This lesson is excerpted from The Trait Crate: Grade 1
Overhead Transparency download

Teaching Sentence Fluency Using Whales Passing by Eve Bunting


Eve Bunting provides an abundance of information about the habitat, communication style, and daily activities of the orca-or, as it's also known, the killer whale-in this nonfiction book that reads like poetry. Written primarily as a series of questions and answers between a young boy and his father standing on a cliff as they watch a pod of orcas pass, the book contains a variety of sentence structures to make it easy on the ear. First-grade students will enjoy reading this book and learning about orcas from the perspective of the protagonist, a boy about their own
age. There is a resource page of additional facts about orcas at the end of the book.This lesson on sentence fluency will draw students' attention to how Bunting uses dialogue, sentence fragments, and various kinds of complete sentences to make the book read smoothly. In the first lesson,students examine how Bunting begins her sentences in different ways, and they discuss how this technique creates fluency.

Sentence Fluency: A Definition for Primary Students

The sentence fluency trait has two important dimensions: the grammar that makes a group of words a sentence and the way sentences sound.Indeed, this is the auditory trait, where we learn to read with our ears right along with our eyes. Signs that writers are working well with the sentence fluency trait include the following:• working with several words in a row, with attention to phrasing• being more concerned about sentence quality than sentence correctness• experimenting with sentences of varying lengths• weaving questions and statements into the text• using transitional words to connect one sentence to the next• repeating sounds, words, and phrases to create a pattern• writing passages that can be read aloud with ease.


Lesson #1: Beginning Sentences in Different Way


• a copy of Whales Passing
• overhead transparency of "Key Qualities of the Sentence Fluency Trait"
(page 5)
• "Different Beginnings" printable (page 6)
• overhead transparency of "Think About: Beginning Sentences in Different
Ways" (page 7)
• paper, pencils, pens, markers, crayons

What to Do:
1. Display the overhead "Key Qualities of the Sentence Fluency Trait" and discuss how writers often vary the way their sentences begin to make them sound interesting to the reader.2. Read aloud these examples to students  listen to these sentences?"

• I went to the park.
• I played on the swings.
• I jumped on the trampoline.
• I played with other kids.
• I got really dirty.
• I went home to change

Students should answer that the sentences all start with I. Tell them that when a writer uses the same word to start every sentence, it weakens the connection between the reader and the piece's main idea. The reader winds up focusing on the redundant language rather than the central message

3. Read the following paragraph aloud to students and see if they notice a difference:

When I went to the park, I played on the swings and jumped on the trampoline
with the other kids. In fact, I played so hard I got really dirty, so I
went home to change.

Students should notice that the sentences have been pared down from six to two and that both begin differently.

4. Ask students if the first or second set of sentences was smoother and easier to listen to. Students should answer that the second set of sentences was easier to listen to.

5. Tell students you are going to share a book with them that contains sentences that begin in a variety of ways. Ask them to listen for those sentence beginnings as you read the book to them

.6. Read Whales Passing aloud, pausing to show the pictures as you go.

7. When you've finished, display the overhead "Think About: Beginning Sentences in Different Ways" and discuss why writers try to vary their sentence beginnings.

8. Distribute the "Different Beginnings" printable and ask students to examine the beginnings of sentences from Whales Passing in more depth. Reread Whales
Passing, pausing to allow students time to insert the missing words from the paragraph on the printable,as you read it aloud.

9. Ask students to make up two lines that whales might say to one another based on information Bunting provides, and record them on the bottom part of the printable. Remind students to begin each sentence differently

10. Ask students to form pairs and read their sentences of whale dialogue to one another. Once students have read, their partners should tell them the first word of each sentence to make sure they are, in fact, different. Ask for volunteers to share their pieces with the class.

11. Review the overhead "Think About: Beginning Sentences in Different Ways" and ask students what they learned from this lesson.

12. Display the pictures and whale sentences for the class to enjoy.


Extension Activities:

• For students just beginning to write: Ask students to write the words for the sentence beginnings as you read them in the first half of the "Different Beginnings"printable, but instead of writing new sentences at the bottom, ask them to dictate their ideas to another student or to you. Encourage students to write the first word of the sentence on their own.

• For students who are writing independently: Ask students to work with a partner to write a longer dialogue between the whales. Make sure they remember to stay focused on varying the beginnings of their sentences. Ask students to read the dialogue aloud to the class.

Sing-Along Trait Songs

Use the "Sentence Fluency Song" from the Trait Crate's poster pack and CD to help students understand the trait. Display the sentence fluency poster for the whole class to see and, as you play the song, consider:• singing along to the vocal or instrumental track, following the lyrics on the poster as you go.• adding hand motions to accompany the lyrics and reinforce key concepts.• writing a new stanza to the song, posting it on a chart, and singing along to the instrumental track.