12 Helpful Scripts for Word & Sentence Level Routines
Updated: Jul 11
First, I think it is important to distinguish between writing that we do “at the word and sentence level” (to practice spelling patterns for decoding/word recognition, and syntax/grammar), and writing that we do “at the paragraph/story/longer text level” (which requires thinking about and transcribing knowledge, critical/creative flow, and idea organization). While we encourage editing of all writing, we also want to make sure we are setting aside time for specific “sentence-writing practice” to make sure that students practice writing sentences that include the spelling patterns we are teaching and grammar and writing conventions. The questions below are intended to support students in learning to read and write at the word and sentence-level, however they may also be helpful in editing longer pieces of writing (which should take up the greater part of the day).
Nod your head "yes" often, smile, and state specifically what they did well (e.g., “you found ALL the sounds in that word!”). Acknowledge where they were coming from (e.g., yes, you are right, that should say /e/ like in “eat”). Then give corrective feedback (e.g., “I haven’t taught you this yet, but we are going to learn that “ea” sometimes makes the /short e/ sound, like in “bread”). Making mistakes is a necessary part of learning to read and spell, and for some students, this can be a Herculean task. Never underestimate the power that your smile, facial expressions, and body language have in reducing stress and helping students continue to be open to learning.
2. “I haven’t taught you this yet, but…”
Help students understand that it takes a while to learn all of the spelling patterns and writing conventions in English, and that there are some things you have not taught them yet. You can add words that contain spelling patterns to a WILD WORD board until you teach them the patterns explicitly. Place everything that is “WILD” (words that don’t follow the rules, or words don’t follow the rules that have been taught so far) on a Wild Word board, and simply remove them once you have taught the pattern, or once all students have mastered the words.
3. “How do you know…?” When a student makes an error (e.g., says or writes /tack/ for /take/), ask, “How do you know that says take?”. If they aren't sure, help them focus on the vowel by asking other questions:
“What is the most important part of the word?” (answer: "the vowel").
Ask them to point to or underline the vowel.
In this case (with "tack"), I might say, "Are there letters that come after it? (yes) So, what does that tell us the vowel says?
If they are still not sure, I might also ask, “How do you know what the vowel says?” or "What kind of syllable is this?" (review the 6 syllable types which tell us what the vowel says).
By focusing their attention on the vowel, we can teach them to get to the heart of the matter by getting them to notice and name the syllable type and remind them how this helps us know what the vowel says. Show them the syllable types visually or use hand movements to refresh their memory. For the most part, I usually only have to use these additional routine questions for closed and open syllables (the majority of the syllable types). The rest will be more obvious as they learn about silent e, vowel teams and bossy 'r' spelling patterns.
4. “Is this a complete sentence? What two things make up a complete sentence?” (“A capital at the beginning, and a period at the end” - or ?/!). Help them be more self-sufficient in editing by asking these two simple questions repeatedly (after you have taught them explicitly).
5. “I see 3 things that could be better. Can you find them?” After they have written a sentence, note what they did WELL (e.g., "Super! I see a capital at the beginning, and a period at the end - well done!"), and then turn editing into a kind of game – can they ‘spy’ the errors? If there are more than 3-4 errors, think about how you may reduce the difficulty of the sentences you give them so that they can achieve 95% success, and feel confident in writing complete sentences with few errors.
6. What is the BASE word of _____ (e.g., taking)?
When we ask students to write sentences with words that contain suffixes (e.g., s, es, ed, ing, ly, etc), we need to teach them that there are 3 MAIN SPELLING RULES when adding a suffix:
1) Doubling Rule (if the base word has one vowel, and one consonant after it, we double the final consonant - if the suffix begins with a vowel).
2) Take off the “e” Rule (if the base word ends in an “e”, we “take off the e” if the suffix begins with a vowel).
3) Change “y” to “I” Rule (if the base word ends in a “y”, we change the “y” to an “i” before adding a suffix -except “ing”, or except when the “y” is part of a vowel team (e.g., “ay”, “oy”).
Asking students “What is the base word?” is an excellent question when both reading and writing. When reading, you can ask, “Which word is the “Doubling Rule” word on this page?” (e.g., ‘chatting’, ‘passing’, ‘swimming’)”. Or “Which word is the “Take off the “e” Rule” word on this page?” (e.g., baking, naming, hoping). They love hunting for these words! Just keep asking, “What is the base word?” and then draw or show them a little visual to help them remember the 3 main spelling rules. When writing (e.g., 'hoping'), ask, "What is the base word?", and just focus on writing the base word first. It's all about that base!! ;)
7. Is this word a noun, adjective, or verb? Again, use a little visual to support them in distinguishing these simple parts of speech. You could also turn this into a little game by asking them to circle the nouns, underline the verbs, and put a jagged line around the adjectives in one of the sentences (but note that research has not demonstrated the effectiveness of this technique (sentence diagramming), so it is just something I do with one sentence occasionally to reinforce the parts of speech).
8. What adjective could we add to this noun to make it more interesting? You could also ask them to add interesting adjectives to their nouns. Discuss the idea that some adjectives are more descriptive/helpful for the reader than others (e.g., 4 red, big, cars, as opposed to several economical, electric, luxurious cars, etc.).
9. How do we change "sip" to "sipped"? What sound does the "ed" make at the end of "sipped"?
Helping students attend to the sound of 'ed' regularly makes it easier for them to master adding this suffix when writing. You could do the same with any suffix (e.g. How do we change 'sip' to 'sips'?; 'sip' to 'sipping'?; what sound does the 'es' make in 'dishes'?).
10. How could we extend this sentence?
I pretend I am stretching an elastic band with my fingers, and they know that this means we need to make the sentence longer and more interesting, often using a LINKING word. Show them a little cue card and have them make up several sentences using
different linking words to see which one would be more effective (e.g., "I went to the store, but...; I went the store, and...; I went to the store, because...). You could also try this by giving them a word to begin their sentences (e.g., After, Although, As, Because, Before, If, Since, Unless, Until, When, While...).
11. Which vowel can't you hear very well in this word? What is the "schwa" sound in this word?
For words that contain two or more syllables (e.g., kitten), there will often be a "schwa" sound, which is a vowel that you cannot hear clearly. It sort of sounds like a cross between short u, short i, and short e...only shorter. Lol. It is what the vowel sounds like when it is not stressed. The "e" in "kitten" is barely noticeable when you say the word quickly and definitely doesn't sound like a clear short e sound, and so we call this a 'schwa' sound. Children love to find the schwa sound when reading words, however spelling the schwa can be problematic. I often just tell them the spelling of the schwa, and that choosing an "e" is a good place to start.
12. Can you give me a sentence for that word?
Creating sentences orally is extremely helpful for vocabulary development (which can lead to some good discussions), and may also support the process of orthographic mapping as a word's sounds, spellings, AND MEANING are stored in memory together in the brain. When we struggle to say what we want to say orally (because we do not understand the vocabulary or syntax- the order that words go in a sentence), it is much more challenging to write. It is a good exercise to ask students to create sentences often while writing words, and include adjectives and linking words orally too, even if they don't end up writing them.
"Keep it simple, but not simpler."
(One of my favourite Einstein quotes)
The hand movements in the Syllable Types bulletin board picture came from training I received at the Scottish Rite Learning Centres in 2010. These hand signals came from Cory Zylstra at Reach Learning Centre: https://www.reachlearningcentre.com/about-us I have used these ever since!