Hameray Classroom Literacy Blog

The Power of the Cut-Up Sentence

This is a guest blog post. It's authored by special guest blogger Paula Dugger, who is an educational consultant with a rich-literacy background that includes serving as a Reading Recovery Teacher/Teacher Leader, first grade teacher, Title I and high school reading teacher, as well as a Reading Coordinator. Hameray is thrilled to be able to share with you Paula's classroom-tested ideas and experience in helping young learners achieve their early literacy goals.

As a Reading Recovery teacher, I was always amazed at the interest by regular classroom teachers concerning the cut-up sentence activity seen in a Reading Recovery lesson. Whenever an opportunity permitted, classroom teachers would be invited to observe their Reading Recovery student(s) during a lesson. After each lesson, I would ask the teachers if they noticed any behaviors the student was exhibiting in the lesson but not in their classroom.  I would also ask if there was anything in the lesson they would like more information on or like to incorporate within their class or small groups. 

Almost without exception, the cut-up sentence was always brought up. The sequencing of words to create a meaningful thought along with searching for visual information is powerful for such a simple activity.  I also used the cut-up to work on phrasing and fluency.  Many teachers found this to be a great way to explicitly teach phrasing and fluent reading.

So how does this activity work?

During the writing portion of the Reading Recovery lesson, the child is asked to compose a story (one or two sentences).  The teacher will assist the child as needed.

 The teacher then writes the sentence on a piece of tag board while child watches.

Next, the teacher would cut the sentence up(usually word by word) while the child watches.

After the teacher scrambles the words, the child re assembles the sentence.  

The sentence is then placed in an envelope with the  sentence written (by the teacher) on the outside.

The student can then take the sentence home to reassemble the sentence for practice and to rewrite in order to accumulate more words into their writing vocabulary. The envelope with the sentence written on the outside serves as a way for the child or parent to check after the sentence has been reassembled.

The cut-up sentence allows the teacher an opportunity to teach and the child to practice:

  • one-to-one correspondence between the printed and spoken word
  • thinking about the sounds in words
  • sequencing words using structure so that they make a meaningful sentence
  • searching and checking for information by rereading
  • using capitalization, punctuation, and spacing
  • phrasing and fluent reading
  • physically manipulating words
  • self-correcting

As the child moves up into more complex reading levels, the sentences will also become more complex. The teacher can also prompt the student to reassemble the sentence into phrases to explicitly teach how to read phrased and fluently.

In a small group setting the teacher and students can compose a sentence together.  Instead of sending the sentence home, the sentences be saved in a place for the group to use over and over by the students.

It is important that the teacher carefully models the assignment and guides the student.  Once the child has demonstrated an understanding of the task, putting the sentence back together can easily be an independent activity in the classroom as well as a shared activity with parents at home.


Paula Dugger has a B.S., M.Ed., and Reading Specialist Certification from The University of Texas at Austin and Reading Recovery training through Texas Woman’s University. Paula does educational consulting and training through Dugger Educational Consulting, LLC and can be contacted at  np.dugger@att.net

Paula and her husband Neil are parents to two wonderful daughters, Alicean and Ashley, two sons-in-law Kevin and Patrick, and grandparents Carter and Blake. She also raises registered Texas Longhorns on the weekends. The longhorn cattle are featured in her first book published by Hameray Publishing Group, titled  Longhorns .