5 Benefits of Sentence Combining in the ELA Classroom

5 Benefits of Sentence Combining

I love language. There are seemingly a million different ways to convey messages and write out our thoughts. Knowing the ins and outs of syntax is at the heart of learning how to become a strong writer. That is why I include sentence-combining exercises in my classroom at the start of almost every class period! I want students to actively focus on syntax and think about how they convey their messages to the world. 

Syntax is the structural framework that governs the arrangement of words and phrases within sentences. As ELA teachers, guiding our students to navigate the many intricacies of syntax and master the art of sentence combining is crucial for fostering clarity, coherence, and sophistication in their writing. 

Today, I’m going to share what syntax is and what sentence combining entails and explore five compelling benefits of incorporating sentence combining exercises into our teaching repertoire.

Understanding Syntax:

Syntax refers to the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences. It encompasses the rules and conventions governing sentence structure, including word order, sentence length, punctuation, and grammatical relationships between words. 

By mastering syntax, students gain the ability to craft sentences that communicate their ideas effectively and convey meaning with precision and clarity. Furthermore, developing a profound understanding of syntax also helps students understand and analyze text on a higher, more rhetorical level.

To gain a better understanding of syntax, students first need to know about the parts of speech and sentence structure! And even thought these are skills and concepts that high school students should know, it is always helpful to review these concepts again.

Exploring Sentence Combining:

Sentence combining is a writing technique that involves merging two or more simple sentences into a single, more complex sentence. This process encourages students to experiment with sentence structure, vary sentence length and style, and enhance the fluency and cohesion of their writing. 

By combining sentences, students learn to manipulate syntax, employ a diverse range of sentence patterns, write with a varsity of sentence types, and convey their ideas with greater sophistication and nuance. In essence, practicing sentence combining helps students become better writers.

In my classroom, I like to use these sentence-combining bell ringers to help students actively practice their syntax and writing skills. To make the warm-up activity more fun, I like to add challenges throughout the year. I’ll ask students to rewrite the same sentence three different ways, or I’ll ask them to try to use as few words as possible without compromising any of the content. 

This sentence-combining bell ringer bundle includes enough sentence-combining activities for an entire year of instruction, and it also includes a quick mini-lesson teaching students how to combine sentences!

Five Benefits of Sentence Combining:

  1. Enhances Writing Fluency: Sentence-combining exercises encourage students to practice composing sentences fluidly and confidently. By manipulating syntax and experimenting with sentence structure, students develop fluency in expressing their ideas in writing and become more adept at crafting sentences that flow smoothly.
  2. Promotes Sentence Variety: Sentence combining promotes sentence structure diversity by introducing students to a range of sentence patterns and styles. By combining short, simple sentences into longer, more complex ones, students learn to vary sentence length, rhythm, and syntax, creating more engaging and dynamic prose.
  3. Improves Clarity and Coherence: Through sentence combining, students learn to clarify their ideas and improve the coherence of their writing. By consolidating related ideas into cohesive sentences, students eliminate redundancy and repetition, streamline their writing, and ensure that their ideas are presented logically and coherently.
  4. Strengthens Syntax Awareness: Sentence-combining exercises provide students with opportunities to develop a deeper understanding of syntax and sentence structure. By analyzing and manipulating sentences, students become more attuned to the grammatical relationships between words, the role of punctuation, and the nuances of sentence construction.
  5. Fosters Creativity and Expressiveness: Sentence combining encourages students to unleash their creativity and explore different ways of expressing themselves through language. By experimenting with syntax and sentence structure, students discover new avenues for conveying their ideas, imbuing their writing with individuality, voice, and style.

If you are interested in giving sentence combining a try, I am sharing an entire week of sentence combining bell ringers with you! To receive the bell ringers, click here and sign up!

To receive the these sentence combining bell ringers, click here and sign up!

Incorporating sentence-combining exercises into your teaching repertoire offers many benefits for students, empowering them to wield syntax with confidence and finesse in their writing endeavors.

