachers trade classes for some subjects. It isn't the job of the math teacher to make sure that the answers to math discussion questions are complete, well-written sentences; the ideas are more important.

    2) Teachers don't emphasize transference enough, i.e., we need to say more often, "You are learning correct spelling, because people expect you to USE it in your writing." and "You need to write complete, correct sentences, because in science, we need clarity; incomplete sentences are not as clear."

    3) These kids are growing up with autocorrect. Even as I type this, my misspelling of words is corrected. In word processors, even the grammar is corrected. Perhaps students think that autocorrect will solve all their problems with writing. It doesn't.

  3. I have also recently subbed for a high school German class. The assignment was to use 16 vocabulary words in sentences. At least half of the class forgot to use periods at the ends of their sentences. I sent them back to finish the work. These were 9th, 10th, and 11th graders.