Ask most children to improve their sentences and they add in a string of adjectives. Eyes become ‘sapphire blue’; trees become ‘ancient’ and houses become ‘old, dusty and spooky’. Ask them to improve their sentences in a different way and you might see some adverbs or similes appearing. Characters begin to move ‘cautiously’ or ‘slowly’; clouds move ‘quickly’ across the sky and children are ‘as quiet as mice’.
I wanted my Y5/6 class to think more in terms of punctuation when improving their sentences: how could we ‘add value’ to our sentences by improving the punctuation rather than just adding in description?
I decided to charge them for their punctuation and challenge them to write expensive sentences. Although I had already decided on the price of each piece of punctuation, as soon as I introduced the concept, a discussion began about which punctuation should be more expensive, and why. We discussed the idea that no sentences could be completely free of charge, which encouraged discussion about what a sentence actually is.
The children were presented with their price list, a maximum budget of £10 and some ‘low value’ sentences to add value to, using a modelled/shared/pair/independent way of working. They were engaged from the outset and soon their competitive natures were piqued as they fought to be the person to, initially, make the most expensive sentence within £10 and then, make a sentence using exactly £10.
The discussion was rich. Peer review happened naturally as children checked each other’s sentences for sense, ‘value’ and accuracy. All children were able to access the learning at their own level, and understanding of ‘higher value’ punctuation was certainly deepened and consolidated.
Of course the children changed, improved and substituted words, but, because of the nature of the task, the vocabulary changes went beyond adding in description.
Only a week or so after the lesson, the notion of ‘adding value to a sentence’ is becoming embedded and children are responding to my feedback to add value by looking at punctuation alongside vocabulary. Success!
Rachel Preece-Dawson is a Key stage 2 teacher at Sheriffhales primary school in Shropshire. You can find her over on Twitter @rpd1972