What Are Fun Ways to Teach Transitions in Writing to a Fourth-grade Class?

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You can select from a number of play-based activities to help fourth-grade writers identify and become comfortable using transitions. Activities that incorporate games can help students master this often difficult-to-acquire writing skill. Through these activities, your students will have many more transition options available to use in their essays and narratives besides the very predictable “and then.”

1 Hunt for Transitions

To encourage fourth-graders to use a broader range of common transitions in their own writing, start with a game of counting how many of these words appear in a story at or slightly below the students’ reading level. Fairy tales like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or other picture books that contain sequence transitions such as “and then,” “meanwhile” and “eventually” work well for this game. Focusing on the words used to move events along in stories helps kids become well acquainted with possible word choices in their own writing. For extra incentive, reward children with stickers for locating and listing the most words. Post their discoveries for students to see daily and incorporate into their own stories.

Vocabulary Builder

2 Fill in the Blank

Another active way to help fourth-graders master transitions is to provide lists of transitional words and ask kids to put them into a story in which you have removed the transitional words. Help children see that some words work better than others; for instance, “on the one hand” and “on the other hand” are useful only when two or more things are being compared. Children can read their versions aloud to each other to see whether the words chosen make sense, or whether there is more than one way to fill in a transitional word blank.

3 Write a Fun “How To” Article

For a fun lesson in using transitional time-order words -- such as "first," "next," "then" and "lastly" -- have the children pantomime or actually perform tasks they can do easily. Some examples are making a sandwich or getting ready for school. Encourage them to write down the steps in order, but, instead of numbering each one, have them use a different word to explain each task. Encourage them not to overuse the words "next" and "then" but to use other words or phrases, such as “to begin with,” “additionally,” “furthermore” and other variations.

4 Make a Word Wall of Transitions

Create a classroom bulletin board as an interactive way to bring children's attention to transitional words and phrases. Find examples in ads and news articles to display, and encourage students to bring in their own discoveries. Create a decorative river from blue paper and print transitional words on brown bridges that span the water to emphasize the role of these words in clear writing.

Group words in purpose categories, such as Show Cause and Effect, with the transitions "so," "it follows that" and "as a result." Make another category -- Show Differences -- with "although," "in spite of," "in contrast to" and "however." Highlight words that emphasize similarities between ideas like "also," "another," "as well as" and "furthermore." Students can refer to these when doing their own writing.

Julie Alice Huson is a parent and an educator with a Master of Science in education. She has more than 25 years of teaching experience, and has written educational materials for Colonial Williamsburg. She has also worked in consultation with the California Department of Education. Huson received a Fulbright Distinguished Award in Teaching in 2011.