Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

10 Tips to Maximize Simple Sentence Structures

Editor's Note: This blog was previously published, we're re-sharing it as part of our 'Best of' series, a look back at some of our most popular blogs.


By Sarah Maze, M.S. Ed., Guest Blogger

As toddlers grow into kindergartners and early elementary students, books with simple sentences help kids recognize sight words and practice decoding. This attribute of the text in leveled books also supports English learners as they develop their mastery of the language. Let's explore some tips to maximize narrative and informational books with a simple sentence structure!

Striving readers want to pick up a book and quickly read it. Many will create their own version of the text if it is too difficult. Therefore, it is crucial to complete running records to determine each students’ guided reading level.

After determining guided reading levels for each student in your class, you should find books that are at and above their levels. You can easily consult a level list as a quick reference during your search for guided reading books. Books with a simple sentence structure support students at many different guided reading levels by helping them improve vocabulary, sight word recognition, confidence, and fluency.

  1. Building Vocabulary through Picture Clues: One of the Common Core State Standards that is consistent throughout primary grade levels is distinguishing between information in pictures and in the text. You can help kids build this skill by asking them to focus on picture clues to determine the meanings of words. Using the leveled book Bald Eagle  from the Zoozoo Animal World series:

    1. Discuss students’ prior knowledge about bald eagles and what they do.
    2. Read the book Bald Eagle.
    3. Ask students the definitions of specific verbs using picture clues and the following sentence stem: I think___means to___ because the picture shows___. For example, "I think soar means to fly in the air because the picture shows a bald eagle with its wings stretched out flying in the air above the water." 

2. Predict and Check Predictions: Using the informational text Bald Eagle  from Zoozoo Animal World, you can try this easy process to help kids make predictions in your guided reading lesson:

    1. Ask students what they know about bald eagles, such as appearance, diet, behavior, and habitat, and create a list of what kids say.
    2. Ask students to make predictions about facts they think will be in the book using the following sentence stem: I predict the book will discuss ___ because ___. Then record their predictions in a place every student can see.
    3. Look at the cover and guide students in a discussion about how it is most likely an informational book since there is a real photograph on the front cover.
    4. Read Bald Eagle.
    5. Refer back to the list of predictions and check which ones were mentioned in the book.

3. Illustrated Web of Details: Common Core reading standards for informational texts require students to identify key details. Using the book Moose from Zoozoo Animal World

    1. Begin with asking students what they know about moose.
    2. Read the book Moose showing the pictures.
    3. After reading, create a web with the word moose in the middle. Ask students what they learned about moose from the book. Add these details around the web using the same sentence structure as in the book: A moose likes ___. A moose can ___. The moose is ___.

4. Reread for Fluency: Fluency includes the pace, expression, and accuracy of reading aloud. Reading fluently allows a student to better understand what they are reading. Rereading a story several times should build fluency and recognition of sight words as well as improve vocabulary. Using the leveled book Deer 

    1. Ask students to share some background knowledge they have about deer, such as appearance, behavior, habitat, diet, etc.
    2. Read the book Deer  together. You may want to discuss antlers since this may be a new word for some students.
    3. Then ask students to read the book aloud to you without your help.
    4. Partner students together to practice reading the book to each other.

5. Partner Talk and Acting Out: Little Rabbit’s Laugh  from the Joy Cowley’s Early Bird series is about Little Chick, who tries different ways to make Little Rabbit laugh.

    1. Show the front cover of the narrative text, which shoes a rabbit family in front of a camera, but Little Rabbit isn't smiling for the picture. Lead students in a discussion about how they make others laugh.
    2. Ask students to share their ideas with a partner to make Little Rabbit laugh using this sentence stem: I would make Little Rabbit laugh by ___.
    3. Allow a few partners to share with the class and act out their ideas. Acting out their ideas gives other students a visual explanation and builds oral language development.
    4. Read the book, Little Rabbit’s Laugh.
    5. Partner students together to discuss how Little Chick tried to make Rabbit laugh and what finally worked.

6. Expand Details: Common Core addresses expanding simple sentences. One way to encourage students to do this is to prompt them to think about details. Using the leveled read Who Likes to Swim?  in the Kaleidoscope Collection:

    1. Read the book Who Likes to Swim? 
    2. Go back to the first page with text and ask students how they could expand that sentence. One example could be, “I like to swim underwater in the pool.”
    3. After doing this for a few pages together, have students turn to a page and ask them to do the same with a partner. Monitor their ideas.

7. Talk About Foods Using a Simple Sentence Structure: Using the book Where Does It Come From?  from the Kaleidoscope Collection:

    1. Ask students to talk about their favorite foods and make a list of each food mentioned.
    2. After generating the list, ask students if they know where these foods come from.
    3. Read the book Where Does It Come From?  
    4. Go back to the list students made and encourage kids to use the sentence stems from the book to talk about each food on the list. For example, if apple is included on the list, kids can respond to the question in the title of the book by saying, “Apples come from an apple tree."

    8. Read Aloud Without Showing Pictures: Reading a book aloud to students without showing pictures requires them to pay attention to the details through listening alone. The following activity is great for comprehension practice through listening and allows you to monitor students' progress. Using the book Dogs  from the Kaleidoscope Collection:

      1.  Read the story aloud to the students without showing them the pictures.
      2. Have students talk with a partner and make a list of things dogs can do. Monitor each pair by walking around the room and listening to their discussions.
      3. After five minutes, reread the book showing the pictures. Ask kids to stand each time something in their list is also mentioned in the text.
      4. As an extension activity, students could create their own book about a different animal using the same sentence structure: ___ can ___. Then students can read their books to a partner and see if their partner can name each thing the animal can do.

    9. Draw a Scene: Through this activity, you can require to illustrate details after listening. You can monitor comprehension by looking at their pictures before rereading the book. Using My Birthday!  from the Kaleidoscope Collection:

      1. Read the story without showing the pictures.
      2. Give students a piece of paper and ask them to draw the birthday party scene. First and second graders could also label the scene. Monitor comprehension by examining how many of the details students include in their pictures.
      3. Reread the book showing the pictures and have students place a checkmark beside the details they included in their illustrations.
      4. As an extension, students could create their own books using different scenes they are familiar with, such as a garden, backyard, park, etc. Then pair students up to illustrate and reach other's books aloud.

    10. Rewrite a Book Using Prior Knowledge: You can help students improve writing skills by using additional words that pertain to a specific word. For example, in the book Noisy House, the main character names many things in his house that make noises. Using this book:

      1. Read Noisy House to students.
      2. Discuss other noise words that could replace the word noise on each page. For example, the text on the fifth page reads, “The dryer makes a noise.” Have students replace the word noise with klink and clank.
      3. After discussing other sound words to replace the word noise, have students create their own book about their homes using the following sentence stem: The ___ makes a ___.

    Incorporating these tips to maximize guided reading leveled books will help improve your students’ comprehension, oral language development, and writing skills. Each idea mentioned in today's post aligns with Common Core Standards that continue to build as students grow. Visit the Hameray Literacy Blog again soon for more tips on how to support your students!


    Sarah is an elementary school teacher who has taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and fifth grade. One of her most unique experiences was teaching orphans in Tanzania, Africa for a year. If you like what you read here, be sure to read more by Sarah on our blog.