By Sue Drury
Last updated 22 July 2020
First impressions count. A series of bland beginnings can cause you to lose your audience before you’ve really hooked them. That is why young writers need to learn the importance of finding effective ways to start a sentence as early as possible.
Luckily, there’s many a different way to help students frontload their sentences with introductory clauses, phrases and words that will grab the attention and add much-needed cohesion to the whole text. Here are a few tips to help them start as you mean them to go on.
Introduction to sentence starters
At the beginning of each sentence, there is a choice to be made: how do I start it off? Fortunately, there is a wide variety of ways to choose from. Although it might seem confusing at first, the benefits will soon become apparent. Like a kid in a sweet shop, a good writer can take great pleasure from selecting just the right opening. Knowing that, every young writer should feel inspired to experiment with different sentence starters. Whoosh! Before you know it, they’ll be flying. See? Just in this paragraph, you will have noticed that sentences can start with prepositions, adverbs, conjunctions, similes, verbs and onomatopoeia.
Sentence starters for kids – Start them young
It’s never too early to raise the idea of starting sentences in different, more interesting ways. Any teacher who has read through a whole page of sentences that follow the same pattern – such as: The noun did the verb to the object – will know what we mean. Mind you, it could be even worse: they could all start with And then.
To save yourself from this horror, try introducing the idea of sentence openers right from the start of their writing journey with our KS1 Story Telling Cards. This attractive resource encourages pupils to develop an understanding of story structure through packs of character, setting, problem and, most importantly, sentence starter cards. And since they encourage pupils to rehearse sentences orally first, it means they can get into good habits before they even put pen to paper.
Good sentence starters resource – Make it a game
Another good way to get them into good habits is our sentence maker game resource. This provides pupils with a range of clause cards plus another set of cards containing adverbials, conjunctions, similes and all the other techniques for starting sentences mentioned in tip 1 above. These allow them to play around with adding different beginnings to different clauses and experimenting to see which ones produce the best results.
Sentence starters KS2 classroom display
To keep these different options at the forefront of their minds, make a display of some good examples using our eye-catching Sentence Starters Display Pack.
Sentence starters – Spot the effect different words have on language
It often helps students to look at writing with a critical eye. As well as teaching them the many possibilities offered by the different techniques, why not encourage them to experiment with a variety of options to decide which is the best? Our sentence starters challenge mat worksheet can help you there. As well as providing a range of activities to understand, apply, test and challenge their skills, this great resource also encourages them to explain which of a selection of possible sentence starters creates the best effect for a given clause.
Writing skills – Mix up your vocabulary
One of the most crucial pieces of advice you can give to your pupils is, “Vary your sentence starters.” Even if they do use strong sentence openers, their writing will be almost as frightening as the ‘horror’ described in tip 2 if they overuse the same technique. Urge them to mix them up. More importantly, encourage them to select openers on the job they do or the effect they will have rather than anything else. That includes not using one at all. There are still many situations where the simplest sentence structure is the most appropriate one. Plus, creative writing sentence starters may be very different from sentence starters for descriptive writing or sentence starters for persuasive writing.
Sentence starter pitfalls for students
As was hinted in tip 6, once pupils get it into their heads to start using one particular type of sentence opener, there is a danger that they will overuse it. Encourage them to read their work back aloud in the lesson (ideally on their own or under their breath). If their sentences seem to have developed a regular rhythm (assuming they’re not writing certain forms of poetry), it might be a clue that they are relying too heavily on certain structures.
Another potential hazard can be the dangling participle. This is when an adverbial or adjectival phrase, often placed at the beginning of a sentence, appears to refer to the wrong noun. For example, Dangling from the ceiling, the old woman swatted the spider with her broom. Unless you’re talking about a bungee-jumping granny, this sentence is unlikely to be conveying its intended meaning.
On a technical note, make sure your pupils are comfortable with using the appropriate punctuation. Generally speaking, sentence starters should be separated from the following clause by a comma. As this point might well feature in the English grammar, punctuation and spelling SAT, it is not a trivial concern, even if some published authors do not follow this rule routinely.
Hopefully, this has given you some helpful tips and pointed you towards some useful resources. Armed with these, you should be able to help your pupils improve their writing no end.