How To Teach Appositive Phrases So They Stick

Teaching appositive phrases is a simple way to give your secondary students one more tool for writing with more intentionality. Teaching any type of phrase can help your students add rhythm and cadence to their writing when used well, and appositive phrases are a great place to start. 

Appositive phrases are a fantastic starting point when teaching how to use phrases well because students will mainly be working with nouns when they are working with appositive phrases, and most students have a good grasp of what nouns are. 

Here’s the step-by-step breakdown for how to teach appositive phrases with mentor sentences. 

Engage Your Students With “Would You Rather” Questions That Feature Appositive Phrases

It’s always a good idea to get your students laughing (or at least smiling) at the beginning of class with a would you rather question, and if you’re sneaky you can put some appositives in that would you rather question. 

Dray their attention to the appositives in the question after you’ve had a few minutes to listen to students’ responses to the questions, then jump into the lesson. 

Explain How Appositives Are Really Nouns

Appositives are nouns. That’s what they are. The long and short of it is that an appositive is a noun that renames another noun. 

Simple right? 

A noun after a noun. 

Sometimes appositives give a teeny bit more information about the noun before it, sometimes the appositive actually gives us key information about the noun before it. 

Consider, the sentence here: 

Jim, her dad, looked at her accusingly. 

Certainly “her dad” is key information if we don’t know who Jim is. However, even in this situation, “her dad” is simply renaming Jim. 

For this part of the lesson, it’s important that you keep your students engaged so they don’t zone out. One way to do that is by having funny example sentences, or even use your students as examples in your example sentences. 

Showcase Writing From Published Authors With Appositive Phrases

After you’ve taught the general concept of appositives you can move on to appositive phrases, which is simply a group of words that altogether are acting as a noun to rename another noun. 

Then, draw your students’ attention to sentences taken from published works that have appositives and appositive phrases in them. 

When students see how other writers use appositive phrases, the learning will sink in deeper. 

You can observe and discuss these mentor texts together as a class. Consider a few of the following questions to help students see how appositives can work in a sentence:

  • How would this sentence be different without that appositive phrase?
  • Would important meaning be lost?
  • Would the rhythm of the sentence be different?
  • What if you replaced that appositive phrase with a different appositive phrase?
  • How would the rhythm or meaning of the sentence change with a different appositive phrase?

Have Some Fun With Phrases

Appositive phrases are so fun to work with, and anytime you can bring a little fun into the classroom, why not? 

One way to wake your students up is to make a list of ridiculous appositive phrases and have them fill those into sentence frames. 

A few appositives students could work with might be: my longest toenail, her lizard, a gorilla, or anything unique or unexpected.

Consider giving students a simple sentence frame like this one, and just have them fill different appositive phrases into the blank:

Tammy, ______________________, requires too much of me in this friendship.

So, an example of a response to this could be:

Tammy, my pet narwhal, requires too much of me in this friendship.

Write Using Appositive Phrases

After students have a grasp of the concept of appositive phrases and have observed how other writers write using them, you’ll want to give students opportunities to write with them as well. 

Revisit the mentor sentences you looked at earlier in the lesson and have students write imitation sentences similar to those mentor sentences. 

Have them come up with their own appositive phrases to rename the noun in the sentence. 

If you have ESL students or if you’re working with emergent learners, you may have students brainstorm together in groups a list of appositive phrases first, and then have them work individually on their imitation sentences to see what appositive phrase to use in the sentence. 

Have Students Practice Understanding With Video and Picture Prompts

After students have written a few imitation sentences, give them a picture or video prompt and a topic about which to write. 

You could tell them to describe the main character in an animated short, and one of the sentences about that character needs to include an appositive or an appositive phrase. 

The more students write using a grammar concept, the better because this then becomes a tool in their writing toolbox which they can apply to future writing assignments. 

Check That Students Understand Appositive Phrases

At the end of class be sure to do a check-in. 

You can have every student share aloud a sentence that they wrote about the picture or video clip, or you could have them do this with partners while you circulate. 


  • Writing with phrases like appositive phrases allows students to have one more tool to better craft their writing. 
  • Appositive phrases are a great place to start when it comes to teaching phrases because students are mainly working with nouns in this lesson, and most students have a grasp of what nouns are. 
  • Use published works to show how writers use appositive phrases in their writing, and then give students several opportunities to write with appositive phrases. 

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