Additional sentence combining resources:
Sentence Expanding by Room 213
Sentence Structure Types by Presto Plans

5 Ways to use learning stations for teaching writing

Teaching writing can be a frustrating experience. Students will exclaim that they don't know what to write, so there's a failure to launch. Or, they create unfocused, rambling pieces that are hard to wade through.  Often, superficial essays and narratives lack detail and sophisticated use of language. But...what if you could turn that around, so teaching students to write was rewarding? What if your students were actually engaged in the process? That can happen, especially if you try 5 ways to use learning stations for teaching writing.

Now, the strategies I'm about to share can be delivered in other ways, but stations are special in that they add an extra layer of focus and organization. By providing students with the time and space to zero in on certain skills and steps, it can prevent them from feeling overwhelmed.

Best of all they allow your students to get out of their seats and move, something they always appreciate.

1. Use learning stations to provide inspiration for your writers:

Let's begin here, since it can be so hard to get students started. I'm pretty sure that if you had a dollar for every time you heard "I don't know what to write," you'd be poolside somewhere, sipping something delicious instead of grading papers.

"I don't know what to write" can be due to a lack of attention or effort but, most often, the student is sincere and really doesn’t know how to start. They need to "see" how it's done. So, before you start a writing unit or assignment, spend some time priming the pump with some inspiration for your students.

Short mentor texts are perfect for this. Select ones that illustrate the techniques or formats that you want students to learn, and choose ones that are short enough for students to read relatively quickly. I like to aim for half a page or less - unless students will be working at only one station for most of the class (more on this below).

These inspiration stations also allow students to build the skills and confidence they need to create longer, more detailed pieces of writing.

There are many ways that you can create "inspiration stations," but these are my faves:

✅ Create multiple stations with mentor texts that illustrate the same technique or genre:

If you are introducing something specific, like narrative or persuasive writing, you can inspire your students by using a variety of short texts that illustrate a particular skill you want them to learn.

After getting a lesson on the technique, students move onto stations to get some practice with using it. For example, I have a series of mentor texts that illustrate how fiction writers use repetition and parallelism in their narratives. Each station has a different mentor text and students need to identify how the writer used these techniques. Then they use  a starter sentence to create their own piece of writing modelled after the mentor text.

Stations for teaching writing

Or, if I want my students to practice using dialogue to create character, move the plot, use sensory imagery, etc., I will find mentor texts that will inspire them to use these strategies in their own writing. I put a different example at each station for students to read and imitate.

This can be done, of course, with any technique or genre of writing. Just decide on your focus, find the mentor texts, and set up your stations. The work students do at each station can be turned in for a grade, or they can just use it as inspiration for a longer piece of writing. Regardless, they are building their writing muscle through the process of visiting each station.

✅  Create stations that focus on different techniques, skills or genres:

In this case, the students will encounter something different at each station. If you are working on narratives, for example, station one might be about showing, not telling. Station two is focused on using dialogue, station three is about word choice, station four shows students how to use imagery and figurative language, and station five is about conflict.

Or, if you are doing a full workshop approach, you may have a narrative station, a persuasive station, a poetry station, etc. This approach provides students with a greater variety of mentor texts and ideas that can inspire them to try a new technique or genre.

When you create inspiration stations using mentor texts, you can allow 10-15 minutes at each station before students rotate to the next one. If you want to give them longer pieces to read and work on, you might send them to only one or two per class.

2. Learning stations can focus students on skill building

The other beautiful thing about using learning stations to teach writing is that they allow students the freedom to work on the skills they need to improve. With a traditional full-class approach, all students are working on the same thing. Tanner and Nicki, who have mastered transitions, have to sit through the lesson and activities on transitions when what they really need to work on is using more sophisticated language. Mia, also a confident user of transitions, would prefer to work on writing more engaging introductions.

With learning stations that focus on different skills, students can go to the one that best serves them. This will not only help them build their skills, but it makes them feel like what they are doing in class is useful to them. Rather than feeling frustrated or bored because they are sitting through lessons and activities they don't need, they will come away feeling like they accomplished something worthwhile. Thus, stations can help with engagement.

