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Monday, 15 July 2013

Tell Me A Dragon: teaching sentence structures through a great text


Tell Me A Dragon, by Jackie Morris, is a beautiful book.  It has the most wonderful illustrations, which will both support and motivate children to write more descriptively, and the structure of the sentences on each page provide children with models for writing which they can imitate or innovate. 

How you use the text will depend on the year group you are teaching and the grammatical features you have identified for development with your pupils.   I've provided a few examples from the text for each grammatical element, together with the relevant Sentence Toolkit tools which you could use with these.  Once children have understood how to use the structure and had fun with writing their own examples, they could perhaps produce a class or group book, writing sentences to describe their own dragons.

Noun phrases which provide beautiful description, using both pre- and post-modification of the noun  (Sentence Toolkit: tape measure)

  • the silver moon-path,  (premodification only)
  • the secret music of the wind (postmodified with prepositional phrase)
  • whisper-thin wings of rainbow-hues (wings are pre-modified with 'whisper-thin' and post-modified with 'of rainbow hues')
Adjectival phrases (Sentence Toolkit: large paint brush)
  •  snaggle-toothed, fierce and brave
  • jade-winged and amber-eyed with a tail as long as a river (the adjectival phrases is extended by adding a prepositional phrase introduced by 'with'.  Within this prepositional phrase, the noun phrase 'a tail' is also post-modified with a simile.  The children don't need to analyse the structure in a technical way, but the model is fantastic for imitating and innovating.  E.g. My dragon is steely-scaled and stony-eyed with spikes as hard as granite.)  
  Similes (Sentence Toolkit: medium size paintbrush)
  • as big as a village
  • as long as a river
Simple adverbial phrases of where and when, suitable as models for writers beginning to use adverbials (Sentence Toolkit: saw)
  • across the sky
  • in the waves
  • all day
  • from far away and long ago
  • around my pillow
  • into my dreams
Subordinate clauses.  There are two subordinate structures I would use this text for.  (Sentence Toolkit: spanners - the conjunction spanner and the -ed spanner - and also the comma screwdriver) 

If I were developing subordination of time (Year 2), the model  I would use would be:
  • When she laughs, petals ride on her breath. 
 Introducing the use of 'when' to start the sentence, will lead to the children automatically creating subordinate structures.  Alongside this, you and the class should note how the comma has been used to separate the two parts (clauses, but you wouldn't be using that term in Year 2 necessarily) of the sentence.  Children could think of other things their dragon might do, e.g. When he snarls, When she flies, and go on to complete the sentence with a main clause.

If I were developing other ways of creating complex sentences, in order to vary sentence structure, I would use the  model below.  I would use this with Year 5 and 6 pupils who were already using conjunctions for subordinate clauses:
  • Curled around my ear, my dragon sings sweet songs and tells me strange stories from far away and long ago.
  • Curled around my pillow...
This structure uses a past participle followed by a prepositional phrase to introduce the subordinate clause.  Children could use this pattern to develop their own dragon sentences.  Where else could the dragon be curled?  Around my arm, neck, shoulder? What other verbs could be used here?  Children could brainstorm their own past participles: wrapped (around my arm), rested (on my shoulder), draped (over my shoulder), hidden (under my hat).  Have some fun with it and get children used to the structure.  Even if they don't know the terminology, they will be able to start sentences with the pattern and will, therefore, be varying their construction of complex sentences.

Punctuation (Sentence Toolkit: screwdrivers, hyphens)
The text provides good models of punctuation, in particular use of commas to mark phrases and clauses and hyphens to create compound constructions to modify/describe nouns.  For example: snaggle-toothed, jade-winged, amber-eyed, sea-dragon, ice-dragon.

To see other texts recommended on this blog, click here.  And for more Texts that Teach, check out this link.