Grammar in context #1

In this post I’ll show you a few ways to embed the basic subordinate clause into your teaching. This is one of the clauses assessed in Australia’s National Assessment Program Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). This approach can be used with the various sentence structure concepts I outlined in The Art of the Sentence.

This approach is easily differentiated – for struggling writers you focus on learning how to write the structures, and for stronger writers you can use the structures as way of teaching and embedding grammatical knowledge and concepts.

Below is the Stage 3 indicator for Outcome EN3-6B (this is built upon in EN4-4B and EN5-5B).

  • understand the difference between main and subordinate clauses and that a complex sentence involves at least one subordinate clause (ACELA1507)

The general ‘rule’ is that when you begin a sentence with one of these words, you are likely to need a comma at some point to separate the clause. The image below contains the common subordinating conjunctions, easily remembered by the mnemonic AAAWWUBBIS (ah-woo-bis). NAPLAN training uses the mnemonic of A White Bus.

Here is a table of examples of this structure

The approach

How can I make this content statement part of a regular instructional practice and not as a standalone grammar instruction unit? The steps below are a rough guide of what I do, progressively adding detail.

  1. Begin with a model sentence(s) and interrogate what kids notice about the model sentence. Ideally this should be the simplest model you can find to explain the concept.
  2. Draw attention to the use of punctuation and discuss what the punctuation in doing in the sentence.
  3. Imitate the sentence as a joint class construction.
  4. Provide opportunity for independent imitation of the model sentence. This will give you rapid formative feedback on student skill.
  5. Look for examples of the structure in the texts your class is reading. Collect examples and use these as WAGOLL samples (What A Good One Looks Like).
  6. Repeat this routine on a daily basis with different models. Provide a mnemonic to remember the common subordinators
  7. Interrogate the model sentence – where are the verbs, which part is the essential meaning, can the sentence be rearranged without impact on the meaning, which part can be deleted and the sentence still make sense, which part is only a ‘part of a sentence’.
  8. Consider naming the relevant parts (main clause, subordinate clause)
  9. Look for examples in daily texts.
  10. Quick write opportunities with the success criteria being the use of this sentence structure. Students review their piece identifying the concept.

Other activities

The key is to continue to embed these concepts into daily conversation and writing. Apart from some of the writing activities mentioned above (Quick Writes and Imitation of model sentences) here are a couple that I think are great to do to reinforce and develop these ideas further:

  • Chapter titles
  • Parallel writing structure

Chapter titles

One activity is to get students to write chapter titles using only the subordinate clause. These are titles that begin with the common subordinators in the list above. It is an easy task to implement and it provides the necessary practice that some students need. It also gives you the opportunity to discuss the grammar of the sentence, if the students are ready for that.

Here are some samples for you:

  • When in Rome
  • While the City Sleeps
  • Until Day Breaks
  • Because of Winn-Dixie
  • Before Sunrise
  • If Looks Could Kill
  • Since Vietnam
  • parallel writing structures

    Parallel structures are a way to create rhythm and beat in writing. We can use grammatical and literal repetition to help students to emulate professional author craft.

    Harry Noden uses this sentence as the base for students to build some parallel structures:

    “The old cabin made me feel close to nature.”

    He then adds the subordinate conjunction when:

    When I awoke to the aroma of burnt fire logs, when I looked out the window and saw the morning fog roll across the lake, when I felt the slight chill of the mountain air, the old cabin made me feel close to nature

    You can see how the rhythm and beat has been impacted by this grammatical and literal repetition. If they know the model, then look for ways to help them use it. Ask them to create parallel structures using the subordinating conjunctions.

    Other resources

    You can download this explicit slide deck, if it is useful to you, on the subordinate conjunctions. You can find it in the Art of the Sentence post.