Sentence Patterns in Children’s Books

Advanced Grammar recently covered five Standard English sentence patterns as articulated in Rhetorical Grammar:

  • subject + BE verb + adverbial  (aka who/what be where?)
  • subject + BE verb + subject complement  (aka who/what be what?)
  • subject + linking verb + subject complement
  • subject + intransitive verb
  • subject + transitive verb + direct object

After a quick review and some additional examples of each pattern, each student received a children’s book pulled from my shelves at home. Most are targeted at very early readers. Although students in my class plan to teach grades 4 through 12, if they plan to enter the classroom at all, I was aiming for simplicity, large font, and quick reading. Selections included the following:

  • Harry the Dirty Dog
  • Father Bear Comes Home
  • Cinderella
  • Skippyjon Jones
  • Buttercup the Clumsy Cow
  • Splat the Cat: The Name of the Game
  • Bright Stanley
  • The Color Kittens
  • Goldilocks and the Three Bears
  • The Three Little Pigs
  • Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See

I asked students to identify sentences that follow our five patterns. The results can be seen in this Prezi:

Books like Carle’s Brown Bear, Brown Bear are written almost wholly using Pattern 5, with direct objects everywhere you look. Students had the most trouble identifying Pattern 3 sentences and found more Pattern 4 (intransitive verb) examples overall.

Should we then focus on teaching patterns that are more common in the reading students are likely to do in early elementary grades?


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