Secret Sentence Codes

Thursday, August 29, 2013
brought to you by Lori's not a secret. I'll totally share it with you. 

One of my favorite new strategies for teaching grammar, sentence patterns, and punctuation is sentence coding. While sifting through spring scores [oooh...nice alliteration], it seemed like many of our kids had picked up points on writing but really struggled with the multiple choice revision and editing questions. This is not new news [again with the alliteration]. We've been in this predicament since the days of TAKS when Objective 6 [you know you remember obj. 6] was low across the board. We scratched our heads then and we're scratching our heads now. 

Ramping up for summer acceleration, I wanted to teach kids to think about a sentence in terms of parts that make up a whole so that they could easily identify fragments and run-ons. This makes them better writers, and, in a time crunch, helps them identify those as poor answer choices on a multiple choice test. I'm sorry to go there, but we're just being realistic. 

Take a closer look at coding. It is best introduced across 3 or 4 days, and must be referred to often to prove as a regular means to tackle revision and editing in your students' writing. It begins with manipulatives where students construct phrases and turn them into different sentences:

Students learn coding by first creating sentences.
  • Day 1--Simple Sentences (coding independent clauses with brackets)
  • Day 2--Compound Sentences (coding FANBOYS with a circle and each independent clause with brackets)
  • Day 3--Complex Sentences (coding AAAWWWUUBBIS words with a box, dependent clauses with parentheses, and independent clauses with brackets). For the purposes of this post, I simply highlighted the subordinate conjunction in orange. 
  • Day 4--Compound/Complex the way...I hate the sound of that. I just call it the Big Kahuna, and my kids know what I mean. (You're coding with everything...that's why it's the Big Kahuna).
Now these types of question stems sound familiar?
  • What is the best way to combine sentences 15 and 16?
  • What is the best way to rewrite sentence 11?
  • What is the most effective revision to make in sentence 6?
When coding is correctly implemented as a regular component of your writing instruction, students can look to those types of questions, and identify the parts of what they are given as answer choices. Look at the example. Now you have a tangible way to show students that certain options are not reasonable. For example, if you have an entire sentence in parentheses, it would not make sense to have a period after it.

(And while I believe that what someone eats is a matter of personal choice,) [it is not something that society should control.] (Because people need information if they are going to make wise decisions.)

It's a dependent clause, and therefore a fragment. However, without coding, students do not stop and take the time to look at the parts of the sentence. Coding simply gives them a system for applying what they know deep down inside. But notice how tricky the example is...which is a released answer choice from the state. They start the sentence with AND. Kids don't think you can do that. But if they use coding, they can see that the parts of a sentence work just fine. They can see that it is a complex sentence because it begins with an AAAAWWWUUBBIS word, is followed with parenthesis and then brackets. That's the code for a correctly written complex sentence. 

Remember that coding is a strategy and a process that takes time to introduce and students must practice it regularly. It's certainly not fool proof, but it guides kids through a thought process that is often missing. 

So now the secret's out! Go teach your kids to code and say goodbye to fragments and run-ons forever!

Pssst! Don't forget to take pictures of your classroom so that you can join in our first ever link-up on Tuesday--"Show Us Your Classroom."


  1. Can you explain what you put on the pink strips? Do they have the brackets, circles, boxes, and parentheses like in the instructions, or do the kids mark them once they have them assembled? Do you have them write the sentences out or just snap a picture and email?

    1. The pink strips were sentences that we typed up and laminated. They would put independent and dependent clauses together to make compound and complex sentences. They would code the sentences with a vis-a-vis marker on the desk. We would have students write and code a sample sentence into their beach book or grammar foldable. You could have them choose a few to copy over and grade.

  2. Do you implement this lesson after your students have completed the Grammar Foldable?

    1. Yes, sentence coding would work best after the grammar foldable. And feel free to simplify the coding to best meet your needs.

  3. I love this! Thanks for the logical, tangible way to present this info to the kids.