Teaching Complete Sentences Using a Tree Map

September 4, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Posted in differentiated instruction, graphic organizers, second grade, thinking maps, writing | 3 Comments

This is a new idea for me. I’m still working out the kinks. Let me know if you have any suggestions.

My second graders have difficulty writing in complete sentences, even my most advanced students. I recently started using a tree map, a targeted graphic organizer, to teach students how to write in a complete sentence.

complete sentences tree map

Introductory Lesson

I first introduced the Complete Sentences tree map to my students as a whole group because they all need to learn this. Later on, I took it to small groups to work with students who have particular difficulties with this. We talked about what a sentence needs in order to be complete. The students immediately say “A capital letter!” and “A punctuation mark!” Kudos to them! They’ve been listening! Next, I explicitly tell them that a complete sentence needs a subject and a predicate, and a predicate needs a verb. I show them the tree map already mostly charted, except for some words in the predicate. I point out the subject. We talk about it being the Who and What of a sentence. We talk about the predicate, it being the What Happens. We talk about how crucial it is to have verb in the predicate or we don’t get any What Happens whatsoever. Yes, we use the academic language.

Then, I model orally pulling out simple sentences from the tree map. “The bear is brown.” Students catch on pretty quickly from the pattern and give me sentences like “The bear eats honey.” More advanced students are already pulling out “The bear eats honey and fish.” We also pull out non-examples or examples that are wrong. What happens when you leave off the subject? “Likes to play.” What happens when you leave off the verb? “The bear honey.” These are all common mistakes when students write, so a discussion on what is wrong is invaluable to them.

Next, I model pulling out simple sentences and writing them correctly with appropriate capitalization and punctuation. (I also model writing in a paragraph format. I know that’s not the focus of the lesson, but I expect my students to always write in a paragraph format, so I must model its use at all time.) Finally, students go off to practice writing complete sentences in their writing journal using the class created tree map. No, students aren’t creating the tree maps themselves. That’s an entirely different lesson. (I must insist on the paragraph format though, sorry.) We are focusing exclusively on writing complete sentences.

Second Lesson

I start by asking students what does a sentence need to be complete? I already have the new tree map charted, without the words subject, verb, and predicate in place. We fill those in during the discussion. Your typical students will say “A capital letter!” Good for them! That’s one student who has got that standard down! More advanced students will begin to say “verb, subject” and a strange variant of “predicate”. Then, we pull out a few simple sentences. Again, some students will start to use conjunction or a pronoun for the subject. If the student brings it up at this point, I add it to the tree map or I praise the student for the complex sentence and encourage other students to use pronouns or complex sentences when they are ready. I also start to encourage descriptive language (dark, green). After doing this orally, we return to our seat to practice.

Differentiated Instruction

You can already see how I begin to differentiate instruction using what the students bring to the lesson and then encouraging one step more. I use the words “when you are ready” a lot initially, then I start to suggest to certain students to try the next step. The writings are very varied, depending on the students’ ability. I have three students who are straight on using simple sentences, no pronouns. I have a few more students who are playing with the pronoun, some who are using the conjunction “and” and a small group of students are using more complex sentences with descriptive words and phrases.

Independent Practice

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I haven’t had a third lesson as a whole group yet, this being a new thing in our class. BUT, I have had small group instruction going over simple sentences for my struggling writers. I have also added this activity as part of my morning routines so that students come in and immediately start writing complete sentences while I take roll. After two whole group lessons, most students can write complete sentences using a teacher created tree map. Now, during our regular writing lessons, we can talk about what a sentence needs to be complete. During revisions, we can talk about what this student’s sentence needs in order to be complete. It is now part of the language and the norm of our classroom.

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Effect on Independent Writing

What is the effect on students own independent writing? This is really just a four days old lesson, so I can’t really say yet. I can say that we can point to an incomplete sentence and revise it easily now, rather than have students stare blankly at me when I demand a complete sentence. I predict that with time and consistent practice, more and more of my students will be able to write independently in complete sentences without prompting.

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3 Comments »

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  1. What a great idea! I’m going to try this with my third-graders–I’ll let you know how it goes.

  2. City teacher- how did this end up working for you? I am also a “city teacher” and have been deeply trained in thinking maps except for the writing part of it. Our district decided they are not sure if it will help! I hope to take it next summer no matter what with another district but I am dieing to know how the maps are working for you in writing. Did this help with complete sentences? How about for you ESL population? Did you tweak it at all?

  3. Tripteach, it went really really stinking well and is now a permanent part of my repertoire. I’ve used it for two years now. My students, even the really low reader/writer can write in a complete sentence (and read their own sentences!) using the tree map, but my strategic students and above regularly write in complete sentences and independently recognizes when it isn’t. My ESL and non-standard English students really benefited from this because of the oral component. From this simple start, I’ve actually extended to more complicated sentences and by the end of the year my students are working on descriptive, complex and compound sentences.


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