Sentence and Grammar games

From OER in Education

The ability to rapidly construct and vary sentences - almost without thinking about it - is one of the basic skills of writing. Regular sentence starter activities impact on children’s writing. When introducing new sentence patterns remember to start orally - so children hear the pattern and then say it. This can be followed by using cards so that they see and move the words around and physically manipulate the sentences. Finally, they can begin to move into writing.

Keep sessions speedy - the idea is to become automatic at writing, not something laboured. Practise sentence games and use the same sorts of sentences when modelling writing. Encourage children to use the sentence types in their own writing and to look at each others’ to note examples.

Here are some activities to enable children to manipulate sentences orally in rehearsal for writing. They work well as lesson starters, in plenary session and as group activities

Noun and verb game

Ask for a list of nouns (engine, ruler, pencil, tree). Then make a list of verbs (sipped, stole, rushed, wished). The game is to invent sentences that include a noun and a verb from the lists. This can be fun if the nouns and verbs do not match in any sensible way.

The engine sipped...The ruler stole...The pencil rushed...The tree wished...

Now complete the sentences preferably choosing unusual ideas, e.g.

The engine sipped from a cup of silences.The ruler stole a tongue of ideas. The pencil rushed down the stairs and into the garden. The tree wished it could turn over a new leaf.


Provide two short, simple sentences. The aim of the game is for the children to join them to make one sentence. They will need to use some form of connective and it can be useful to suggest a way of joining them. For instance:

The camel ate the cake. The cake was full of dates. 

You could ask the children to join the two sentences above using the word 'which': e.g. The camel ate the cake, which was full of dates.

Provide children with a list or box of connectives to help them.


Provide a list of dull sentences that have to be made more detailed or interesting or powerful, e.g.

  • The worm went.
  • The man got the drink.
  • The dog came along the road.
  • The woman ate the stuff.
  • The man looked at the stuff in the shop.

Check it

Write up some sentences or a paragraph with errors for the children to check. Build n the sorts of mistakes that the children often make so they get used to identifying and correcting their own errors. These might include - spellings, punctuation mistakes, changes in tense, slang, etc.

  • He runned down the lain.
  • She was dead frightened.
  • I just jumpt over the wall.
  • I ran home, Lucy just walked.

Change the opening

Provide a simple sentence and ask the children to extend it by adding a chunk on at the beginning. Build up a repertoire of different ways to vary the opening to sentences, e.g. use an adverb (how), a time connective (when), an 'ing ' or 'ed' chunk, one word, a simile, a prepositional phrase (at the end of the lane - where), an adjective, etc.

Bertie dug a deep hole 

Might become:

After tea, Bertie dug a deep hole.In the garden, Bertie dug a deep hole.Carefully, Bertie dug a deep hole.As fast as a ferret, Bertie dug a deep hole.Hoping to reach Australia, Bertie dug a deep hole.

Drop in

Provide a simple sentence and ask the children to 'drop in' a something extra, e.g. adjectives, adverb, a phrase or clause. Be wary of children dropping in too much! Of course - you could add to a sentence by attaching a bit either end as well.

Bertie dug a hole. 

might become:

  • Bertie dug a deep hole.
  • Bertie rapidly dug a hole.
  • Bertie, the farmer's dog, dug a hole.
  • Bertie, hoping he would soon see a kangaroo, dug a hole.

Crazy clauses

Provide children with a complex sentence as a model, e.g. ‘Although it was raining, he still walked on.’

Ask the children to write complex sentences starting with a variety of conjunctions e.g. although, because, as, while, despite, after, using the key words humbug and zebra, e.g.:

  • Although the zebra was on a strict diet, she still couldn’t resist the humbug.
  • Because of the humbug’s relatively small size, it was only rarely mistaken for a zebra.
  • Despite the fact that the zebra hadn’t eaten for days, it just couldn’t bring itself to consume the stripy humbug.
  • After sucking a humbug, the zebra’s stripes became more prominent.

Complex sentence game

PURPOSE: To give children oral practice in constructing complex sentences. Decide on groups of preferably no more than five. Give the same set of instruction cards to each group, shuffled and placed face down.

RESOURCES: A set of instruction cards for each group of children.

