Once children know letters, they can’t wait to use those letters to make words. When they know words they can then construct a sentence. Children learn that a sentence is a group of words that when combined, make a complete thought. Understanding sentences is a gateway to reading and reading comprehension.
Here are two fun ways to help your young child turn those words she recognizes into sentences:
Practice making sentences orally. Start simply, such as cat, the, sat. She should be able to say “The cat sat.” Help her if she needs it. Once she can do simple ones, increase the difficulty. Give her four or five words she knows, out of order, and ask her to put them in a sentence—for example, "be, fish, in, swims, pond, a." She should be able to say “A fish swims in a pond.”
When reading a story together, have her pick two or three random words she knows. For example, when reading Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell, she might pick the words "the, street, red." Then help her construct a sentence, unrelated to the story, using those words and adding more. An example could be “A big red bench is on the street.”
Once your child can easily build sentences orally, try this:
You will need some small index cards and a dark marker or crayon.
Have your child find a sentence from his favorite book.
Print the sentence by putting one word on each index card. Don’t forget to add the capital letter in the beginning.
Have him match the words on the cards to the words in the book.
Then mix up the cards and have him put the sentence in order.
When the sentence cards are in order, ask him to point to each word, left-to-right, as he says the sentence.
Do that often with some favorite sentences from books.
Consider affixing some magnetic tape and hanging the word cards on the fridge so he can create random sentences whenever he’s inspired.
Simple activities like these help young children recognize word order and sentence structure. Understanding sentences lets a child go to the next step—that sentences put together make a story!
Connie McCarthy is passionate about her work as a teacher of young children. She has devoted her entire career to making sure that her students do well at school, right from the start. Connie has an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education, and a Master’s Degree in Special Education. She has been teaching first grade in East Providence, R.I. for 23 years, where she received the distinction of “Highly Qualified Teacher” by the Rhode Island State Board of Regents. Connie also taught nursery school for four years, and published numerous articles on early education in East Bay Newspapers in Bristol, R.I. She’s also been published in PTO Today Magazine. She lives with her husband, Brian, and has a daughter and a son, both young adults. Connie enjoys reading, writing about elementary education, and taking long walks with friends. During summer vacations, she likes to travel with her husband. She also loves reading readers’ comments on her weekly blog posts.