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The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast | ELA

Apr 18, 2024


Welcome to the Thursday edition of The Spark Creativity Teacher Podcast, a podcast for English teachers in search of creative teaching strategies. Whether you’re new to the show or a long-time listener, I’m so glad you’re here for this week’s mini episode. Today, I want to share a fun visual trick for helping students vary their sentence structure. 

I never really thought about sentence length until I was writing professionally. Sure, I knew to avoid run-on sentences, how to wield a semicolon, and what an appositive could do. But really it was when I realized I wanted to vary my sentence LENGTH in the articles I was writing for other websites that I started playing with structure more. 

I wanted punchy moments.

I also wanted long, detailed stories that could twist and turn through the text, capturing my reader’s imagination with sensory imagery and vivid descriptions.

The combination of both led to more exciting writing with more varied types of structure. It’s not that I went into a line thinking “I want to use an appositive, three commas, and a semicolon here.” It’s that I was trying to write a long sentence after a short sentence, so I experimented.

There’s an easy way to guide students to do the same thing. I call it “Shaped Stories.” Simply create a handout or slide with a photo at the top, and a big black rectangle down below. Then add white rectangles on the big black one, each a space for students’ sentences going down the page, and make the white rectangles different sizes. Leave a tiny rectangle where a sentence will have to be just two or three words. Then add a wide, tall one where a sentence would have to be complex to fill it. Then try medium-size, and so on and so forth down the page.

When you invite students to set a story inside the picture prompt at the top, ask them to fill each box completely with their sentences. Show them your example, and feel free to review a few types of sentence structures that might help them out. 

When it comes to varied sentence structure, shaped stories are an easy (and fun) hack for helping students practice. That’s why this week I want to highly recommend you take a peek at the visuals in the show notes for inspiration and then give it a try. 

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