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Helping Writers Expand Their Work

When teaching writing skills to students, it can be hard to get more out of them than short, choppy sentences. Sentence expansion will help to create interesting stories, help children to develop ideas, and realize what sentences need to include.

As parents and educators, we can help writers to expand their work in a few different ways.

Ask Questions

Ask questions. Some basic questions really bring the sentence from simple and boring to exciting. Questions cause student writers to think of things they hadn't considered before. The questions can help them in the story development process. When students consider all aspects of what is happening in and around the main sentence, not only does the sentence expand, their imagination expands as well!

For example,

“The dog barked.”

When? “The dog barked at night.”

Where? “The dog barked at night in the forest.”

Why? “The dog barked at night in the forest because he saw a small child.”

Some other questions to ask include:

With who?

Doing what?


Trigger Words

Another way to help students expand questions is by using what Dr. William Spivey refers to as “trigger words.” These are words like “because,” “when,” “until,” and “after.” These words function like question words in helping a student to think beyond the simple sentence into what is happening. These kind of words go deeper and bring life into the writing.

For example,

“The night was dark.”

“The night was dark because we were deep in the forest.”

“The night was dark when the clouds covered the moon.”

“The night was dark until the wind blew the clouds away and the moonlight shone down.”

“The night was dark after she said goodbye.”

Writers can also use these questions and trigger words to assess and revise their own writing. As they review things they have written, they can ask if what they have written is clear. Is it answering the questions above? Can the writing be used to “show” instead of “tell” what is happening? Writing is a process, and using these sentence expansion techniques will continue to improve that process of developing strong writers.

Using sentence expansion techniques can teach writers how to expand their thinking in a way that is clear and interesting. When using questions or trigger words, students’ imagination and creativity will start to flow. The stories will start to develop on paper, making writing an enjoyable experience for students.

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