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Writing is one of three main components of the literacy block. As such, it receives dedicated time, but should be considered intertwined with reading and language development. Writing instruction should be systematic, explicit, and include active practice through both guided and independent writing opportunities. Writing is a higher order thinking task that requires explicit instruction, abundant practice, and individualized feedback on sentence structure and conventions, the craft of writing, and the writing process.

To provide coherent instruction in writing, and to meet the unique needs of all students, teachers must have access to high-quality curriculum materials from which to plan. The CURATE project provides information about published curricular materials and resources for high-quality curricular materials.

Connections Between Writing and Other Strands of Literacy

The development of writing is closely linked to the development of the reading, language, speaking and listening strands of literacy. In the Massachusetts 2017 English Language Arts and Literacy Framework , Guiding Principle 6 states "Students should have frequent opportunities for discussing and writing about their readings in order to develop critical thinking skills and to demonstrate understanding." Specifically, Writing standards 1, 2, 3, and 7 and Reading standard 1 require students to write using evidence from what they have read. In addition, active engagement in speaking and listening promotes language development and links to stronger writing.

Sentence Structure and Conventions: What Are These and Why Do They Matter?

Sentence structure includes simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentence types. Conventions refer to the "widely accepted practices of English punctuation, grammar, and usage that are taught in schools" (Massachusetts 2017 English Language Arts and Literacy Framework , pages 183–184).

Students need explicit instruction and practice in writing grammatically correct complete sentences in Grades K–3 in order to become proficient writers. "When basic writing skills become relatively effortless for students, they can focus less on these basic writing skills and more on developing and communicating their ideas. However, younger writers must typically devote considerable attention to acquiring and polishing these skills before they become proficient. Problems with basic writing skills have an impact on the quality of a person's writing" (Graham et al., 2018).

Culturally Responsive Practice and Writing, Sentence Structure, and Conventions

Peer-assisted learning opportunities are supportive for learning in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. Many children benefit from the opportunity to learn with their peers rather than working independently —this can include talking together while completing tasks side-by-side; working actively together on a task, as in a center activity; or being paired up to help each other with a new task. Additionally, the IES Practice Guide includes "encouraging students to collaborate as writers" and "providing students with opportunities to give and receive feedback throughout the writing process' as part of their evidence-based recommendations in Teaching Elementary School Students to Be Effective Writers (2012). In her Cult of Pedagogy blog post, Zaretta Hammond (2015) describes three strategies to increase cultural responsiveness, including "making it social."

The process of deconstructing text examples and then co-constructing new texts together is supportive for all students and particularly for students learning English (Brisk, 2015; Spycher, 2017). Sentence structure and conventions, like many aspects of literacy, is an area in which young children need explicit instruction and repeated practice. However, independent practice tasks like worksheets are not necessary. Collaborative practice opportunities could include:

  • Assigning a shared task to a group of students, encouraging and teaching students how to help each other.
  • Supporting students in collaborative groups to construct new text modeled after an example.
  • Creating peer feedback structures so that students can provide each other feedback on their own authentic writing.

Research-Based Instruction for Supporting Students with Sentence Structure and Conventions

"Teachers should focus sentence-level instruction on sentence construction, encouraging students to consider the meaning and syntax of the sentences they develop. Teachers also should explicitly demonstrate how sentence construction and sentence mechanics, such as punctuation and capitalization, interact to form strong sentences" (Graham et al., 2018 ). It is important to note that linguistic variation in syntax should not be considered an error. Students who use a nonmainstream dialect of English "would benefit from explicit instruction for developing syntactic awareness that respects their home language while drawing attention to the differences" between the students' spoken language or dialect and mainstream or academic English (Keys to Literacy, 2021). Research has found that increasing student awareness of their dialect use can help improve students' skills in both reading and writing in mainstream English (Johnson, et al., 2017).

While these topics require explicit instruction and practice, they should be integrated into students' own writing. Rather than thinking about sentence structure and conventions as a separate "grammar block," teach these skills in connection with meaningful writing tasks and help students transfer these developing skills into their authentic written work.

In the Massachusetts 2017 English Language Arts and Literacy Framework , standards for sentence structure and conventions are included in the Language strand (see L1 and L2 for each grade level).

Resources for Teaching Sentence Structure and Conventions

Leveraging Linguistic Assets for Multilingual Learners

English learners must have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all literacy instruction. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors and 2020 ELD Standards Framework highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development and help educators plan for instruction that fosters high expectations and equity of access for ELs. For additional information, see this set of Five Instructional Practices and Instructional Strategies for Centering MLLs in Early Literacy Instruction (Instruction Partners).

  • Particular aspects of English syntax may be unfamiliar to English learners and can be integrated into writing instruction (for instance, explicitly teaching past verb tense while students work on writing personal narratives). Sentence reducing (breaking complex sentences into a series of simple sentences) and sentence combining (combining simple sentences into complex ones) are effective practices for instruction on syntax (Saddler, Behforooz, & Asaro, 2008).
Supports for English Learners
  • Provide support with word lists, word banks, sentence frames, and similar supports, if students need them, when asking students to focus on building sentences.
  • Design guided writing practice activities to focus on grammatical features that need attention
  • Provide language models, guided practice, clear explanations, and explicit corrective feedback on sentence structure (Kim et al., 2011).

Sources of Information for Educators: Sentence Structure and Conventions

Brisk, M. E. (2015). Engaging Students in Academic Literacies: Genre-based Pedagogy for K–5 Classrooms. New York: Taylor & Francis.

Graham, S., Bollinger, A., Booth Olson, C., D'Aoust, C., MacArthur, C., McCutchen, D., & Olinghouse, N. (2012). Teaching elementary school students to be effective writers: A practice guide (NCEE 2012-4058). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Hammond, Z. (2015, April 1). Three tips to make any lesson more culturally responsive [Blog post].

Johnson, L., Terry, N. P., Connor, C. M., & Thomas-Tate, S. (2017). The effects of dialect awareness instruction on nonmainstream American English speakers. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 30(9), 2009–2038.

Keys to Literacy (2021). Culturally responsive literacy instruction: A white paper by Keys to Literacy. Rowley, MA: Keys to Literacy.

Kim, J., Olson, C. B., Scarcella, R., Kramer, J., Pearson, M., van Dyk, D., … Land, R. (2011). A randomized experiment of a cognitive strategies approach to text-based analytical writing for mainstreamed Latino English language learners in grades 6 to 12. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 4(3), 231–263.

Saddler, B., Behforooz, B., & Asaro, K. (2008). The effects of sentence-combining instruction on the writing of fourth grade students with writing difficulties. The Journal of Special Education, 42(2), 79–90.

Spycher, P. (2017). Scaffolding writing through the "teaching and learning cycle." San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

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Last Updated: September 9, 2022

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