Sentence Structure for MLs

Sentence Structure for MLs

sentence structure

Sentence structure is how the different parts of a sentence fit together. There are multiple ways to write sentences. There are also many incorrect ways to fit together words that do not create a sentence. For students that are learning English one challenge is that sentence structure may work in a different way in their native language.

Sentence Structure Basics

Even the most basic sentence needs a verb (action) and a subject (noun). We sit. 

Sometimes the subject can be implied such as in the case of a command. Sit!


Grammarly has a great overview of sentence structures and the different sentence types.

Sentence Types

There are also different types of sentences: statement (declarative), question (interrogative), command (imperative), exclamation (exclamative)

sentence types sentence types

Mixed-up Sentences

A multisensory way of practicing creating sentences is to use mixed-up sentences. Depending on the language level of the students start with reading the complete sentence. Then cut the sentence apart. You can use silly sentences, sentences about students, or sentences related to content that students are learning. Then have students rearrange the words to make a complete sentence.

cut apart sentence

Sentence Sorts

One way to help students begin the learn the difference between a complete sentence and sentence fragments is to have them read examples and sort them into sentences and sentence fragments. You can take examples from student writing if this is a concept that students are struggling with or create your own examples. Read more about the difference between a complete sentence and sentence fragments on Grammarly.

Additional ways to use sentence sorts are to have students sort sentence examples into:

  • Past, present, future
  • Sentence types: statement (declarative), question (interrogative), command (imperative), exclamation (exclamative)
    • The first time students sort sentences leave the punctuation visible. Once they are able to successfully sort the sentences into groups remove the punctuation. This becomes a much more challenging task (as any teacher that has asked students if they have any questions and ended up with a drawn-out story knows).

Labeling Sentences

Give students exposure to parts of speech and sentence structure through labeling sentences. You can make this as simple or complex as necessary. For beginning ELLs and kindergarteners start with subject & verb. Assign a color to each part of speech. If you co-teach try and use the same colors as the classroom teacher. This way whenever students are labeling sentences they will begin to connect a color with a part of speech.

Read more about labelinglabeling sentences sentence parts with ELs in Building Better Sentences: Rigorous Syntax for English Learners.

Sentence Frames & Sentence Starters

A sentence frame is a complete sentence with missing parts for a student to fill in. The _____student went to the _____.

A sentence starter is the beginning of a sentence that students complete. The student _____.

Sentence Patterning Chart

This method allows the teacher to create a model of a complete sentence to support students in creating their own sentences. It is like a sentence frame but with multiple examples to choose from. Sentence patterning charts are great to use during a content lesson since they work best with one topic to focus on.

is lives can sentence writing

Watch a detailed explanation of sentence patterning charts by Katie Toppel.

Mentor Sentences

A mentor sentence shows students an example of a well-written sentence that models how to use a grammar concept in context. A teacher can create mentor sentences for students to study or they can find them in the literature that students are reading or literature that is read aloud to them. When you use mentor sentences from texts that students are familiar with this helps to build in background knowledge for students to create their own sentences.

You can read more information about using mentor sentences in Patterns of Power.

Watch a video about using mentor sentences with newcomer ELLs.

Read about additional tips for writing sentences with MLs.



The Writing Revolution

Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Language, Grades 1-5

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