Let’s Teach: Complex Sentences Part 2

Let’s Teach: Complex Sentences Part 2

If you haven’t had a chance to read Let’s Teach: Complex Sentences Part 1, please do.  It will explain why I am teaching a higher level skill to fourth graders this year.  The fourth-grade class that I was teaching this week was really struggling to identify independent and dependent clauses, so what do I do?  I teach a full-blown complex sentence lesson.  I thought I was crazy, but it worked!

As I mentioned in Part 1, the Texas 4th grade STAAR test does ask revising questions that relate to complex sentences, which isn’t a fourth-grade TEKS.  Independent and dependent clauses are a fourth-grade TEKS, but students were really struggling to identify a dependent clause without help.

After brainstorming ways to differentiate this concept, we decided that by going ahead and teaching complex sentences, students would have a keyword (subordinating conjunction) to look for and help them identify a dependent clause.  Once they were comfortable with this, then we could take it to a higher level and have students see that even though a dependent clause has a subject and a verb, it does not have a complete thought. Our hope is that they will then be able to identify all dependent clauses even when they do not have a subordinating conjunction.

Complex Sentence Notes
Complex Sentence Notes

What is a Complex Sentence?

A complex sentence is made up of an independent clause and a dependent clause.  When teaching complex sentences, I give students two things.  I give them a list of subordinating conjunctions and a couple of formulas.  I like to use AAAWWUBBIS as my acronym for remembering the subordinating conjunctions; however, I add an extra E at the end to make AAAWWUBBISE.  This acronym gives you the most common subordinating conjunctions.

After                                                             Before
Although                                                     Because
As                                                                  If
When                                                           Since
While                                                           Even though
Until

The sentence formulas that I use are:

IC   SC   DC
SC   DC,   IC

How Do These Words and Formulas Work?

Every complex sentence follows one of these two patterns.  If your complete sentence, or independent clause, comes first, then you do not need a comma.  If the dependent clause comes first, you do need a comma to separate the two clauses.  As you can see, the subordinating conjunction is always attached to the dependent clause.  It is always at the beginning of the dependent clause.  

Complex Sentence Interactive Notebook
Interactive Notebook

When students begin recognizing the patterns of complex sentences, the lightbulbs start to click.  I have students label every single complex sentence they encounter.  Another thing that helps is to show them how the patterns allow you to flip a sentence (as seen in the notes above).  You can write the same sentence two different ways and it still makes sense.  

This is when my 7th graders would always say, “Mrs. Bowman, you can’t start a sentence with Because.”  And my reply would always be, “Oh but you can! ONLY if you follow the complex sentence rules!  If you don’t follow the rules and add the comma in the correct place, then you should not start your sentence with because.” 

Our fourth-graders were so smart this day and really seemed to grasp a basic understanding of complex sentences.  By the end of class, they were using expo markers to write their own complex sentences on their desk, and they were able to flip the sentence and add the comma in the correct place.  I was very excited!

I think having this basic understanding of complex sentences will help them in a couple of different ways.  Knowing complex sentences gives students another tool for revising their own writing.  They can identify complex sentences and know how to make sure they are written correctly. They can also write with a variety of sentences: simple, compound, and complex.  

How do you teach complex sentences, and do you introduce them as early as 4th grade?  I am actually very glad that the new ELAR TEKS introduces this skill before 7th grade.  It is such a big part of being a good writer and a huge step in the revising process.  It is the one skill that I cover year round.

Complex Sentences TPT
Complex Sentences are my favorite thing to teach!  So many lightbulb moments.
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