Change first word (or phrase) of subordinate clause 4 points Change main clause 2 points
Change subordinate clause 4 points Create a completely new sentence 6 points
Change main clause 2 points Change subject in main clause 2 points
Move the subordinate clause 6 points Miss a turn 0 points


The teacher writes a complex sentence, or uses one from an example of children’s writing or a book.

  1. A child in the first group picks up a card
  2. He or she suggests an answer and checks with group
  3. Meanwhile, the other groups consider an answer in case the first group’s answer is incorrect.
  4. The child offers an answer and the other groups and the teacher judge its suitability.
  5. The teacher keeps the score and can award full, half or no points for an answer.
  6. The teacher may need to record the sentence on the board as it is modified.
  7. The first team to score 10 is the winner.


When the group has agreed their answer, one child says it, another says ‘comma’ at the appropriate point(s) in the sentence.

The game can be played over a series of days and points accumulated.

Playing with sentences

Ask children to write a simple sentence and compose your own e.g.

The lizard ran along the wall

  1. Now take out the verb – how does it sound?
  2. Put the verb back in and add some adjectives or an adverb

The scaly lizard ran rapidly along the mossy wall.

  1. Take out the nouns and extend the sentence using because
  2. Move the end to the beginning

Because the dog next door was barking, the scaly lizard ran rapidly along the mossy wall.

  1. Move the adverb

Rapidly, because the dog next door was barking, the scaly lizard ran along the mossy wall.

  1. Keep on playing in this way, making up sentences and listening to the effect. Add in techniques such as:




  1. Try altering the sentence type, turning it into :
  • A question
  • An exclamation
  • A compound sentence
  • A complex sentence
  1. Try turning the sentence into different text types:
  • A recipe
  • A newspaper
  • A report

Making sentences

  1. Write a word on the board e.g. ‘snake’. The children have to write a sentence containing this word rapidly. It must have a capital letter, full stop and make sense. You can add any other conditions e.g. alliteration, simile, complex sentence etc.
  2. A next step is to write two words without any seeming connection e.g. jelly and shark. Make sure they are still obeying the rules. Give early finishers an extra challenge.
  3. Now start with three or more words. You could focus on using adverbs, adjective or prepositions

Finishing sentences

Give children the beginning, middle or end of a sentence and they have to try to complete it:


  • The children arrived at….
  • The old king….

Then give them a few endings:

  • …into the fishing net
  • …it was empty

Finally, give them middles:

  • …jumped over…
  • …change into…

Give a list of conjunctions and provide a simple sentence opening e.g.’ The weary old lady sat down….’

After as As soon as
Because before But
Once since So/so that
Until when Whenever
where whenever while

Children write the sentence opening, select a conjunction and complete the sentence

Dropping in

This game focuses on inserting words or clauses to enrich meaning.

Write a sentence on the board e.g. ‘The raft floated.’

The children should ‘drop in’ words e.g. an adjective, an adverb, a prepositional phrase, a conjunction clause, an embedded clause, an ‘ing’ or ‘ed’ clause.

Varying openings

Encourage children to start sentences with

  1. A connective e.g. While he waited,…
  2. An ‘ing’ clause e.g. Waiting for the others,…
  3. An ‘ed’ clause e.g. Surprised by the bang…
  4. A simile e.g. Like a fish…
  5. An adverb e.g. Carefully…
  6. One word e.g. Exhausted, …
  7. A word for emphasis e.g. But they were domed.
  8. A prepositional phrase e.g. At the end of the path, …

Washing line

Make a sentence, eg The shy child cries.

  • Ask a child to say a word to replace the first word (eg A shy child cries.)
  •  Ask the next child to replace the next word (eg A cross child cries.)
  •  Continue round the class replacing the words, keeping a brisk pace (eg A cross baby cries, a cross baby bounces, that cross baby bounces, that beautiful baby bounces, that beautiful car bounces, that beautiful car crashes, etc.).
  •  Continue until all the children have had a go. Write up the final sentence and compare it with the original.

Word swap

Take a sentence from a book and swap the verbs. E.g.

I dashed into the bathroom and brushed my teeth/ I brushed into the bathroom and dashed my teeth. 

Children can have a go with their own books. Then try swapping adjectives or nouns.

In the manner of the word

This simple game involves some drama work. One person leaves the room. Those remaining decide on an adverb. The person outside returns and must try to guess the adverb as each child acts out an inaction in the manner of the adverb.

Adapted from:

Grammar for Writing: