How to teach sentence structure: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.
In a perfect ELA world, students arrive remembering all previous grammatical elements. (I know the previous year’s teacher taught grammar, just saying.) In older grades, we would discuss the effect of sentence structure in a student essay or analyze an author’s effect from certain use.
That doesn’t normally happen, and we teachers adjust, tweak, and reconfigure. So, how to teach sentence structure, all four of them. . .
The common core dictates that students learn types of sentences in seventh grade. That makes perfect sense! After learning phrases and clauses, students should apply that information to simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. Then when students arrive at high school, we can manipulate and analyze sentence structure in our writing, literature, and nonfiction.
I primarily teach high school students, and that is not the approach I can take when working with types of sentences: I must teach them.
Wherever I have taught, the end goal for freshmen is to finish the year working on phrases and clauses. Then with sophomores and above, we can focus on sentences.
For sophomores, the goal is to finish the year working on types of sentences and their punctuation. For juniors and seniors, enforcing those rules and working those higher thinking skills is the goal.
Taking all of that into account, I’ve created two main methods. (I’ve had failed methods too.) Here is a glimpse into my grammar lesson plans for teaching types of sentences.
Method One: after teaching phrases and clauses.
After teaching parts of speech, parts of a sentence, and verbals, students can understand phrases and clauses. Then we review relative pronouns and subordinating conjunctions. That leads into types of sentences.
The benefits: This is a natural progression. Types of sentences (maybe?!) are the most difficult concept for students. They are tricky, and students have to punctuate them correctly. Then we teachers expect students to write them, find them in literature… I prefer the “building blocks” method where grammar becomes progressively more difficult. I walk along with students to this harder concept.
The negatives: This takes time and relies on students remembering or being proficient in the previous material. I have had classes where identifying conjunctions is a challenge. This method won’t always work.
Method Two: while teaching conjunctions.
Start the semester by reviewing parts of speech and parts of a sentence. Once students can identify nouns/ pronouns/ subjects and verbs, introduce conjunctions. While memorizing and practicing coordinating and correlative conjunctions, teach simple and compound sentences.
Before covering the final two sentences, introduce conjunctive adverbs and the semicolon. Finally, cover subordinating conjunctions, and while doing so, explain complex and compound-complex sentences.
The benefits: First, most students are familiar with the foundational terms. For whatever reason, they have not retained “adverb” or “predicate adjective.” This method allows students to see direct results without review of concepts they have heard before. Students don’t feel like you are talking down to them.
Second, students see a direct action from learning types of sentences. This allows students to understand the punctuation and question authors’ writing approaches.
The negatives: Review will be a part of these lessons. (I am not sure if students would perform better with those foundational parts, but time is short with older students.) I frequently review the combination of clauses for each type of sentence, along with conjunctions.
Typically, method one is my preferred process, with method two working with older students who may need to simply move onto the next level of grammar. The second method is not perfect, but I do have more success with it than getting stuck reviewing parts of a sentence for a month.
I’ve taught types of sentences at numerous grade levels, sometimes with better success than other times. These two approaches help me meet my goals while still balancing that against time constraints. I would love for other ELA teachers to add to these methods. If you need a diver deep into scaffolding, check out this post on sentence structure.
How to teach sentence structure? Use a variety of tools, rely on chunking, and build on prior knowledge.
Over the years, I’ve developed a variety of tools (for differentiation, variety, types of learners, and such). Here are a few I use for teaching types of sentences:
review: types of sentences worksheet
a bit interactive: types of sentences task cards
interactive notebook: types of sentences interactive pieces
coloring sheet: color by grammar, types of sentences
Need more? I’ve added a presentation to Slide Share with specifics to teaching types of sentences. Watch it alone, with a colleague, or as a department.