How And Why To Teach Sentence Types In High School

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Some grammar concepts might be a tough sell to convince your students why they matter. We’ve all experienced the glazed over eyes staring back at us during a grammar lesson. However, teaching sentence types is a grammar concept that definitely matters because by knowing it, students will have a clear tool for better writing.

Short on time? Get our free, no-prep lesson available here at the bottom of this post. Check out the end of this post for info on joining the membership to have access to any of the lessons in the vault. Real quick before we get into sentence types–if your students don’t already have an understanding of basic parts of speech, you’ll definitely want to teach that first. You can grab our free complete unit on parts of speech when you click here so that you don’t have to plan a single thing for that unit.  parts of speech unit

The 4 Types of Sentences Your Students Should Know

There are four types of sentences that are important to know for students to strengthen the fluency in their writing: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. Each sentence type has its own makeup of clauses (independent and dependent). The type of sentence a writer uses in a situation depends on their purpose and audience. A short, suspenseful scene may require several simple sentences, while an academic paper might need more compound or complex sentences. Usually, a combination of all sentence types is important to create fluency.

Why Learn The Different Sentence Types

In most situations if a student hears the feedback “strengthen your fluency,” this means absolutely nothing. This is why we must give them a clear tool for more fluent writing. Once they know what the different sentence types are and can distinguish them in their own writing, they can see if they have 4 compound sentences in a row. They can see how that might a clunky paragraph that the reader must read through very slowly. Or perhaps they have a paragraph with 6 simple sentences; they can start to see how that feels choppy and could benefit from a longer or more complex sentence to help with the rhythm.

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When it comes to writing, modeling is always key. Consider showing students multiple examples of writing – some where there is no variety and others with multiple sentence types used. Students can make their own determination about what is more interesting to read, and in what situations one should only use one or two sentence types. Students could bring in works from their favorite authors, look at a sample of writing, and analyze what types of sentences the author uses.

To take it deeper, they can consider why the author writes that way. Is it a suspenseful book? Maybe the author used several short, simple sentences in a scene to create tension. Maybe it’s a classic and the author has used several complex sentences in a row to describe a scene with vivid imagery. Why would the author make the choices they did? What’s the purpose? Who’s the audience? These are always worthwhile questions to ask when it comes to reading and writing.

How To Teach The Concept:

Although some strong readers will pick up on the concept of fluent writing on their own from many hours of reading, many students need direct instruction that they can then apply to the literature they interact with and to their own writing. Consider using the following framework for teaching sentence types with your students. This whole lesson is available already done for you at the bottom of this blog post if you’d like to just plug-and-play.

1.) Engage your learners with a fun warm-up. 

This puts students into a positive mental space, ready to learn. It also engages them from the first crucial minutes of class and breaks down any defenses that might be up. It can be fun to use a warm up that can in some way tie into the concept–for instance a set of agree/disagree statements that also model the different sentence types. 

2.) Give brief direct instruction.

You’ll need to explain what these different sentence types are–but keep this light, engaging, and fun. Your example sentences can be about pop stars or politicians, athletes or activists. Include people or subjects in your example sentences that will cause your students to perk up a bit. 

For the direct instruction you’ll need to make it clear what the differences are between simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences by explaining that each has a different number of clauses and/or type of clauses. This is also a meaningful time to talk about comma usage in each type of sentence. 

You can give students guided notes to keep them on track during this part of the lesson as well as the next parts of the lesson. 

3.) Show examples of mentor sentences that use the concept you are teaching.

Mentor sentences are critical when teaching any writing concept, and never has this been more true with showcasing sentence variety and fluency. 

You can choose mentor sentences from YA novels, classics, current-day articles, or anything your students might find interesting or engaging. Choose a variety of sentences from various authors so that ideally students can connect with at least one of those examples. 

Display a few of these mentor sentences for students and ask them what they notice. Can they distinguish the clauses? What type of sentence is it? Does the sentence convey any mood or tone due to the sentence type? If you can showcase a chunk of a novel, that can also be quite powerful as students can see how the different types of sentences work together to create a scene. 

picture of a mentor sentence for students to observe as the learn the different sentence types

4.) Use sentence frames for students to imitate. 

Students need time to process the concept by completing some type of work that requires them to use the information. Sentence frames are a fantastic way to scaffold this part of the lesson. By giving your students sentence frames, you will provide them with part of the sentence and they will complete part of the sentence. 

For instance, you may give them an independent clause and require that they finish the sentence with a subordinate clause and then they must punctuate the sentence correctly. Or, you may tell them to start a sentence with an independent clause and then finish it with the independent clause that you have provided and then require them to punctuate it correctly. For ESL students and emergent learners, you might partner them up for this part of the lesson and allow them to work together to decide how to best complete these sentences. 

Picture of a mentor sentence and a sentence frame with directions for how to finish the sentence on a slideshow.

4.) Move on to independent writing. 

When students feel confident in structuring the different sentence types using the sentence frames, they can then write their own sentences. You can provide them with a short video for a prompt which they can watch and then write a paragraph about the characters or conflict in the video. They must use at least one of each sentence type in their paragraphs.

handout with different mentor sentences on it and space for students to write their own sentences.

5.) Students can revise and share. 

It can be easy to leave this piece out of our writing lessons, but it’s a powerful part of the writing process. Allow your students to look back over all their writing from the class period, and put a star next to their best sentence. Volunteers can share with the class, and usually you’ll have many volunteers who want to share because they can see that they have indeed written something well during that class period. 

For revision, you might take a few minutes to have students find the weakest sentence they wrote during the class period. How could that sentence be strengthened? They could share with a partner the “before” and “after” for these sentences, which also allows you and your students to feel like something has been accomplished during that class period and to end on a high note. 

In grammar lessons as with any type of writing lesson it’s always a great strategy to go from modeling/instruction to scaffolded practice to independent practice to revision.

Don’t Plan Another Grammar Lesson!

Teaching grammar can feel hard and overwhelming, so if you’d rather not plan all these lessons from scratch, check out the English Teacher Vault where we have two full curriculums for grammar that is integrated into writing practice. We also have dozens of other resources for teaching secondary English in the vault.

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Without further ado…here is your free, no-prep lesson teaching sentence types! Hope you find it helpful.

Your Free Lesson For Teaching Sentence Types:

Sentence Types Slideshow PDF

Guided Notes Printable PDF

How To Teach This Lesson Video Tutorial

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