Contributed by Natalie Taylor, 2015
Summary: The class is split into two teams for a semester-long competition to create stronger,
more argumentative sentences.
Throughout the semester, I collect a number of sentence-level issues that students are having.
These issues range from grammatical problems, such as comma splices and subject-verb
agreement, to content problems, such as opinionated “this is good’ statements, to in-text
citations. I then make up sentences based on a class’s specific struggles. (I have not used students’ actual writing to avoid singling any student out.)
I then make a slideshow of these sentences and split the class into two teams. I try to make the
teams evenly matched based on my evaluations of student writing. Every 1-2 weeks, I’ll set aside 10-15 minutes of class time for the sentence competition. Each team receives 2 points for a first-attempt correct answer or 1 point for a second attempt.
- I put a sentence on the screen and give Team 1 about 30 seconds to discuss quietly.
- 1 Student (I have an assigned order for the students so every one has a chance) from
Team 1 approaches the computer and attempts to rewrite or change the sentence to make
it stronger. Their team can still give them advice from their seats, but the student at the
computer has the final say.
- If they are correct, Team 1 gets 2 points. If they are incorrect, the sentence passes to
- If Team 2 gets the sentence right, they get 1 point. If they get it wrong, it passes back to
Team 1. So forth until someone gets the sentence right.
- After a particular sentence, I often give a little mini-lesson on the focus-problem of the
sentence. Note: While many of the sentence problems are grammar-related, I try to focus
more on how they can construct strong, argumentative sentences by making different
choices, rather than focusing wholly on the error itself.
- At the end of the semester, to determine the winner, I’ll do a “Final Jeopardy’ type final
sentence in which both teams can bet a number of their earned points. Both teams then
try to solve the same sentence on paper. The team with most points after that round, wins (cookies).
My goals with the sentence competition were to make mini-lessons more fun without taking up
huge amounts of class time. I’ve also found that those lessons are more memorable when
students get hands-on practice. Then when you throw in the competitive element, most students
become even more interested and invested, even when they don’t know what they’re competing
for. I’ve only completed this activity with one class, but they loved the competitive element, were more interested in the lessons I gave, and as the semester progressed, they started writing stronger sentences.