Using Sentence Tiles to Enhance Students’ Writing

Building sentences out of sentence tiles is a great way to enhance syntax instruction and to help the students develop syntactic awareness. Here is a mini grammar lesson that may need to precede your sentence tile activity.

A Game-like Activity

My secondary students enjoyed building sentences out of sentence tiles. It felt like a game. It might be in the tactile nature of moving the pieces around or in the satisfaction our brain feels from completing a puzzle, but there was something about sentence tiles that the entire class enjoyed. 

There are several ways to do it:  

At your own pace:  I had a box with many plastic bags. Each bag contained a sentence cut up into pieces. Students took a bag with sentence tiles, put the sentence together, and copied the sentence into the notebook. The students could make as many sentence tiles as they wanted during our 5-10 minutes time slot. Here is the video.

At the same time: If you prepare several sentences that make up a story, it is even more engaging! Every two partners (or a group) will need sentences to put together. When the sentences are ready, the kids would look at the number on the back of the tiles and read the sentences aloud in a specific order. Here is the Video

Competitive way: All groups have the same sentence and they compete to finish it first. I had the kids get up and line up in order to signal that they were done. Those tiles were bigger. I used to cut up old folders to create those. And it was nice for the students to move around. Here is a short video.

Digital Version in Jamboard

During the pandemic, I modeled this activity with Jamboard. Students should be in groups or with partners and each partnership gets its own slide to work on. 

Sentence Patterns PowerPoint 

I used sentence tiles to reinforce the pattern I have previously taught. It was an activity that followed the explicit lesson over a specific syntactic feature. Here is the PowerPoint of Jeff Anderson’s complex sentences that I created for my students. Day 1- teach the pattern. Day 2- let the kids play with the tiles.

Complexity Level 

Don’t make this activity too difficult! The goal is to create an opportunity for the students to experience success by applying the skills they have learned in the previous lesson.  The complexity of each sentence will depend on the feature you are addressing in your lesson and the vocabulary that you use. The sentences have to be accessible and at your students’ level. The game has to be ENJOYABLE!

Cross-linguistic Connections 

While building sentences or looking at sentence patterns, students often told me, “It’s the same in my language, Miss!” and that always intrigued me. Since I did not speak Arabic or Spanish, I couldn’t confirm any of the connections the students made, but I was happy that they focused on the structure of the language long enough to notice the similarities between English and their home language (L1). 

Conversations initiated by the students about languages are priceless; students develop meta-linguistic awareness when they make these inter-linguistic connections. You might have heard people say that studying a foreign language made them understand their first language better. I believe this happens exactly at that magical moment when you pause and think, “Is it the same or different in my language?” 

Will it take a long time to make the tiles

Making tiles is a time-consuming process. Creating a digital version in Jamboard or Google Slides is a more efficient option. Get the kids to help you! Some of the paper tiles were actually made by students. I used to monitor a d-hall after school. Once, the students who did not have any work and were just sitting there asked me what I was doing and offered to help. It was a rather productive D-Hall 🙂  Investing 10 minutes into making a set allowed me to build up my bank of tiles that aligned with the most challenging syntactic features I taught. In my humble opinion, that was s a worthy investment of my time.

3 thoughts on “Using Sentence Tiles to Enhance Students’ Writing

  1. Mariel Gomez de la Torre says:

    Love it! Could you shared the jamboard? I was not able to open it! Thank you for sharing your blog!

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