5 Ways to use learning stations for teaching writing

These stations are similar to the inspiration stations, but there is more of a focus on building the skill, so the tasks that you require may take more time. Once again, if you are working on narratives, you may have a stations focused on using dialogue. Along with mentor texts, you may provide handouts that illustrate some of the rule of using dialogue. Students may do practice exercises or use what they learn in their own writing.

3. Use writing stations to focus on the steps of the writing and revision process

One of my favorite ways to use learning stations is to help students focus on the process. Prewriting stations are a wonderful way to get students to start to explore ideas, ones they can put together into a draft when they are done. For example, when my students were writing narratives, we would begin with brainstorming ideas for a story - just a rough sketch.

Then, the next day I would set up prewriting stations and they could play around with ideas for the setting, the characters, etc. It didn't matter what order they went to these stations, as it was an idea generation process only. And, the next day, when they began writing their drafts, students were ready to dive in as they had all kinds of ideas they wanted to try.

Another very effective way to use learning stations is to focus students on the process of revising their writing, something they can be reluctant to spend much time on. But once they have a first draft written, you can have them spend time at stations that guide them through the process of taking a careful second look at what is in the draft.

At these revision stations, students will be prompted to evaluate their introductions and conclusions, to play with their word choice, to check to see if they have enough detail to support their points and sentence variety to make their writing flow. You can create a station for any step of the writing process that you have been focusing on.Learning stations high school

When students rotate through these learning stations, they spend far more time on the revision process than they do when you just tell them to revise. The stations allow them to focus on one thing at a time and so they are less overwhelmed and more likely to do the task well. The end result? Much better written final copies.

4. Teach writing skills with a teacher-led feedback station

One of the fastest and most effective way to give students feedback on their writing is face-to-face and a stations format will help you do that in a focused and organized way.

5 Ways to use learning stations for teaching writing


When your students are busy and focused at the other stations, you can be working one-on-one with someone - or even with a small group.

The best way to do this is to give your students directions before they come to the station. They need to make sure that they are focused on one or two things only so you can quickly give them feedback in class. You could be giving everyone feedback on the same thing, or students could zero in on the areas that they are struggling with.

This can also happen at a peer feedback station.

5. Use learning stations to focus & organize a writing workshop

Writing workshop stations are the perfect way to keep students focused and on task during the workshop process. Unlike a more traditional format that has students working on the same assignment at the same pace, writing workshop gives them more freedom to pick and choose what they will work on.

While this can be wonderful for our students, it’s a little harder for the teacher to organize. That’s where learning stations come in.

You will can set each one up to focus on different stages of the writing process with  handouts and/or short mentor texts. Then, students can choose the station that works best for them. 

When you use stations for writing workshop, students who need direction can find a focus, and you will have to spend less time dealing with "I don't know what to do next." This will mean you're freer to help students with specific questions or to conference with them about their writing.

Managing & Organizing Stations

So, those are my 5 Ways to use learning stations for teaching writing. If you like the idea of using stations to teach writing, but you just aren't clear on how to organize it all or manage your class when they aren't doing the same thing, click here to grab some ideas and strategies you can try. 

Check out these ideas from my friends at the coffee shop:

Showing, not telling from Presto Plans

Symbolism stations for The Outsiders, The Daring English Teacher

Jackie, ROOM 213


Our Best ELA Lessons to Make it Through the 2nd Semester


Teaching ELA during the second semester of school presents some interesting challenges. Students and teachers are both looking forward to the upcoming summer break, state testing is just around the corner, and there are usually some big end-of-the-year projects. 

We know how difficult the second semester can be, so we are here to share with you all some of our best ELA lessons for the middle school and high school classroom to make it through second semester. 

Danielle from Nouvelle ELA knows that Spring semester = Shakespeare season. If you’re looking for the perfect way to introduce ANY Shakespeare unit, look no further! In this best-selling escape room, students will explore the Globe Theatre, William Shakespeare’s Life, and Elizabethan London. This digital and print resource also includes optional research to extend students’ learning. The Introduction to Shakespeare Escape Room will dismantle the scary stigma of Shakespearean texts and leave your students eager to read!

