K-12 Teaching and Learning From the UNC School of Education

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Learning outcomes

Students will:

  • expand sentences into action chains.
  • Students will revise their own stories by adding action chains.

Teacher planning

Time required for lesson

1 hour


  • Action Chains Transparency pdf | rtf
  • overhead markers

Technology resources

Overhead projector or some other projection device



  1. Explain to the students that an action chain is a series of three closely related, sequential events included in one sentence.
  2. Write the following sentence on the board: I fell down the stairs. Model putting an action chain in the sentence. Ask yourself, “Let’s see, what was the first thing that happened when I fell down the stairs? I believe it was that I caught my toe in the carpet.” (Write, ‘Caught my toe’ on the board). The next thing that happened was that I fell forward. (Write, ‘Fell forward’ on the board.) Then I tumbled down the stairs. If I put all three actions into one sentence, I’ll have an action chain. It will sound like this: “I caught my toe in the carpet, fell forward, and tumbled down the stairs.” Write the sentence on the board as you say it.
  3. Point out the word “fell”. Tell the students that another verb might be better. Write the following verbs on the board saying them aloud: pitched, lunged, plunged, tilted, dove. Ask the students to suggest others that would fit in the sentence.
  4. Ask the students to select one of the suggested verbs to take the place of fell. As students list their choices, ask them to explain why they chose that particular verb or why they did not choose another particular verb. For example, “I chose pitched because it makes me think of a sudden, jerky action.” OR “I did not choose tilt because tilt doesn’t make me think of falling completely over.”

Note to the teacher: It is important that the subject of the sentence with the action chain be the person or thing that does the action. For example, if we had begun the sentence with “My toe got stuck under the carpet,” we would have to make the other two actions things that the toe did. Making “toe” the subject results in writing run-on sentences instead of action chains. Use this example to emphasize to students that it was the person who fell, not the toe. So the person (in this case, the pronoun I) should be the subject of the sentence.

Guided Practice

  1. Divide the class into small groups of two or three students. Assign each group one of the sentences on the overhead transparency. The groups’ task is to write an action chain for the sentence. If the students need further modeling, act out the first sentence. Then put the actions into the sentence. “Mr. Roper threw back his head, closed his eyes, and bellowed a deafening sneeze.”
  2. Give the students about five minutes to compose their action chains.
  3. Allow students to share their sentences. If two or more groups have the same sentence, allow students to compare the effectiveness of the different action chains in depicting specific actions.

Independent Practice/Revision Conferences

  1. The teacher can either highlight specific places in students’ stories where an action chain would improve the content, or have students select a story from their writing folder and identify a specific place to revise using action chains.
  2. The teacher can meet with individual students to talk about where and how to add an action chain to their stories. Examples of teacher feedback during a revision conference would sound something like the following: “Your reader wants to see you hit that ball. See if you can use an action chain to help your reader see the action. How about starting with ‘I fixed my eyes on the pitcher.’ “I’ll bet your reader would laugh if you put in an action chain to show how you got stuck in your overhead sweater.” “Your reader would like to know what you did when you heard your name called out on the loud speaker. For example, you could say, ‘My whole body tensed up, broke out in a cold sweat, and began to shake.’”
  3. The teacher can then have students revise their draft by adding action chains in the places discussed in the revision conference.

Note to the teacher: The technique above allows the teacher to have a five-second conference with individual students. The students understand the term ‘action chains’ and practice composing them. The teacher points out a specific place in the story where an action chain would enhance the details. This conference provides specific, individual, instructional feedback. In this way, the teacher can have a focused conference with every student in the class in fewer than two or three minutes!


  • Can students expand a single event into an action chain of 3 or more related actions?
  • Can students revise their own writing by adding action chains?

Supplemental information

  • Writing Feature: Support and Elaboration
  • Writing Process Stage: Revision
  • Writing Environment: Expressive
  • Writing Genre: Personal narrative and Imaginative narrative.

  • Common Core State Standards
    • English Language Arts (2010)
      • Writing

        • Grade 3
          • 3.W.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
        • Grade 4
          • 4.W.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, and editing.
        • Grade 5
          • 5.W.5 With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

North Carolina curriculum alignment

English Language Arts (2004)

Grade 3

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.08: Focus reflection and revision (with assistance) on target elements by:
      • clarifying ideas.
      • adding descriptive words and phrases.
      • sequencing events and ideas.
      • combining short, related sentences.
      • strengthening word choice.

Grade 4

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.08: Focus revision on a specific element such as:
      • word choice.
      • sequence of events and ideas.
      • transitional words.
      • sentence patterns.

Grade 5

  • Goal 4: The learner will apply strategies and skills to create oral, written, and visual texts.
    • Objective 4.08: Focus revision on target elements by:
      • improving word choice.
      • rearranging text for clarity.
      • creating simple and/or complex sentences for clarity or impact.
      • developing a lead, characters, or mood.