In order for students to attain the highest levels of fluency and formality in their writing, new strategies and techniques must be investigated. Of these strategies, mastery of the compound sentence is essential. Furthermore, introducing a classroom of beginner writers to the compound sentence structure is a great way to increase writing motivation, since the lessons are both easy to teach and to understand. The students will be amazed by the immediate improvement in their writing abilities.
Instruction of the compound sentence is probably the best place to begin a more advanced writing lesson. The students will see first-hand that any series of simple sentences, when combined with a coordinating conjunction, will immediately sound more fluent. Learning how to create compound sentences will also eliminate the “choppy effect” that many simple sentences alone can create. In order to effectively establish this lesson, the classroom must first be exposed to a series of simple sentences. Of course, the difficulty of the sentence will depend greatly on their grade and comprehension level.
Here is an example of how a typical lesson can be run. First the teacher should hand out a sheet containing a variety of simple sentences. After the students have looked over the sheet, the teacher can then begin reading the sentences, emphasizing the “choppiness” of the words. Next, verify with the students that the sentences do in fact sound short and unprofessional. Tell them that, when proofreading their own writings, if they encounter this effect, there is a way to fix it.
After bringing the classroom’s attention to the front of the room, display a list of commonly used coordinating conjunctions. It also may be effective, depending on the grade level, to define what a coordinating conjunction is. Typically, a 3rd or 4th grade class can start being exposed to this grammatical concept, since it will be scaffolded many times throughout their school career. This can either be a pre-written list hidden behind a screen on the white board, or something displayed from an overhead projector. The students should not see the list beforehand, as it may diminish the lesson’s effectiveness. A sample list may look something like this:
Common Coordinating Conjunctions
Conjunction: A word used to join two smaller sentences.
Common Coordinating Conjunctions:
and, if, but, so
At this point in the lesson, it is important to inform the classroom the one main lesson that accompanies this rule: In order to combine the sentences, the students must insert a comma, and then the coordinating conjunction. Now the hands-on part of the lesson can begin.
In this example, the sentences used are appropriate for 3rd to 4th grade levels. The teacher must use their own judgment to come up with appropriate sentences. Also, it is important to have the same sentences written on the board, behind the screen, or on the overhead.
I got up this morning. I took a shower.
Ask the students how they can fix these sentences using one of the coordination conjunctions given. Instinctively, many, if not all, will be able to choose the correct one. Support and reinforce this lesson with 15 -20 sentences.
For the next part of the lesson, have a pre-written story that is all made up of simple sentences. Below the short story (no more than a paragraph in length), have lines where the story can be re-written. The students will re-write the story using the techniques they learned in class, forming compound sentences out of smaller, simple ones. The following could be an example of what the classroom may be required to rewrite:
John woke up late. He jumped out of bed. He looked at the clock. He quickly ran to the shower. He felt panic. He ran out the door. He forgot his car keys.
This example highlights the various opportunities needed to utilize most of the common coordination conjunctions. Try to come up with a paragraph that forces understanding of how each conjunction is used.
After learning how to combine simple sentences into longer, more formal sounding sentences, the classroom will immediately feel more satisfied with their writing skills. There will be ample opportunities for students to practice these lessons, especially during writing workshops. Here, the students can be given back samples of their own writing, and be instructed to “combine sentences to make them compound”. Instantly, students will see the benefits of this lesson and be inspired to write longer, greater, and more formal sounding papers.