How To Teach Sentence Structure: Teaching Sentence Structure

Looking for how to teach sentence structure & connect grammar to writing? Sentence structure activities can engage secondary ELA students & improve writing. Teaching sentence structure requires scaffolded grammar practice & a flexible sentence structure lesson. For how to teach sentence structure, download this free grammar PDF. Sentence structure lessons diversify sentences in student essays. A sentence structure lesson plan will impact middle school language arts classes & high school English.

Looking for helpful grammar lesson plans on how to teach sentence structure? In this post, I’ll share ideas for teaching sentence structure with 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.) When I consider teaching sentence structure, I think of three ideas:

First, students might not be ready for your sentence structure lesson. We teachers scaffold, adjust, tweak, and reconfigure. Simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences: These sentences are tough to recognize and punctuate. Your students might be intimidated with sentence structure activities, and they might need support or review.

Second, 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. However, we ELA teachers might complete direct instruction with sentence structure at various grades. (This is ok!)

Finally, give yourself grace your first sentence structure lesson. I’m going to walk you through my process and give you suggestions. Just like anything in teaching, the first time through a lesson, you might stumble. You will be able to still meet the standards and complete your sentence structure lesson plan! This post aims to help you as you fine-tune your methods for teaching sentence structure.

Honestly, teaching sentence structure can be engaging and rewarding because students will easily see implementation into their writing. Here are my ideas for making meaningful sentence structure activities.

Start with some tools.

To begin, this infographic is for you and your students. Please right click on the picture, save it, and show it to your students. Upload it to Google Classroom if you’d like. Doing so firstly shows students that you have a plan for them. Secondly, students will know what to expect and understand that some concepts are requirements for understanding types of sentences. Finally, you will have all of the definitions and expectations in one spot as you continue teaching sentence structure. Parents and students alike appreciate this.

How to teach sentence structure? Looking for types of sentences worksheets? Try these approaches and activities while studying simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences. Discover best practices for how to teach sentence structure.

Then, you can download this free guide for structuring your types of sentences lesson plans. If you are overwhelmed with how to teach sentence structure, this lesson planning guide will be invaluable. As you work through your sentence structure activities, make small notes as to where to review, where to reinforce, and on. Then as you consider how to teach sentence structure in upcoming years, you’ll have your notes and reflections to flesh out new lessons. 

Use that guide to take notes as you decide what tools are best for you as you read this post, as you work with your students, and as you reflect for future lessons.


To start teaching sentence structure, consider where your students are with their grammatical knowledge. For instance, wherever I have taught, the end goal for freshmen is to finish the year working on phrases and clauses. (I developed a phrases and clauses grammar set for download that includes a presentation, notes and classroom activities.) Your freshmen might be ready to work on applying sentence structure to their writing. Meet students where they are so that they are ready for the next step.

For me, with sophomores and above, we can focus on sentence structure activities that require higher level thinking. Often with sophomores, the goal is to finish the year working on sentence structure and their punctuation. (All of my subscribers have access to my free comma sheet which is helpful with any sentence structure lesson.)

For juniors and seniors, enforcing those punctuation rules and working those higher-thinking skills is the goal. Students should be able to identify the types of sentences in what they read and examine how the author expressed their message. Additionally, students should decide how their sentences provide meaning in their writing.

I’m giving you all of that information so that you can see how I think of sentence structure lessons. You should take into account what works for your community.

Considering every sentence structure lesson plan, I’ve created two main methods. (I’ve had failed methods too.) Here is a glimpse into my grammar lesson plans for teaching sentence structure.

Method One: Introduce types of sentences 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. Doing this naturally leads into sentence structure activities.

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, etc. …

I prefer the “building blocks” method, where grammar becomes progressively more difficult. I walk students along 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.

If method one won’t help you figure how to teach sentence structure, method two might be better:

Method Two: Cover types of sentences while teaching conjunctions.

You can start the semester by reviewing parts of speech and parts of a sentence. Once your students can identify nouns/ pronouns/ subjects and verbs, you can introduce conjunctions. Then, you will cover sentence structure lessons as you layer other grammatical concepts:

  • While students are memorizing and practicing coordinating and correlative conjunctions, you can teach simple and compound sentences.
  • Before covering the final two types of 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 their sentence structure activities. 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.

Which method will you choose for your grammar lessons?

At this point, you might still be asking how to teach sentence structure. Typically, method one is my preferred process, with method two working with older students who may need to simply move to 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.

Teaching sentence structure has been part of my grammar curriculum for numerous grade levels, sometimes with better success than other times. These two approaches help me meet my goals while still balancing against time constraints.

Secondary ELA teachers: How to teach sentence structure? Connect grammar to writing with these sentence structure activities and free grammar downloads. Teaching sentence structure can benefit young writers because they have new tools to express their ideas. A sentence structure lesson can teach comma use, semicolon rules, and conjunction lessons. Sentence structure activities can be hands on grammar. High school language arts teachers: how to each sentence structure is here!

