Sentence Combining

A lesson in image grammar »
Professor Jon Ostensen uses Harry Noden’s image grammar to teach students how to incorporate the use of sentence combining when teaching writing as a craft. Analyzing, modeling, and synthesizing all help students to see themselves as artists who create, rather than students who are forced to write. The sentence models are hard to read.
Please download a hard copy in the supplemental materials section and follow along!
  • The holistic approach to grammar instruction tended to dismiss any writing practice that focused on the sentence level.  As a result, sentence combining fell out of favor in the classroom and was deemed ineffective in spite of what the research indicated.

  • The purpose of sentence combining is not sentence extending.  Making sentences longer is not the intent of sentence combining.

  • Teaching students to see sentence construction as a craft rather than a strategy should guide our practice.

Further Reading:

Offers teachers examples that provide a foundation for creating their own sentence work for students, focusing on puns, word play, and definitions
For examples on how to combine, imitate, and expand sentences

Supplemental Materials:

These are the sentence models used in the demonstration lesson on image grammar above

J.K. Rowling Sentence Combining


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As a student in the eighties, the only experience I remember with sentence combining involved the combination of two independent clauses when learning to form a compound sentence. I suppose it was also used whenever I was asked to combine words, phrases, or clauses with parallel structure in order to form an “items in a series” sentence.

  • What has been your experience with sentence combining as both a teacher and a student?

Sentence combining is much more than sentence “extending” and, when done correctly, can offer our students the skills necessary in recognizing how words work together. In short, sentence combining can improve student writing in spite of what holistic naysayers believe(d)–that any writing done on the sentence level couldn’t possibly prove effective.

  • Do you believe sentence combining can be used to improve writing?  Why or why not?

Sometimes it can be frustrating to work so much with sentence combining and then not always see the benefits in more effective sentence fluency right away. But that isn’t the only benefit teachers can see.

  • What are some of the inadvertent results our students may benefit from as they learn to sentence combine? (88)
  • Discuss the differences between a cued and open exercise when sentence combining.  (90)  Which benefits your students’ needs most right now? What other techniques can we use to guide students through the sentence combining model?

“We should teach sentence combining as part of our writing curriculum and then expect students to use their developing skills with sentences in longer compositions.”  (92)

  • How can we as teachers use sentence combining in a larger context rather than teaching it in isolation?

“The supportive environment that nourishes experimentation and sharing is essential to reaping the benefits of sentence combining.”  (93)

  • How can we create a risk-free environment conducive to exploration, especially when experimenting with sentence structure in the classroom?

“In my experience, teachers who implement sentence combining without classroom discussions, and without attending to how sentences work in patterns in different kinds of discourses, are not using sentence combining to achieve its desired effects”  (94).

  • Explain the importance of talk and discussion when sentence combining. How will you get your students talking about and experimenting with sentence combining?


Using the examples given on pages 95-98, construct a  sentence combining activity that will lend itself to an extended writing experience you already have in place in your curriculum.