What can teachers do to help students develop stronger vocabulary knowledge?
Page 7: Compose Possible Sentences
The next step in implementing Possible Sentences is to ask students to compose sentences using at least two vocabulary words in each. These sentences should attempt to predict how the author might use the words in the text. Doing so will stimulate students’ thinking about the content and support their comprehension when they read the text. At first, teachers will need to model how to compose an appropriate sentence. Later, students can work with a partner or in small groups to write their own.
Students are not required to write enough sentences to use all of the words in the list on their own. Rather, they are usually directed to write 2–4 sentences that contain the words that they feel comfortable using. Although each student, pair, or small group will not use every word in the list, the intent is that all of the words will be used when the sentences are shared as a class. In order to make certain that all of the words get used, the teacher might have to supply a few of sentences of her own. For this reason, she may find it helpful to develop some sentences in advance.
After allowing time for each pair or small group of students to compose their sentences, the teacher should reconvene the class and ask students to select sentences to share out loud. As students read their sentences, the teacher can write them on the board. As more words from the list are used, students may need to adjust the sentences that they had originally selected to share to be sure that each vocabulary word appears at least once. The teacher continues to request sentences from the students until each word in the list has been used at least one time. At this stage, the teacher does yet not evaluate the accuracy of each sentence with respect to what students will be reading. For now, the teacher is only concerned about whether the use of the words in the sentences makes sense. In the videos below, the teacher demonstrates how to develop possible sentences and then students share some of their own.
Developing Possible Sentences
Sharing Possible Sentences
Videos courtesy of Voyager Sopris Learning, Inc.
It can be challenging for students to generate sentences with words that are new to them. However, Possible Sentences offers some built-in supports:
- Because the list contains both familiar and unfamiliar words, students can use their existing knowledge of familiar words to support their use of the new, unfamiliar ones.
- When partnering or using small groups, each student or pair does not have to use all the words or come up with all the sentences independently. However, because all of the words will be used when partners or groups share their sentences with the class, the students’ vocabulary knowledge is expanded further.
- Although students are directed to write 2–4 sentences, higher-achieving students can compose more sentences and lower-achieving students can compose fewer sentences. Note: Regardless of how many sentences the students are writing, each one must contain at least two terms from the list.
For Your Information
Students may try to load their sentences with as many vocabulary words as they can. Although this can be a fun activity, such sentences usually end up being hard to comprehend and not predictive of how the words will be used in the text, which is contrary to the purpose of the activity.
Listen as Deborah Reed discusses when to implement Possible Sentences during the course of a unit. (time: 0:59).
Deborah K. Reed, PhD
College of Education, University of Iowa
Director, Iowa Reading Research Center
Below are examples of student-generated Possible Sentences for the list of words from Ms. Yun’s social studies class.
Many civilians joined militias to fight in the Civil War.
People disagreed about whether slavery should be unconstitutional.
Lincoln had to come up with a strategy to defeat Southern militias.
Agricultural communities wanted to abolish slavery.
Young men who became soldiers left their industrial jobs in the cities.
States that want to become independent countries have to fight to secede.
English/Language Arts Example
Below are examples of student-generated sentences for the list of words from White Fang.
The convict was the most incorrigible man the judge had ever encountered.
The convict’s wrath over his harsh sentence made him an incorrigible prisoner.
When protecting his master, White Fang could be characterized as ferocious.
To live with the Scotts, White Fang was compelled to be infinitely more timid than he was in the wild.
The convict felt persecuted by the judge and threatened vainly that he would get revenge.
White Fang pursued his timid prey.