How I Teach Complex Sentences

I have not always taught complex sentences to my upper grade students.

It was not on my curriculum standards....

So, I didn't teach it...

Then, our standards changed!

Complex sentences became a part of my language arts curriculum standards, and I was faced with the challenge of how to teach them to my fourth graders so that they would "get it." Truthfully, I was nervous and uncertain that I would be able to meet this challenge. To my surprise, my students exceeded my expectations and were not only able to recognize complex sentences, but more importantly, they were able to use complex sentences in their own writing. This was a game changer for me and such an eye-opener! I realized the potential that this skill could have on my students' writing! Teaching complex sentences became such a very important language arts standard to me that I realized that I needed to teach it early in the school year to have the most benefit for my students.  I want to share with you some of the ideas that I use in my classroom to help my students grasp complex sentences.


Begin with a Dependent and Independent Clauses Mini-Lesson:

I have found that for my students, the best way to introduce complex sentences is to begin with introducing dependent and independent clauses. This gives students the foundation they need to understand the components that make up a complex sentence. My favorite lesson for introducing or reviewing dependent and independent clauses is my PowerPoint lesson. This quick and easy to use mini-lesson breaks down and introduces dependent and independent clauses in a simple way that students can understand. By providing my students with a strong understanding of dependent and independent clauses, students are able to better understand complex sentences.



Create an Anchor Chart:

As with any lesson, an anchor chart is a great visual for students to use as a reference. I created this anchor chart to help my students understand how to combine an independent clause and a dependent clause into a complex sentence. It also provides examples and can be displayed as a visual reference for my students to use as they are writing their own sentences.



Provide students an opportunity to practice with fun games:

Games always make learning a little more fun, and my students enjoy these easy games and activities.

3 Minute Race

Set a timer for 3 minutes. Have students to write as many complex sentences as they can. They may refer to the anchor chart for help with subordinating conjunctions to begin their dependent clauses. When the timer rings, students stop writing. Students can share sentences with a partner to make sure the sentences are complex. Have the students with the most sentences stand. The person with the most shares all of their sentences with the class and gets a prize.

Two Complex and a Simple

Give each student an index card. Each student writes two complex sentences and one simple sentence on each card (in any order). Students then trade cards with a partner. Each partner tries to find the sentence that is not a complex sentence.

Create Flipbooks


Students can create a simple, but fun flipbook that could be used as an assessment. Simply fold a sheet of paper in half like a hot dog (make the paper long). Then create 4 flaps by making 3 separate cuts from the open edge to the fold. (Do not cut through both layers. Only cut through the top layer of the folded paper.) Turn the flipbook as shown above. On the top flap, each student will write "Complex Sentences". Underneath the flap she will write the definition of a complex sentence. On each of the remaining 3 flaps, students will choose and write one subordinating conjunction. Below each of those 3 flaps, the student will use that subordinating conjunction in her own sentence. Once complete, students may decorate and color the outside of the flipbook.




The wonderful thing about teaching students complex sentences is that once students learn how to use this sentence, it can transform their writing completely. When I begin teaching complex sentences and encouraging students to use them in their writing, I tell my students, "It will transform your writing from a third or fourth grade level to a middle school quality paper." This usually excites my students because what fourth grader doesn't want to be like a middle schooler? When my students enter fourth grade, most are still using basic simple sentences. A few have branched out to include compound sentences, so adding complex sentences to a students' writer's toolkit, can truly transform each child's writing ability.



Now, complex sentences is one of my favorite lessons to teach because of the transformation and improvement that I see in my students' writings. Over the years I have discovered that teaching complex sentences is truly a joy! It is a tremendous reward to see my students' writings filled with a variety of types sentences, including some wonderful complex sentences. I have learned that just because the sentence is complex, doesn't mean that it's too complex for the students.

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