Sentence Combining

sentence level revision

UDL 2.2 UDL 5.3

Sentence Combining is a writing and revision strategy that involves teaching students to develop sentence variety, connect ideas, and increase clarity by revising and/or combining sentences. Students learn to identify problem sentences and effectively apply multiple ways to improve sentences, which helps students revise more substantively and independently leading to enhanced quality and clarity of writing. Sentence Combining involves sharing specific strategies through structured and open-ended exercises as students revise on the sentence level and eventually revise their own drafts. Teachers lead students through structured sentence improvement exercises in mini-lessons (e.g., about determining subjects of sentences, grouping related ideas, combining with transitions and phrases, adding detail and complexity). Later, teachers implement open-ended activities, such as combining teacher-supplied sentences effectively or de-combining long, confusing sentences with a partner. Finally, students are ready to apply several methods to revise their writing drafts independently.

Implementation Tips

Identify Sentences to Improve
Scan a writing sample to identify problem sentences that are short, choppy, repetitive, or start the same way. Underline or highlight these sentences during the revision process. Discuss ways to improve these sentences for the final draft. Suggest transition word/phrases and sentences that could be combined.
Combining Related Ideas
Reread the identified “problem sentences” to determine which sentences are about related ideas. Group these sentences together into compound or compound-complex sentences using transition words and phrases. Elaborate on ideas with reasons and details as needed while increasing sentence variety.
Conjoining Words
Suggest how to use a variety of conjunctions (e.g., for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so, however, therefore). Provide sample sentences and nonexamples. Display conjoining words for quick reference and teach the mnemonic FANBOYS (e.g., for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so).
Transitions and Sentence Starters
Demonstrate how transitions help readers connect ideas. Directly instruct (and display in an anchor chart) new sentences starters and transition words/phrases (e.g., In addition to, On the other hand). Learning new ways to introduce ideas and connect ideas mid-sentence provides students with a toolbox for creating sentence variety.
Combining and Rearranging Sentences
Analyze if new combined sentences fit into the flow of writing in the same location or should be moved. Read aloud for fluency and understanding after combining sentences. Students could ask: “Does your new sentence fit in the same place?” “Does it make sense? Improve the paragraph? Enhance reader understanding?”
Teach students to elaborate by asking questions like, “What detail could be added to lengthen the sentence?” Sometimes students have ideas or more information (e.g., quotes, evidence, reasons) not yet included in written form. Details will develop and clarify ideas while also enhancing sentence variety.
Compare, Diagnose, Operate (CDO)
Introduce this mnemonic device to help students remember this sentence combining strategy when self-editing. Students will determine if a sentence works the way it is written (**C**ompare), and if not, **D**iagnose the problem, and **O**perate (apply) a solution (e.g., add transitions, combine sentences, remove sentence, etc.).


Introducing Sentence Combining: Why and How
The teacher explains why sentences should be combined and a relevant strategy to apply. *”Sometimes we as writers use the same sentence structure repeatedly. Let’s practice creating more complex and compound sentences to highlight our great ideas. Varying sentences helps writers connect ideas and improves writing style.* Teacher displays sample short sentences. *“These sentences are too short and choppy. We should combine sentences using prepositional phrases or transitional words/phrases.”* Teacher displays sample words/phrases and whole class (or partners) rewrites sentences together in different ways to show multiple options for revision.
Mini-Lesson Sequence for Sentence Combining
In a series of mini-lessons, first the teacher helps students identify sentences in drafts that should be improved. Teacher shares exemplar sentences (e.g. sentences of varied length and complexity, precise word choice), thinking aloud about why these are strong sentences. Teacher shares sentences that need to be improved (e.g. short, choppy, repetitive, unclear), then practice improving together. More mini-lessons might include 1) determining the topic of sentences, 2) applying strategies to combine related sentences, 3) adding new sentence starters and transitions, and 4) increasing overall readability to determine if new sentences work within the flow of the writing.
Mnemonics for Sentence Revision
After teaching sentence combining skills and exercises, the teacher shares mnemonic strategies for independent revision. Students apply CDO. First, Compare sentences with how they contribute to the overall goal of writing. In order to Diagnose if sentences could be improved, students ask questions like: 1) Does it communicate intended message?
2) Is it useful?
3) Will readers feel confused?
4) Will readers be interested in what it says?
Students Operate a solution, solve the problem by revising or cutting the sentence. The teacher shares mnemonic CATS for combining sentences.
**C**ombine Details
**T**ransitions and
**S**entence Starters

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