Deeper Dive

You’ve decided your method for teaching sentence structure in your curriculum. Great! That decision is a huge one. Now, let’s dive deeper into our sentence structure lesson plans. I follow the basic order: simple, comp0und, complex, and then compound-complex.

Simple and compound sentences.

Introduce simple sentences. Students know what these sentences are: simple sentences contain a subject and a verb, and either one of those can be compound. Don’t think that these “easy” sentences can get a fast explanation. Students must be able to identify an independent clause for other sentences.

Spend a two or three days (take more if needed!) covering simple sentences. Ask students to write them. Create simple sentences with compound subjects together. Find simple sentences in literature. Practice them in a variety of ways.

As students become more comfortable with simple sentences, ask students to include two or three in a writing assignment. Then ask students to evaluate their use. Do simple sentences provide a specific impact? Should some sentence not be simple. Doing that simple exercise naturally transitions your lessons to compound sentences.

After students understand simple sentences, cover coordinating and correlative conjunctions, along with conjunctive adverbs. You probably covered conjunctions with parts of speech earlier in the year, but students normally need a quick reminder. I do provide direct instruction so that students can reference their notes.

Combine simple sentences together from the previous days’ lessons, and build on students’ prior knowledge. Typically, I complete lots of group and laid-back work with simple and compound sentences by using grammar manipulatives. Students write compound sentences every day, but many of them forget to use proper punctuation. I review that component with them as well.

Finally, continue to play with simple and compound sentences. I often pull sentences from students’ work anonymously. To do so,  I copy and paste sentences from digital work into a presentation for the class. Doing this allows me to praise students for writing such powerful sentences. We apply our grammar concepts specifically to student writing.

Looking for how to teach sentence structure & connect grammar to writing? Sentence structure activities can engage secondary ELA students & improve writing. Teaching sentence structure requires scaffolded grammar practice & a flexible sentence structure lesson. For how to teach sentence structure, download this free grammar PDF. Sentence structure lessons diversify sentences in student essays. A sentence structure lesson plan will impact middle school language arts classes & high school English.

Complex and compound-complex sentences.

My compound sentence lesson plan is often a bridge from simple to complex sentences. Coordinating and correlative conjunctions can be in both simple and compound sentences, so those sentence structure activities fit together nicely.

Then, review subordinating conjunctions. We memorize these conjunctions, and my students often call them ASWABIs. (That pneumonic sounds like a medical term to me, but students remember it!) After students can recognize subordinating conjunctions and relative pronouns, we begin highlighting dependent clauses in complex sentences. Again, I provide direct instruction before students begin writing and identifying complex sentences.

As students write complex sentences, we cover comma rules. (You can also download that student handout for free in that post.) We did cover comma rules with compound sentences, but I find that I reference that sheet frequently as we cover sentence structure.

Before I work on compound-complex sentences, we practice identification and writing the three types of sentences together. Students might need a quick review at this point. I rely on color by grammar to review the three types of sentences so far. This coloring activity encourages students to reread the questions so that they get the coloring right, and I like that extra emphasis. You could also do a quick Google quiz review if you don’t have time for coloring. Don’t worry if you think you’re teaching sentence structure slowly; you’re not. As you continue with sentence structure activities, you’ll continue adding punctuation lessons and writing mini-lessons. You are teaching SO much more than sentences.

Finally, we add all the pieces together for compound-complex sentences. We play with the language with our manipulatives or sticky notes. Often, I treat this portion as a review of all the sentences. Students will create a simple sentence, then add another independent clause for a compound sentence, and then they will add a dependent clause for a compound-complex sentence.

You can have students write a paragraph that uses all of the sentences or you can write a paragraph together. Discuss concepts with students: when does a simple sentence work? When is a complex sentence effective? Any time that you can connect grammar to writing, take the opportunity to do so. The practice might feel forced at first, but eventually, your integration of grammar terms will be natural.

Finally. . .

As you close sentence structure activities, gather datal with a quick exit ticket activity. If students do well, continue discussions about sentence structure with student writing. If students need more practice, circle back to the grammar manipulatives. (You can also use sticky notes to create pieces of sentences.) Other times, I simply ask students where their trouble is. I provide targeted practice for that area.

Another tip: reference the infographic as you teach! It has definitions, and students can keep a copy pulled up on their devices.

Types of sentences worksheets, hands-on pieces, and grammar sorts sprinkled with direct instruction, writing, and guidance will create a successful experience. If you are looking for many of the materials mentioned in this post, you can see my sentence structure bundle.

How to teach sentence structure? You have some choices, and you should consider what will best serve your students. I hope the guidelines and ideas in this post helped!

Are you still looking for more ideas for how to teach sentence structure and for sentence structure activities? Try Grammar Gurus, a free Facebook group full of helpful teachers.