The Daring English Teacher always likes to tackle poetry during the second semester. There are so many different options for teaching poetry, and it is a good way to teach students analysis skills. By using the SWIFT acronym, this poetry teaching unit incorporates sticky notes and poetry analysis for some engaging, fun, hands-on poetry instruction! It is a complete poetry unit, and your students will love it!

Tracee Orman always loves to start the year off with an organized routine, which includes daily writing. One way she practices this with her students is with Motivational Monday quotes and prompts. Starting the week off with an inspirational and POSITIVE quote and prompt allows students the perfect opportunity to not only practice writing, but work on their own mental health. As a bonus, the prompt is visually appealing and hangs in the room all week as a positive reminder.

Jackie from ROOM 213 always loved starting a new semester mid year, as it gives everyone a chance for a new start, a reset. Check out this blog post to find out three ways you can transform the start of your new semester, including tips for setting expectations and creating climate right from the start! (NOTE: even if you aren’t starting a new semester, the first day back after a long holiday is the perfect time for a reset).

Bonnie from Presto Plans likes to start off the new year on a high note by doing the 30-Day Happy Teacher Challenge. The Happy Teacher Challenge is a FREE activity designed to help you connect with students, build staff rapport, organize your school life, keep yourself healthy, and help you focus on the positive! Click here to check it out. You can even get your students to join in on the fun with the Free Happy Student Challenge by clicking here

As we work through the 2nd semester Addie Williams likes to focus on skill-building for writing and literary analysis.  One of her favorite activities to use with any novel or short story is a deep dive into characters using her Character Sketch resource.  Set your students up for success with these graphic organizers that will guide your students through either a paragraph or full essay to analyze a character.

Creative Ways to Bring Nonfiction into Middle School ELA

Are you looking for creative ways to incorporate more nonfiction texts in middle school ELA? I find nonfiction can offer really valuable opportunities to support students with information literacy, research skills, comprehension, structuring arguments, and other essential ELA skills. One thing I especially love about nonfiction is how it can be seamlessly integrated into so many different units of study! Nonfiction texts can be paired alongside novel and film studies, explored on their own, or used as a springboard to inspire creative student projects.

Whether you’re looking for natural opportunities to incorporate more nonfiction into your existing lessons, or fresh ideas for standalone units, I have lots of ideas to help you bring more nonfiction into your classroom! Here are five creative ways to bring nonfiction into middle school ELA.

1. Nonfiction Article of the Week

Incorporating regular, structured opportunities for students to engage with nonfiction text can be a great way to help them build essential ELA skills, like reading comprehension and making connections. Once a week, I like to share a high-interest nonfiction text - such as an article or video - with ELA students. Usually, I begin by focusing the class with a series of question prompts, which they can respond to in writing or through a whole-class discussion. Next, we read the article or watch the video together. From here, the possibilities are endless! 

One week, reading an engaging newspaper article could spark a lively classroom debate. Another week, students might view a nonfiction video before making a text-to-self connection in a written response. By the end of the school year, students will have had 40 weeks of exposure to various nonfiction texts, and plenty of practice responding to articles and videos in a variety of different ways.

If you’d like to try out a nonfiction article and activity in your middle school ELA classroom, check out this free resource about the history of hot dog eating contests!

2. Infuse Nonfiction into Book Clubs

Another way to infuse nonfiction into middle school ELA is by pairing historical information, primary sources, or even news articles with a related novel study. There are several different ways to approach this type of blended learning, depending on the needs of your particular class. 

Connecting students with opportunities to carry out meaningful, relevant research related to their reading is one way to bring nonfiction into your existing literacy program. If you are doing a whole-class novel study of The Giver by Lois Lowry, for example, you might want to have your students carry out some research about the mathematical, scientific, or philosophical concepts explored in the novel while they are reading. Working in groups, students could explore a variety of different concepts through their research, and then share their findings with their classmates.

