One Small Thing: The Complete Sentence

The work of teaching and learning is big, now more than ever, and teachers are feeling that pressure in big ways. Everything feels urgent and important and critical, and the challenges are complex, and the needs are many. And all of that "bigness" can make the work itself seem simply overwhelming. How do you know what the next right thing to do is when it's all coming at you so fast, and the solutions seem as big and daunting as the challenges themselves?

When I'm feeling that way, that's when I know it's time to turn to a One Small Thing. A very small tweak or change or adjustment I can make, easily and tomorrow, that can still create real change for our students. 

Today, that One Small Thing is: The complete sentence.

In Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov writes, "The complete sentence is the battering ram that breaks down the door to college." Yet, we know that writing good, complete, thoughtful sentences can be a challenge for kids no matter the grade level. 

One powerful practice you can adopt is to insist that students speak in complete sentences consistently so that they get plenty of practice in hearing, using, and attending to complete thoughts. That means that no matter the instructional format - classroom discussion, small group work, close reading questions - students express their ideas and answer questions in complete sentences all. the. time.

It can take an extra dose of patience at first, but I have seen this pay off big time when students begin transferring the skill of speaking in complete sentences to writing in complete sentences. And it will happen, but it takes daily, frequent, consistent practice.

Here are a few techniques you can use to prompt for complete sentences in your classroom:
  • Remind students before they start to answer. ("Who can tell me in a complete sentence what the setting of this story is?")
  • Provide the first words of a complete sentence, with the expectation that the student will use them to start his or her own ("The setting is ...")
  • Remind students with a quick and simple prompt after they answer ("Complete sentence.")
  • Use a nonverbal signal (Create a hand signal, such as bringing the fingertips of both hands together in an "A" shape to both remind students to use a complete sentence or to mark it when they do.)
It's one small but mighty thing.

Here's to simply teaching well,

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