Teaching Syntax: Helpful or Hellish?

Seeing some students struggle to build clear sentences has made me reflect on what information might help to guide them. I’ve posted videos on types of sentences according to purpose and structure. But understanding the difference between a statement and a question or the difference between a compound and complex sentence doesn’t always eliminate doubts about the basic elements of a clause. Students may have the pieces, but could be unsure how to fit them together. Or students may have only some of the pieces strung together and fail to see what element is missing.

I’ve decided to create a video lesson (with at least two parts) to teach basic sentence patterns. To some degree this knowledge is empowering, but I realize that hearing grammar terminology or seeing formulas like S+V+O turns a lot of people off. Here’s my plan:

  • I’ll keep the list short. I’ll keep adverbials out of the list of patterns and simply present them as elements that may or may not be present. For example, one basic pattern is S+V (subject and verb). Sometimes an adverbial is required or just added to give more information. But the basic pattern is S+V.
  • I’ll simplify the presentation. I’ll mainly focus on simple sentences so that we’re only looking at a single clause. The goal is to understand how to build one clause. Once this is mastered, complex and compound sentences can be built.

What are you thoughts on teaching syntax? If you feel a short review of sentence structure would benefit your intermediate or advanced students, please consider using my Sentence Structure_handout.


Photo credit: Puzzle, Last, Particles, Piece by 422737. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/puzzle-last-particles-piece-654957/.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. teachertowers says:

    I usually tell my students that the basic recipe is SaVO. The lowercase ‘a’ is for auxiliary and it’s because it can be present or not.

    1. I think there can be variations to our presentations of syntax. The key is to present the information that will be most helpful to that group of students. I see your logic, and I think it’s a useful way to note the role of a helping verb.

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