Writing Lesson: Expanding Sentences

If you're like me, you've read your share of rough drafts that were vague and difficult to follow. Student-authors often forget that the reader was not present when the event took place, and the author fails to develop important details that will help the reader visualize the scene. Over the years, I have come to realize that most students will benefit from receiving explicit instruction on how to expand dull, short sentences in a way that will help the reader picture the event they are describing. Today, I am going to outline a minilesson that focuses on expanding sentences.

Expanding Sentences: This blog post features a writing lesson and anchor chart. Teach your upper elementary students how to expand their sentences when revising.

#1- Outline the problem.

We stood outside for twenty minutes.

After writing that sentence on the board, ask students to judge whether it's a strong sentence or a weak sentence. You'll likely receive a mix of answers, as some students will rate it as "strong" because it doesn't contain any misspelled words or errors that need to be edited. Other students, however, will judge it as "weak" because it is rather short.

As you wrap up the discussion, clearly state that this sentence is rather weak because it is missing key information. Point out that the author does not provide enough information that will guide the reader to accurately visualize the scene. For instance, is the author and his friends standing outside on a hot summer day, waiting for the local swimming pool to open? Or is the author and his grandfather standing outside on a fall day, watching as the leaves peacefully flutter to the ground? Ask students to suggest a few other possibilities of what might be happening in the midst of this vague sentence.

#2- Provide the solution.

Expanding Sentences Anchor Chart- The author models how to revise a piece of writing by looking for sentences to expand. Revise vague sentences by adding an adjective or telling WHEN, WHERE, HOW or WHY something happened. Freebie included!

I use an anchor chart to show students how the vague sentence can be expanded. I begin by taping the adjective arrow to the chart and reminding students that inserting an adjective into a sentence is one of the easiest and most effective ways for an author to help the reader visualize the scene. Just by adding the word "miserable" to this sentence, the reader can begin to more accurately picture the event. 

Also, when we get to the "where" arrow, we discuss how "outside" is rather vague, and I replace it with phrases that pinpoint the exact location where the event took place. Furthermore, when we get to the "how" arrow, I decide to add another adjective because it helps the reader understand how cold the author was during the event.

After taping each successive arrow onto the anchor chart, I expand the sentence by addressing the question implied by each arrow. After writing the final sentence on the anchor chart, we contrast it with the original vague sentence, and we discuss how the reader is able to accurately visualize the scene after reading the revised sentence.

Important! Explain to students that for the purpose of the anchor chart, it worked well to address each and every expansion tip (written on the arrows) within one sentence. However, authors rarely address all five tips within one sentence of a story. It is much more common to find an expanded sentence that addresses just a few of the expansion tips. 

(If you would like to re-create this anchor chart for your own students, click here to download the arrows.)

#3- Apply the lesson.

Ideally, you want to have time at the end of the class period for students to revise a piece of their own writing. If students have a rough draft in their writing folder, have them take it out and look for sentences that can be expanded. If time allows, ask student volunteers to share revisions with the entire class.


This Expanding Sentences PowerPoint is part of a writing bundle that is available in my TpT store. Feel free to check it out if you're looking for a complete resource that's ready to go!

Expanding Sentences PowerPoint- Students learn to expand sentences by adding adjectives and telling WHEN, WHERE, HOW, or WHY an event happened. This resource can be used to create an ideal writing minilesson for upper elementary students. This PowerPoint includes a companion handout and two practice worksheets, as well!


Also, you will find this related personal anchor chart in my set of 5th grade language anchor charts.
Expanding Sentences: A Personal Anchor Chart for a Writing Notebook

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