Teaching Young Writers To Unpack Heavy Sentences

Unpacking a heavy sentence!

Have you ever noticed how sometimes when you read, you come to a sentence that makes you keen to know more?

Some sentences have a lot of ideas packed inside them. They prompt the asking of questions. You just know that if you were able to open them up like a suitcase there would be more interesting things to discover.

If we can identify those sentences heavy with hidden ideas, we provide ourselves with opportunities to unpack them and share such magic with our readers.

Student writers frequently write sentences begging to be unpacked. All too often, their readers are left hanging because the writer fails to unpack the loaded words. The curious reader is left unfulfilled. 

Experienced writers undertake such craft moves regularly. Here are some heavy sentences written by Morris Gleitzmann. Notice the way Morris follows up and unpacks them in the sentences that follow.

‘I wake up. My neck is stiff and my eyes hurt in the sunlight and I’ve got breadcrumbs stuck to my face.’

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzmann

‘She looks totally exhausted. Even in this faint light I can see how pale she is, hair plastered round her face, scooping with her eyes closed. Her lips are blue.’

Boy Overboard, Morris Gleitzmann

Here are some more examples I easily uncovered while undetaking some reading as a text detective.

Mc Nabb was a giant. He stood five feet eight and said to weight over and seventy pounds. He had to bring his birth certificate in to the League Director to prove he was only twelve. And still most people didn’t believe it.
Maniac Magee, Jerry Spinelli

Edward started training twice as hard.  Instead if eight kilometres, he swam sixteen. Instead of twenty minutes of exercises, he did forty.’

The Twenty Seventh Annual African Hippopotamus Race, Morris Lurie

‘It was always bedlam at our house. Valjoy was forever slamming out the front door hollering that she was going, this time for good, and not to expect her home ever again. And mum would yell after her that it was the best news she’d heard since she won the fridge in the football club raffle and good riddance- only she didn’t mean it. And in the background Jedda would be whinnying or watching the TV racing results with the sound turned up full blast.’

Hating Alison Ashley, Robin Klein

As you read, look for examples of how other writers unpack their heavy sentences. Copy some examples into your writer’s notebook.
Share them with other writers.

Following this, read some of your own writing and see if you can identify where you might need to unpack a heavy sentence or two.

An example of unpacking a heavy sentence.

‘My uncle took me to the park. 


My uncle took me to the park, where we had the best time climbing and playing inside. He chased me around and around the slides and platforms. After all of that running I needed a break, so we stopped for lunch. What a great time we had!’


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