Can I make a confession? I really haven’t made syntax and grammar a priority with my older students. Sure, with my younger elementary we work on plenty of pronouns, question formation, word order, verb tense, and plural noun goals. But once my students have mastered those, I tend to leave syntax skills for the classroom teacher to target as part of the general education curriculum.
However, after attending a fabulous session at the ASHA convention this year titled, “Realistic Ways to Help Students With LLD Meet Common Core State Standards for Syntax” presented by Angela Tamborella and Bonnie Singer, I really started to think about the ways my students struggle with more complex syntax skills, and how it effects them in the classroom setting.
In particular, I realized that while my students may have been mastering their other language goals, they don’t have the skills for the more complicated language tasks that will be expected of them in middle school, particularly in understanding and utilizing compound and complex sentences. When I took a closer look the both the spoken and written language of my students, I notice that the verb tenses are usually correct, and that they can generally convey the meaning of what they are trying to say, but compared to what is expected of their age, their sentence structure is very immature.
After leaving ASHA, I did quite a bit of background research on compound and complex sentences. In order to teach a concept, I feel that I have to understand it well myself. I discovered two different acronyms used to help students remember the different types of conjunctions.
Coordinating conjunctions (which are used to form compound sentences) can be remembered with the acronym FANBOYS. This stands for for, and, nor, but, or, yet, and so. Subordinating conjunctions (which are used to form complex sentences) can remembered with the acronym AAAWWUBBIS (pronounced “ah-woo-bis”). This stands for after, although, as, when, while, until, before, because, if, and since.
I made this FANBOYS and AAWWWUBBIS poster set to help my students remember each acronym. You can grab it for free here!
I also created a complete mini-unit to systematically teach my students how to use coordinating and subordinating conjunctions properly to form compound and complex sentences. It is divided into two separate sections - I use the coordinating conjunctions section with students in about third grade and up, and the subordinating conjunctions with students in fourth or fifth grade and up.
Each section comes with posters that contain the main concepts, as well as one for each student to fill out. There are two levels of task cards in each set, as well as 5 worksheets. Each section is designed to be covered over several sessions, and includes a suggested pacing guide.
I’ve only been working on these concepts for about two months or so, but I have already seen improvement in my students’ writing skills. I’m excited to see what further gains we can make by systematically targeting compound and complex sentences!