Exploring Complex Sentences

When it comes to complex sentences, things quickly become... well... complex. At the mere mention of independent clauses, dependent clauses, and subordinating conjunctions, many young eyes immediately glaze over.

One year, when I was about to introduce the topic of complex sentences to my fifth graders, I decided on a whim to use an image of a nurse helping a patient walk. I was amazed by how much this simple image helped my students. I told them that the nurse in the picture was like the independent clause. Just as the nurse can stand alone, so also can an independent clause "stand alone" as a complete sentence. Then I told my students that the patient with the crutch leaning against the nurse was like the dependent clause. The patient could clearly not stand on his own, just as a dependent clause cannot stand alone, either. A dependent clause depends on the independent clause to help it be part of a complete sentence.

This idea resonated so well with my students that I've used this explanation ever since. As you can see, I discarded the nurse/patient image I had previously used. (Although it did the trick, it wasn't very visually appealing.) When I ran across the image below when I purchased a clip art set by Educlips, I upgraded my image to this one.

Complex Sentences Anchor Chart! This blog post also features a FREE activity where students write their own complex sentences.

A FREE PARTNER ACTIVITY

As you can see, there is a lot of information on this anchor chart. Students will only retain these concepts if they get an opportunity to interact with the various elements of complex sentences. Therefore, I created an interactive exercise where students can manipulate each clause and then write complex sentences using the clauses. Personally, I would have students complete this activity with a partner, but students can also do it independently, if you wish. (CLICK HERE if you would like to download this free activity to use with your students.)

First, give each student the two worksheets and the writing mat. (This photo shows only the first worksheet, and the writing mat printed on yellow paper.) They follow the instructions written at the top of the worksheet:
1.  Read the clauses in each pair.
2. Underline the dependent clause with a green marker.
3. Underline the independent clause with a red marker.
4. Circle the subordinating conjunction with a blue marker.

Exploring Complex Sentences: This blog post features a FREE writing activity, plus an anchor chart that focuses on complex sentences.

5. Use the two clauses to write a complex sentence that starts with a dependent clause in the first box of the writing mat.
6. Use the two clauses to write a complex sentence that starts with an independent clause in the adjacent box.
**Don't forget to use capital letters and punctuation!

Exploring Complex Sentences: This blog post features a FREE writing activity, plus an anchor chart that focuses on complex sentences.

Although it's not written in the directions, if you want, you can add a step between Step 4 and Step 5 where students cut out the strips. This might be helpful for students who would benefit from physically moving the dependent clause directly in front of the independent clause before they write the first sentence on their mat. Then, students can move the independent clause to the front before they write the second sentence.

Once students are done, they will have eight complex sentences written in both formats. I recommend checking all of the sentences to make sure students used commas in the first column, and that they refrained from using commas in the second column.

If you are looking for additional resources for teaching about compound and complex sentences to your upper elementary students, feel free to check out the following resource. I have placed my bundle image here, but all of these items are also available for individual purchase in my TpT store.

Simple, Compound, and Complex Sentences Activities- a PowerPoint, task cards, a game, a craftivity, and more!


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Exploring Complex Sentences: This blog post features a FREE writing activity, plus an anchor chart that focuses on complex sentences.