Grammar Guide: Sentence Structure
Hints and resources for grammar remediation that won't leave you bogged down in jargon.
By Elijah Ammen
This is part six of a six-part series that focuses on various grammar topics. Check the Lesson Planet Community for the previous five installments, or click on the topics in the paragraph below.
How do we put it all together? You can talk subject-verb agreement, verb tenses, modifiers, conjunctions, and parallelism, but unless you can put together a compelling sentence, nothing matters. Without the proper construction, you're susceptible to sentence fragments and run-on sentences. While it's important to know how to correct these problems, it's better to avoid them altogether, which you can do by understanding all the parts of a sentence and how to use them appropriately.
Here are the key points to remember when teaching sentence structure. This is by no means an exhaustive grammar resource, or even an outline for how to teach the concepts for the first time. You'll find hints for the teaching most important information and resources for instruction and remediation. These are great resources for pull-out teachers or for bellringers and mini-lessons.
Parts of Speech: It might seem elementary, but it's important that your class knows all the parts of speech. I work in a Title 1 school and cannot assume any prior knowledge. You can use a resource like this parts of speech review to test for background knowledge.
Subject and Predicate: When it comes to scaffolding, subjects and predicates are basically at the bottom; however, they are essential to sentence structure. If you have your class begin by identifying subjects and predicates, it chunks the sentence into recognizable components. From this, learners can identify simple, compound, and complex sentences as well as any conjunctions.
Clauses and Phrases: The two previous concepts lead up to this one—if you have a subject and predicate, then you have a clause (whether dependent or independent). If you are lacking one or the other, it's merely a phrase. Make sure that your class understands that these principles are not isolated. Each part of speech works together, like Legos® creating bigger and bigger structures, until they all connect together in a beautifully crafted sentence.
Common Errors: The most common errors are going to be sentence fragments and run-on sentences. To prevent these, you can check out our previous edition on conjunctions or take a look at the resources below. Make sure that your writers understand that fragments and run-ons have the problems in their titles. For instance, fragments are not whole—they are missing a subject, verb, or dependent clause. Run-ons are incorrectly connected and need to be separated or joined together with the appropriate conjunction (remind them that commas and semicolons do not replace conjunctions).
This is where all the pieces come together. In your presentations, you need to show how subjects, predicates, conjunctions, and clauses all work together to create good sentences. With these presentations, you can show each component and how they all work together. You can also show how improper structure can lead to sentence fragments and run-on sentences. With the proper modeling, you can set up for success.
- Vary Sentence Structure: Use this presentation to demonstrate how varying sentence structure can make your writing more engaging.
- Subjects and Predicates: This one is a bit elementary, but it's a good review, especially for lower-level learners.
- Conjunctions and Variety: Study conjunctions as a way to create sentence variety and improve your writing.
- Fragments and Run-Ons: Sometimes you have to know what the errors look like in order to avoid them. Use this presentation on fragments, comma splices, and more to know how to fix incorrect sentence structure.
- Clauses: The better your students understand clauses, the easier it will be for them to puzzle out correct and incorrect sentence structure. Use this presentation to cover the basic definitions, with examples and more.
Practice your sentence variety with a variety of different exercises. You can study sentence patterns, or look at passages in context. If you can identify subjects and predicates, you can identify simple, compound, and complex sentences, and then you can create variety in your sentence structures. These exercises are varied in complexity, so start with the basics and then move to more complex concepts.
- Sentence Patterns: Use this printable as a reference guide for sentence patterns.
- Monotonous Cinderella: For younger ages, demonstrate sentence variety by having them rewrite a version of Cinderella that only uses short, simple sentences.
- Super Sentences: This 96-page packet from Scholastic has it all. While it's targeted at grades 3-6, the table of contents could help you select specific remediation activities for struggling writers.
- Sentence Fluency: Practice combining sentences, finding overlaps in sentences, and smoothing out language.
- Clauses: This resource includes simple, no-frills definitions of clauses with examples and spaces to create your own examples.
- Sentence Combining: Focus just on combining sentences with plenty of examples and practice.
- 10th Grade Workbook: The one-stop shop for grammar work. At 50+ pages, this has every component of sentence structure, with a few activities to spare. Definitely a resource to save and use as needed.
- Subject and Predicate Quiz: Use this as an assessment for grade 4-6, or as a review/pre-test for older students.