In kindergarten, concepts of print are skills we start teaching at the beginning of the year and revisit throughout the school year. This includes things like noticing spaces between words. It also means being able to distinguish the difference between a written word, letter, and sentence. Students also learn that when we read, we go from left to right. It is also important to hone in on the skill of sentence segmentation after being able to differentiate individual sounds in words. Not only do print concepts help prepare students for future fluent reading and writing, but it does so in a way that also targets some of those key concepts of print! When I am teaching sentence segmentation in kindergarten, I make sure I address it in whole group instruction, with independent practice, in small groups, and within center activities.
Whole Group Instruction
Before teaching sentence segmentation with written sentences, I try to start teaching this skill within our phonemic awareness skills. That means that I have my students practice orally counting the words in spoken sentences, rather than sentences they read. This is something that we can start doing even from the first day of kindergarten to start addressing this skill. It's one of the foundational skills for learning to read and write and the first step toward fluency.
Later in the year, I teach about this skill by looking at our shorter shared reading poems and books and counting each word within a sentence together. I try to point out things like the spaces between words that help us know when words begin and end. I also show that the groups of letters between the spaces represent one word when we are reading. It may seem obvious to us as adults, but for kindergarteners, it is important to be as explicit as possible.
Another good idea for teaching about sentence segmentation is creating an anchor chart that students can refer back to when they are in centers or during independent practice. For example, you can write a simple sentence on chart paper, and then underline and number each word separately. Students then have a visual reminder of how to count words within a sentence. After practicing this skill multiple times in a whole group setting, students are ready to start practicing it alone!
We also practice using exclamation marks and a variety of punctuation marks like the question mark. This gives kids exposure to all sorts of punctuation at the end of a sentence.
As an independent practice, I have students practice sentence segmentation using worksheets with simple sentences. For example, a simple sentence might read, “The cat is big.” First, students can touch and say the individual words in the sentence. Sometimes I offer them bingo chips to cover the words as they read them for additional practice. Then, they can count how many words are in the sentence while coloring a dot for each word. Finally, they can record how many words are in the sentence using the space provided on their worksheet.
Not only does this give students additional practice, but it also serves as a good formative assessment. This allows you to see if any students are still struggling with the concept of breaking apart words. If they are, it might be necessary to revisit the skill in small reading groups. Another option would be to go over it with phonemic awareness activities. In that case, I like to use simple sentences that are on individual pocket chart pieces. It makes it easier for students to see the words as individual parts that make up a whole sentence and gets them one step closer to mastering this skill!
After students become more familiar with sentence segmentation, they can start focusing on the skill during center time. There are many ways you can include sentence segmentation within centers, while also working on phonological awareness. One way is by using clip cards to separate words. On each card, there is a simple sentence and a picture to match the sentence. At the bottom, there are numbers for students to choose from. After students count the different words in the sentence, they can use a clothespin to clip onto the number that shows the correct number of words in a sentence.
Some students have a difficult time figuring out whether the sounds they hear are one word or multiple parts of a word. The clip cards allow them to visualize the words within the sentence in order to count them better. They don't recognize that separate sounds don't always mean different words. Those sounds are blending together to form irregular words.
More Center Activities
In other center activities, students can use counters or small erasers to represent each word in a sentence, and segment it in that way! Regardless of what center activities you use, your students are building on this crucial reading skill and other phonological awareness skills.
As students get prepared to become independent readers and writers, it is so important for them to master concepts of print like sentence segmentation. It will help prepare them to put spaces in their own writing between words, and it will help them to know when one word ends and the next word begins when reading. By addressing it explicitly and in a variety of different ways, we can set them up for later success in literacy.
These activities are perfect for kindergarten and first grade levels. They provide excellent foundational skills practice at home or in the classroom.