Teach Newcomers (ELLs) How to Write Longer Sentences

This is a wonderful exercise to encourage English language learners (ELs) at all levels to expand their writing by including more details. I do this fun exercise a couple times a week to develop better writing.
First, I review the poster and point out how different details answer each question. Then, I write a two-word sentence on the board such as - It ran. With the help of the class we expand the sentence to answer all the questions. The result might look like this - Just now a black squirrel ran quickly up the tree because a dog barked.
Next, I divide my students into groups of three to four and give them a new two-word sentence to stretch. They labor together to write a joint sentence with details for about five minutes. Meanwhile, I wander around the room listening, observing, and answering questions. This gives me insight into my students' strengths and weaknesses.
Lastly, I write each group's sentence on the board and review how each detail answers a question. I often point out grammar or vocabulary that is used correctly. On occasion I correct a sentence. Usually students copy these sentences and spend time reviewing them later. Most of the groups produce regular sentences, but there is always a group which produces a humorous sentence such as - On Christmas night Santa Claus ate Lo Mein with chopsticks on the roof because he was hungry.
This simple exercise causes English language learners to think about including more details and write longer sentences in other writing assignments. It also teaches them how to use grammar in context. Appositives are easy to teach during this exercise. Students will debate as where to put adverbs, prepositional phrases, and commas. They deliberate over which words to use for adjectives or causation.
In addition to improving writing, this simple exercise also includes speaking and listening through the element of discussion. I like to use group work in my class because it contains speaking with a purpose. Often I hear students telling a story in an effort to influence the direction of a sentence. Sometimes they go way off track and just enjoy talking. From my perspective, this builds community and friendships which are extremelly valuable to ELs. I hope you try this fun practical exercise with your English language learners.

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