Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

A Writing Intervention to Teach Simple Sentences and Descriptive Paragraphs to Adolescents with Writing Difficulties

Academic journal article Education & Treatment of Children

A Writing Intervention to Teach Simple Sentences and Descriptive Paragraphs to Adolescents with Writing Difficulties

Article excerpt


The present study used a multiple-baseline, single-case experimental design to investigate the effects of a multicomponent intervention on construction of simple sentences and word sequences. The intervention entailed sequential delivery of sentence instruction and frequency building to a performance criterion and paragraph instruction. Participants included four adolescents (i.e., three females and one male enrolled in grades 8 to 10) with difficulty constructing simple sentences. All participants exhibited improved performance in constructing complete, simple sentences per 1 min. Three of four participants showed improvements in their correct word sequences per 1 min. Following intervention, the majority of participants demonstrated performance comparable to or slightly higher than levels at the end of intervention. The practiced application of simple sentences and word sequences to descriptive paragraphs fluctuated across participants.

Keywords: precision teaching, writing, sentence construction, systematic and explicit instruction, adolescents


Students use written expression across academic settings and content areas to document and synthesize knowledge (Graham, 2013). Unfortunately, many students, including those with and without disabilities, display writing difficulties. Prevalence rates of writing difficulties have met or exceeded rates of reading difficulties in several studies, and students with disabilities have shown an increased likelihood for difficulty (Katusic, Colligan, Weaver, & Barbaresi, 2009; Mayes & Calhoun, 2007; Stoeckel et al., 2013; Yoshimasu et al., 2011). Students who are typically developing along with those with disabilities have also shown underwhelming performance on standardized assessment. In twelfth grade, only 25% of typically developing students and 5% of students with disabilities scored proficient or above on the writing subtest of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Educational Statistics, 2011).

Written expression ranges from sentence level skills (Datchuk & Kubina, 2013; Graham, 2006), such as spelling, handwriting, grammar/ usage, and sentence construction, to more complex skills and strategies needed for multiple-paragraph composition (Berninger & Amtmann, 2003; McCutchen, 2011). Many students struggle with sentence level skills. Students with disabilities and writing difficulties construct a low proportion of complete sentences and commit frequent errors in syntax and grammar/usage (Alstad et al., 2015; Bui, Schumaker, & Deshler, 2006; Krok & Leonard, 2015).

Proficiency in constructing simple sentences is an important and foundational skill for continued writing growth. Constructing simple sentences allows writers to combine sentences into more complex types, such as compound sentences (Berninger, Nagy, & Beers, 2011), and compose multiple related sentences into paragraphs and extended compositions. For students struggling to compose sentences, providing intervention on simple sentences may effectively and efficiently promote writing growth, leading to increases in numerous related skills such as complete sentences, capitalization, punctuation, and words with correct syntax (Datchuk & Kubina, 2013; Kame'enui & Simmons, 1990). Moreover, researchers have proposed that fluency in simple sentence construction assists continued writing growth (Datchuk & Kubina, 2013; Graham et al., 2012).

The fluent construction of simple sentences allows writers to quickly and accurately engage in written expression and to focus on additional demands of writing such as idea generation (Graham et al., 2012). The theory of behavioral fluency explains the possible benefits of achieving fluency with specific academic skills, such as simple sentence construction, and provides a useful framework to develop intervention procedures. …

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