If students in your class read at a variety of different levels, you might also want to consider running “book clubs” in small groups. In this case, you may select a variety of books for your students that center around a similar topic or theme. For example, you may structure your book clubs around broad concepts like “survival” or “dystopian societies,” or you could instead focus on novels that are all set in similar time periods. Taking this approach, students reading either Number the Stars by Lois Lowry or Refugee by Alan Gratz could collaborate on a historical research project about WWII or the Holocaust to complement their fiction reading.

3. Debates on Current Issues

If you’re looking for a collaborative way to incorporate nonfiction into your middle school ELA class, why not try a debate on a current event or research-based issue? Debates are a great way for students to flex their critical thinking muscles, practice working in teams toward a common goal, and learn how to effectively craft an argument.

If I’m running a formal debate unit, I like to use classroom debates as a springboard for teaching effective research practices. This includes evaluating credible sources and ensuring arguments are supported with valid evidence and examples. However, if you want all the fun of a debate unit without the time commitment, you can also incorporate impromptu debates into your morning routine! 

For this approach, I like to begin by getting students to take an “agree” or “disagree” position on a statement (like “a hot dog is a sandwich”). From here, you could give the “agree” and “disagree” sides ten minutes to craft their arguments, based on quick nonfiction reading or research. After the brief debate is over, your class can evaluate the data presented by each side and declare a winner!

4. TED Talks or Podcasts

TED Talks and podcasts are two really useful tools in any ELA teacher’s toolkit. Both can be really effective ways of exploring learning outcomes related to speaking and listening. They also offer alternative ways for middle schoolers to experience nonfiction texts beyond traditional reading.

If you’re wondering where to start, I recommend curating a list of links to student-friendly videos or podcasts that you can share with your class throughout the year. Once every week or two, I like to make time to view a TED talk, listen to a podcast, or engage with other nonfiction media. Once the class has finished the video, students can then respond to a related writing prompt writing prompt. You might like to have each student keep a video journal and check it periodically to assess ELA skills, including comprehension, as well as use evidence from the text to support ideas and opinions.

To extend your students’ understanding of nonfiction media, you might even create an opportunity for them to create their own videos to entertain, inspire, and educate an audience! This can be a great way for students to practice working together, learn how to write a script, and build their confidence in public speaking.

5. Text Structures Challenges

When students understand some of the common structures used by authors to organize nonfiction writing, it can help them focus on important ideas and anticipate what is to come. I like to begin by sharing some of the most common types of nonfiction text structures, including:

  • Cause and Effect
  • Problem and Solution
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Sequence
  • Description

Once students have a solid understanding of the basic features of each text structure, it’s time for them to apply their skills! I love reading challenges because they encourage students to put their new learning into practice in a collaborative, engaging (and maybe even a little bit competitive!) way. In the Deserted Island Reading Mystery, students must correctly identify various informational text structures to reveal a secret passphrase!

I hope these ideas give you some fresh ways to incorporate nonfiction into your middle school ELA class!

Need other ideas for bringing nonfiction into middle school ELA? Check out some of the other Coffee Shop Blogger ideas below:

5 Ways to Analyze Nonfiction and Rhetoric by The Daring English Teacher

Spring Break Activities for English Language Arts


Tip #1 from Tracee Orman - Leading up to and coming back from breaks can be so hard to get students back into the swing of things. That's why I had no shame in showing a movie to ease our way back in. I tried to plan watching movies based on (or related to) the literature we just read. And because I wanted to hold my students accountable for watching, I created these handouts (I usually picked a different one each day so as not to overwhelm them with too much work so they could still enjoy the movie) to use with ANY movie. 

Tip #2 from Room 213 - It can be hard to keep everyone - teachers and students alike - engaged and focused in the days leading up to spring break. That's why I never planned anything too dull or difficult for that time. However, I also don't think we should take the time "off" and plan a bunch of filler. If we do that, students might just take those days off as they think they don't count. So, I used that time to work on skills that needed some fine-tuning using games and challenges. You can find out more and grab some ideas and strategies on this post.

Tip #3 from The Classroom Sparrow - One of the ways that I keep my students engaged during the last week before s the break is using team-building activities. Not only does it give students a fund send-off for their time away, but this is also a great opportunity to allow students in a classroom to work with different peers. I think working with different students is really important for social development and it is highly encouraged in my classroom. One way I get everyone interacting and engaging with their peers are through these spring break escape room-style games I created. They are perfect for the week before or after the break and you can use one or all of them, depending on the time available in your classroom!

Tip #4 from Presto Plans - Students tend to have a little extra energy in the days before - and after - Spring Break. Once activity that you can use to stay on task is a Spring-themed reading mystery, which will have students up and moving around the classroom and working collaboratively to examine evidence. The Mystery of the Stolen Flowers is not only timely, but it will also help your students develop their close reading, inference, and text evidence skills at the same time. The backstory involves a newly established high school gardening program - and the sudden disappearance of one teachers' beloved pink lilies. Click here to learn more about this engaging Spring reading mystery!

Tip #5 from Nouvelle ELA - Spring has sprung, so if your student are starting to closer resemble squirrels by the day, then this pop culture resource will make your students go nuts! Students get to engage in 15 standards-aligned activities that center awesome short texts to hook them. So, if your students love video games, short films, TV episodes, music, and more, you can leverage their interests to transform that squirrelly Spring behavior into productive, academic conversations!

Whether you're still waiting for your break or you're back from your break, we hope that you will find something in this post that will help you get back into the swing of things!

Prepare for the Unexpected with these Engaging Emergency Sub Plans


With sick-season upon us and life hitting us from all angles, it is great practice to have some ready-to-go resources for those emergency sub plan kind of days. Our teachers lined up some of their favorite sub plans. 
Why are these their favorite? Well, when these resources get left on a sub day, the students actually do them! All of these resources are great for engaging students and supporting the success of their learning, even if we can't be there.

Unless you have a planned absence and have all the time in the world for making sub plans (who does?), it is always wise to keep some lessons on hand for when you need them at the last moment. Tracee Orman loves to use this activity for sub plans--it’s fun, a great review for figurative language, and perfectly easy for a sub to implement! Just print and go!

There are two types of sub plans: the ones you have the time to make and the ones that need to get done quickly because you woke up sick and need something fast. Usually, those awful sick days come at a time when you’re doing something in class that is hard for a sub to just take over.

That’s why Jackie from ROOM 213 likes to keep a few one-off lessons for those days. These would be lessons that are easily implemented, that focus on some kind of learning, and that don’t scream “FILLER” to the students. You can grab a few of the ones I used here.

The Missing Teacher substitute lesson plan from Presto Plans is ready-to-use for any day off!The assignment is about your inexplicable absence and puts students in charge (by the principal) of investigating the reason you are not at school.

Students will create a Missing Teacher poster and an investigative police case file that has them examine evidence and witness testimonies. You will come back to school to an assignment that will definitely get you laughing! Click here to check it out!

Sick day? Snow day? No worries! The Classroom Sparrow has you covered for those days where you are too sick to do the planning. This Emergency Sub Plan Bundle for ELA will give you access to tons of materials where you can quickly print and go!

What do music, TV, and “how to” articles have in common? These are all incredible activities included in Danielle from Nouvelle ELA’s Independent Writing Activity Bundle. This resource makes for PERFECT emergency sub plans, independent work days, and/or snow days. With these digital literacy-based activities, students will ACTUALLY complete the work you leave for them because they enjoy it!

One of the most practical pieces of advice Christina, The Daring English Teacher, has when it comes to planning for a sub is to have a bit.ly link attached to a sub slide deck. This way, teachers can edit their sub plans without needing to worry about getting a colleague to print plans out. You can read more about the sub slide deck in this blog post.

Need a last-minute lesson?  Addie Williams has you covered with this fun poetry activity! It's a print-and-go resource that your students will love - they get to write a poem based on their pet peeve!  It's one of her favorite activities to do with the kids as the results are often hilarious!  Grab a copy of the activity HERE.

We hope you find just the right fit for your go-to emergency sub plans!

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