BIG sigh of relief here because I just finished parent-teacher conferences. School started in mid-August for me, and the teaching-and-learning in Room 411 is humming right along like a well-oiled machine. We’re just about to wrap up our first unit of study in grammar – sentences. Most people roll their eyes and take on a near-vegetative state when I start talking about grammar, but I can’t help myself. I enjoy language. I even enjoy learning other languages! I’ve recently started learning Spanish thanks to a retired teacher at my church who is kind enough to share her extensive knowledge with me. Muy divertido!
Teaching Kids About Conjunctions
Okay, back to English! The last few weeks of our sentences unit of study focuses on compound and complex sentences. The secret sauce to these types of sentences is knowing your conjunctions – specifically, coordinating and subordinating conjunctions. (There are, as you might suspect, more conjunctions. However, for the purposes of teaching 4th graders, I only focus on those two.) So what’s the diff? These two excellent videos from Khan Academy might be helpful…
Compound Sentences Cards
This week I gave my students some extra (much needed) practice with writing compound sentences by using simple index cards and pipe cleaners. Grab enough cards so each student has three – one for both independent clauses, and a third for the conjunction. Hole-punch the short sides and cut lengths of pipe cleaner into fourths. Each student will need two pieces of pipe cleaner to connect the cards together. Students write a comma and a coordinating conjunction on one card – this goes in the middle. Next, write two independent clauses that would make sense with the chosen conjunction. Place these on either side of the conjunction card, and connect cards by twisting the pipe cleaners together. Share students’ sentences and make sure you discuss the characteristics of a compound. Watch out for the following common mistake: “Jiu-jitsu, and hockey are both fun sports.” Here the student has created a compound subject, not a compound sentence. Have partners double-check their work to make sure there are two independent clauses, a comma, and the appropriate conjunction. You might also want students to label those parts, perhaps on the back of the cards.
Conjunctions Reference List
Most teachers know and/or have taught their students a mnemonic for remembering the seven most common coordinating conjunctions – FANBOYS. It’s the subordinating conjunctions that prove to be a bit trickier. Hey, they’re not called complex sentences for nothing! These conjunctions have the added challenge of being either single words or phrases, plus there’s a lot more of them. Given those factors, I created a handout for my students to glue into their Language Notebooks for future reference.
After a while, there are a few that tend to “rise to the top” so-to-speak and get used with greater frequency. “When” is a common one that kids start to rely on a little too much after a while. Keep a close eye on students’ writing, and encourage variety if you notice a habit starting to develop where students always begin a complex sentence with one conjunction over and over again. Subordinating conjunctions have their own (slightly trickier) mnemonic – AAAWWUBBIS. It’s similar to FANBOYS in that it’s the first word of the most common subordinating conjunctions. Check out my Pinterest board about conjunctions for more information. Click on the link below if you’d like a copy of my Conjunctions Reference List for yourself. Happy teaching!