In our 3 class space we switch around learning groups depending on student needs, teacher needs and relationships. Currently I am teaching a group comprising 10 kids who are reading between 1 - 2years behind their chronological age and who are struggling to write complete sentences with sufficient detail.
An activity that I have tried in the past introduces the language of words and sentence structure and then encourages the children to play with the words to create different sentences which still hold essentially the same meaning.
10 years ago, PLD with Jannie van Hees introduced me to English grammar (despite 13years of schooling in NZ) and the importance of explicitly teaching grammar to ESOL students to enhance understanding of how words can be put together to create powerful sentences.
I made word packs with verbs, adjectives and adverbs - individually laminated and colour coded. Added to this are a small set of prepositions and blank cards for writing nouns.
To start with I'd give each group individually selected words that would make sentences - simply. The idea was to have the children be successful in putting the words together. Once the sentences were put together, we discussed the role of each word in the sentence and the power that they hold.
We spoke about verbs and how adverbs come in to play to modify the verb or to add more detail which gives the audience a greater understanding. We talked about nouns and how adjectives play a role in adding detail. We also looked at how prepositions can be used to add further context to a sentence. We played around with the order of the words and looked at how a sentence can still share the same message and use the same words - even if put in a different order.
The most powerful part of this activity is listening to the groups discuss and work through each set of words as they attempt to make the most detailed and powerful sentence. They argue with each other, back themselves and yet still listen when faced with a different point of view. We found that on most occasions, once the sentence is said out loud, the children were very quickly able to ascertain the validity of what they had constructed.
There is always great enjoyment in this particular activity and as we become more practiced at the grammar and structure, we are starting to choose the words blindly from the packs and are taking the opportunity to learn new vocabulary.