With younger children, this concrete activity called “Rubber Band Stretching” works well. Demonstrate how a rubber band starts out small and can be stretched much larger. Read a simple sentence out loud, and ask for suggestions about how to expand it. After a student successfully stretches a sentence by adding new words, hand her a rubber band ball. When a second student stretches the sentence further, the first student passes the ball to the second. The game continues until it is impossible to stretch the sentence anymore! Students then apply the lesson to a piece of their own writing.
With older students, the rubber band can be used to discuss sentence length in more complexity. Bring in a strong piece of writing that includes short, medium, and long sentences. Discuss the various effects. If you have a geo board, you can actually record or map out the sentences using rubber bands. Show how the rhythm of a piece changes depending on sentence lengths.
As a spinoff activity, ask students to map out sentence lengths in advance. Then, try to write a paragraph that fits, and notice how the paragraph sounds. For older students, it is empowering to see how they can control the rhythm of their piece just through sentence length.
-Marcia Chamberlain, WITS Houston