Teaching about sentence structure and importance


Why is it important to know how to teach sentence structure and importance?

The National Curriculum for English at Key Stages 3 and 4 has the following requirements:

Listening

To listen, understand and respond critically to others, pupils should be taught to:

  • identify the major elements of what is being said both explicitly and implicitly;
  • distinguish tone, undertone, implications and other signs of a speaker's intentions.

Reading

To develop understanding and appreciation of texts, pupils should be taught to extract meaning beyond the literal, explaining how the choice of language and style affects implied and explicit meanings.

Writing: Writing to imagine, explore and entertain

Pupils should be taught to:

  • exploit choice of language and structure to achieve particular effects and appeal to the reader;
  • use a range of techniques and different ways of organising and structuring material to convey ideas, themes and characters.

Language Structure

Pupils should be taught the principles of sentence grammar and whole-text cohesion and use this knowledge in their writing. They should be taught … the structure of phrases and clauses and how they can be combined to make complex sentences [for example, coordination and subordination].

 

The Key Stage 3 National Strategy: Framework for teaching English: Years 7, 8 and 9 contains the following objectives:

Year 7: Sentence level

Sentence construction and punctuation

Pupils should be taught to:

  • extend their use and control of complex sentences by:
    • recognising and using subordinate clauses;
    • exploring the functions of subordinate clauses, e.g. relative clauses such as ‘which I bought’ or adverbial clauses such as ‘having finished his lunch’;
    • deploying subordinate clauses in a variety of positions within the sentence;
  • use the active or the passive voice to suit purpose.

Paragraphing and Cohesion

Pupils should be taught to:

  • recognise the cues to start a new paragraph and use the first sentence effectively to orientate the reader, e.g. when there is a shift of topic, viewpoint or time;
  • vary the structure of sentences within paragraphs to lend pace, variety and emphasis.

Year 8: Sentence level

Sentence construction and punctuation

Pupils should be taught to:

  • combine clauses into complex sentences, using the comma effectively as a boundary signpost and checking for fluency and clarity, e.g. using non-finite clauses;
  • explore the impact of a variety of sentence structures, e.g. recognising when it is effective to use short direct sentences;

Writing

Plan, draft and present

Pupils should be taught to:

  • re-read work to anticipate the effect on the reader and revise style and structure, as well as accuracy, with this in mind.

Year 9: Sentence level

Sentence construction and punctuation

Pupils should be taught to:

  • review and develop the meaning, clarity, organisation and impact of complex sentences in their own writing;
  • write with differing degrees of formality, relating vocabulary and grammar to context, e.g. using the active or passive voice;
  • integrate speech, reference and quotation effectively into what they write.

 

KS3 pupils' strengths and weaknesses in sentence structure and importance

What are KS3 pupils good at and what do they need to develop in this area?

Good at….

  • Most pupils can make clear statements about what they have experienced and imagined.
  • Pupils are already confident users of many grammatical patterns which show how important an idea is. In KS2, most pupils will have learnt to write in sentences that incorporate subordinate clauses.

Need to develop….

  • Pupils need to help the reader to distinguish the main thrust of the argument or story from subsidiary details. This distinction has to be applied at all levels, from the main story line down to the level of sentence structure. If everything is presented as though it has equal importance, the reader may get lost in detail and miss the main point.
  • Pupils may need to develop a range of sentence structures, with greater use of subordination rather than co-ordination and of abstract nouns rather than verbs.

 

An example of KS3 writing

Distinguishing the main thrust from subsidiary details

This is a KS3 pupil's description of a holiday home. | indicates a missing sentence boundary.

We have a holiday for a family of four and there is a lot for the families to do | there is a big water complex near by | there is a huge theme park just up the road which has some enormous roller coaster for the family with a zoo near by.

There is a beach near by which has white sand and blue sea which goes out for miles | the beach has a few restaurants on it and it is a ten minute walk from your villa which has its very own swimming which is indoor, but you can roll the roof over and it is then an out doors pool. You will have a 4 bedroom villa. This luxurious holiday will cost around £1000 a week for the whole family | this doesn’t include a car | they will be £150 per week.

 

Problems with this work:

  • the range of sentence structures used is very limited
  • particular word patterns tend to be overused.
  • the writing is dominated by a string of clauses built round there is or have/has. These two patterns are used to introduce each new idea, so each idea has equal importance which is not always warranted.

The teacher worked with the pupil to improve the writing, and this was the result. Click on the highlighted phrases for comments on why they are better than the original.

On our holiday for a family of four, families have a lot to do in the big water complex near by and in the huge theme park just up the road with its enormous roller coaster for the family and a zoo near by.

The beach near by has white sand and blue sea, which goes out for miles, and a few restaurants . Just a ten minute walk away, your 4 bedroom villa ’s very own swimming is indoors, but you can roll the roof and make it an outdoor pool. This luxurious holiday will cost around £1000 a week for the whole family, not including a car, which will be £150 per week.

On our holiday for a family of four: The original main clause We have a holiday for a family of four has been demoted to a noun phrase and linked to the new main clause by on. This increases the importance of families have a lot to do.

families have a lot to do : This deserves a main clause to itself. Removing the repeated there is concentrates attention on the families as the subject of the main clause, rather than on the mere existence of the facilities (there is a lot for the families to do).

in the big water complex near by The original main clause there is a big water complex near by has been demoted to a noun phrase and linked to the new main clause by in.

with its enormous roller coaster: The original relative clause which has some enormous roller coaster has been demoted to a prepositional phrase; with can often replace which has.

The beach near by (for: There is a beach near by), a few restaurants (for: the beach has a few restaurants on it) and your 4 bedroom villa (for: You will have a 4 bedroom villa). These are all examples of demoting facts from the high prominence of a main clause to the relatively low prominence of a noun phrase, using determiners (the, your) rather than verbs.

not including a car: The original finite clause this doesn’t include a car is demoted and becomes less important, because the non-finite verb (not) including is substituted for the finite verb doesn’t (include).

which will be £150 per week. This subordinate (relative) clause is more suitable than the original main clause they will be £150 per week because the advertiser would presumably not want to give prominence to this extra charge.