This is a lesson on sentence structure that I created last year during my student teaching. I really liked how it turned out last year, and so I decided to try it awhile ago with my class this year. The basic idea is to compare the different parts of a sentence to a train, and I like to couple it with a train song and story to help build background knowledge about trains. Here is the jist of what I talk about with them:
1. The engine is at the front of the train, and it is a special car- it usually looks a bit different than the other cars. In a sentence, the first word is also different and always begins with a capital letter.
2. Each car in a train is separated by a bar so that they don't crash into each other. In a sentence, we need to separate each word with a space so that they don't run into each other when we read them.
3. The last car in a train is also a special car. It's called the caboose and it is the end of the train. We need something special at the end of the sentence to show that it is the end. That is why we use punctuation marks at the end of the sentence.
I also talk about how the words need to go in order, just like the cars on a train stay right in line and don't switch places. Just to keep it simple for this first lesson, I encouraged everyone to write an "I like ____" sentence. This worked really well, because it allowed every student to be successful in their own way, and those who could write more words did.
One thing that I love about this visual approach to writing sentences, is that it becomes very clear which kids are still struggling to understand certain aspects of a sentence. For example, there were kids that wanted to write all their words on only one or two train cars, and needed support with the concept of different words in a sentence. Also, it allows kids to work with physically building the sentence as they arrange their train cars, and I was also able to identify kids who needed support with word order. Of course, the most common thing for the kids to forget was the punctuation at the end, but it makes it a little more fun to remind them to simply "check their caboose."
The kids were really engaged in making their trains, and now during writing time I can remind them of that visual to help them remember parts of a sentence.
The other plus to this activity? It sure lifted me up to have kids writing things like "I like school" and "I like my teacher." Kindergarten kids are the best. :)