Teaching Students about Varying Sentences

Grab these foldable organizers and PowerPoint to help your sentences learn to write better sentences.

The Common Core State Standards includes at least one standard on sentence writing across all elementary grade levels. Most of these deal with recognizing types and varying sentences. Here is the progression of skills.
  1. In first grade, students learn to recognize the four types of sentences (L.1.1.J):
    • Declarative sentence
    • Imperative sentence
    • Interrogative sentence
    • Exclamatory sentence
  2. By second grade, students are combining simple sentences to form compound sentences (L.2.1.F).
  3. In third grade, students produce simple and compound as well as complex sentences (L.3.1.I).
  4. Fourth-grade students learn to recognize and correct inappropriate fragments and run-ons (L.4.1.F). They are also learning to correctly punctuate compound sentences (L.4.2.C).
  5. Fifth-graders are adding introductory elements to sentences (L.5.2.B).
  6. By sixth grade, students are using a variety of sentence patterns to add interest and meaning to their text (L.6.3.A).

Activity #1 ~ Types of Sentence Problems

Sentence Problems Anchor Chart plus free foldable organizer to go in students' interactive notebooks

Recognizing Sentence Problems

Recognizing Sentence Problems

To help students better understand these problems, they complete a foldable style graphic organizer that goes over the rules and examples of three common mistakes. This organizer is provided in six versions. You can select the one-sided printable or the two-sided printable. The organizer also comes in a variety of levels from students writing their own rules to students completing cloze rules to rules that are already completed.

All organizers contain these three rules: 

  • Choppy sentences are sentences that are too short. When several short sentences come together, they force the reader to go slowly. This makes the writing seem more “elementary” than it truly is.
  • A run-on sentence is when two or more sentences are combined without connecting words or punctuation.
  • A stringy sentence is when too many clauses are connected with conjunctions – and, but, so, and because – forming one very long sentence. Stringy sentences are so long the reader forgets the beginning of the sentence before reaching the end.


Activity #2 ~ Varying Sentences using Different Types

Types of Sentences


Varying sentences by changing sentence types is easy for students to understand since practice with this skill begins in early primary grades.

After students realize they have short choppy sentences (or long stringy sentences), they will need to correct them by turning some of the sentences into different types. Varying sentences makes writing more interesting.

Understanding different types of sentences is also a prerequisite skill needed for correcting run-on sentences. 

  • A simple sentence, also called an independent clause, contains a subject and a verb, and it expresses a complete thought.
  • A compound sentence is made up of two simple sentences called independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, or so) and a comma or by a semicolon alone.
  • A complex sentence combines a dependent clause with an independent clause. A complex sentence always has a subordinating conjunction such as because, since, after, although, or when.
  • A compound-complex sentence is comprised of at least two independent clauses and one or more dependent clauses.

Activity #3 ~ When Should I Combine Sentences?

When Should I Combine Sentences?

Varying Sentences Organizers

This one-page reference guide provides 9 rules for when students should combine sentences. The rules include:

Different Subjects – Same Predicate

When two people or things do the same thing, try to tell about it in one sentence. If you use I as part of a combined subject, put I last.

Different Predicates – Same Subject

If you have one person doing more than one thing, then place the verbs in a string.

Repeated Words

Sometimes one sentence will do in place of two.

Using phrases in sentences lets you say more – with less.

When sentences are related they may be turned into a compound sentence by adding a comma and a coordinating conjunction.

If you wanted to combine two sentences and show a cause and effect relationship, one way you could do it would be to use a coordinating conjunction. These are the connecting words for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. One way to remember all of them is to call them “FANBOYS.” In most cases, they will be preceded by a comma.

Short choppy sentences may be turned into complex sentences by turning one sentence into a phrase and adding a subordinating conjunction. Try using some of these words when building complex sentences: after, if, before, since, though, unless, until, when, although while, because, whenever

You may join two complete sentences with a semicolon when you want to keep two closely related ideas in one sentence.

By using a semicolon – instead of a period between two sentences, you show that those two sentences have a closer relationship to each other than they do to the sentences around them. Note:  Think of a comma as a brief pause, a semicolon as a more moderate pause, and a period as a stop.

You may join two sentences by using a semicolon with a transitional word and a comma. Some common transitional words are:

            • however – has the same meaning as but
            • furthermore – has the same meaning as  in addition
            • instead – has the same meaning as rather
            • consequently – has the same meaning  as a result
            • nevertheless – has the same meaning as however

Activity #4 ~ Ways to Combine Sentences

4 Ways to Combine Sentences

4 Ways to Combine Sentences

This organizer explains four different ways to combine sentences:
    • Make two separate sentences.
    • Make a complex sentence by adding a subordinating conjunction.
    • Add a semicolon.
    • Make a compound sentence by adding a coordinating conjunction.

Activity #5 ~ PowerPoint on Varying Sentences

I created this PowerPoint for my students. It contains many practice examples that relate to our county. The PowerPoint is not locked. You can use the practice sentences that are included or change the examples to ones your students can relate to. 


Gay Miller



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1 comment

    • Kendra on November 3, 2015 at 4:38 pm

    I loved using this with “The Cay” unit. My sixth graders still need some help on the types of sentences (they must have missed it in 3rd grade!! because they don’t really know different sentence types at all.) It’s been interesting learning about them myself….

    I am looking through and saw your foldable examples for pronouns with your “Wizard of Oz” unit. Would you ever think about selling them as a set separately? I would love to purchase them! 🙂

    Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge!

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