On Saturday we went to the zoo. We saw the elephants. And then we saw some zebras. And then we saw some lions. And then we saw some tigers. And then we saw some monkeys. And then we went home.
Does your kids' writing sound like this? I've found that even my strongest writers tend to start their sentences in similar ways. To address this issue, here's what I did with my 2nd grade kiddos:
1. Compose a paragraph as a class. Choose a topic that will be interesting and familiar to the kids (i.e. a recent fire drill, special project or activity, or field trip). Have them describe it to you, step by step. Write the paragraph on the board as you go, making sure to start all of the sentences the same (i.e. We heard the fire alarm go off. We stood up. We were very quiet. We got in line.). Then, reread the paragraph as a class. Point out that it sounds a little boring, and ask if the kids have any idea why. Hopefully someone will notice that all of the sentences start the same!
2. Identify sentence beginnings. Take a different colored marker and have kids come up, one by one, and circle the word that starts each sentence. Even when you tell kids that "all the sentences start the same," they may not know what you mean.
3. Revise the paragraph. Have the kids help you revise the paragraph. It's helpful if you teach this lesson after kids already know what transition words are, because using transition words is a relatively easy way to revise some of the sentence beginnings. I had an anchor chart of transition words in my classroom and the kids referred to it while we were revising. You can also encourage kids to combine sentences with conjunctions (but make sure you've already taught a separate lesson on that skill).
4. Have the kids select a piece of their own writing to revise. After you've revised the paragraph you composed as a class, ask each child to select a piece of his/her own writing to revise. Encourage the kids to choose a writing sample where they think they may have started many of their sentences similarly.
5. Get highlighting! Pass out highlighters and have the kids begin by highlighting or underlining the first word in each of their sentences. Monitor them closely, because some of my kids still didn't know how to find the first word in each of their sentences.
6. Help the kids revise. Encourage students to choose different ways to begin their sentences. If there's no room on the page, give them small sticky notes and have them write the word/phrase on the sticky note, then place it on top of their original sentence beginning. Some of their new sentence beginnings may sound awkward, but at least it's a start!
Even after you teach this lesson, I think it's important to revisit the concept multiple times throughout the year. After you've worked on this skill a few times, it can become an expectation (perhaps written into a rubric) that students vary their sentence beginnings. You might leave highlighters somewhere in the room so that students can easily access them during the revising/editing process.
My 1st and 2nd grade writing units are designed to repeatedly review important concepts (like starting sentences in different ways) throughout the year, so students continue to practice these skills. Check them out by clicking on the images below!