Written Language – Improving Sentence Structure

Deena Seifert, MS, CCC-SLP

In our last post on written language, we talked about finding a great writing program to use as a guideline. No program is perfect for every situation and not all students learn the same way. So, it’s important to draw from as many sources as you can and find what works not only for each student but for your teaching style.

Many of the students we work with fall back on writing only simple sentences because it’s less frustrating and easier to do. I’ve learned that it’s necessary to prompt students to write in complex sentences using a couple of strategies.

The first strategy involves practicing creating sentences aloud. We work on orally creating compound and complex sentences, focusing on how different conjunctions impact the sentence. We practice rearranging words to create two different sentences. 

After writing simple sentences to describe pictures, together with the student, we expand these sentences to include adjectives and adverbs. We gradually move from simple sentences to compound sentences to complex sentences.

It’s good to have a list of conjunctions sitting next to the student while he writes. Providing a concrete list of the words that can be used to create compound and complex sentences is key. Ask the student to use one of the words in each of his sentences and be specific about which list you would like him to use. When they edit their work, if there are any simple sentences, have him combine or expand the sentences using a conjunction.

Different Kinds of Conjunctions. To keep it simple I’m only referencing the list of conjunctions above, but there are more conjunctions that can be added to the list.  Coordinating Conjunctions combine two nouns/verbs, two phrases or two sentences together.  For example:

  • Two words: Mom and dad are on their way home.
  • Two phrases: The elephant seemed calm, but charged at the trainer.
  • Two sentences: The kids were told to sit in the bleachers or we would leave the game.

Subordinating Conjunctions connect phrases to answer the questions “why” and “when.”  Using the word “after,” I can connect these two sentences:

  • the football game is over (phrase)
  • We will get some hot chocolate. (sentence)
  • Result: After the football game is over, we will get some hot chocolate.
  • Result: We will get some hot chocolate after the football game is over.

We teach that after could be placed at the beginning of the sentence or in the middle, but that the 2nd event must be mentioned right after the word after no matter where we write it.

Finally, Correlative Conjunctions are used in pairs and join two items that have a relation:

  • Both the team and the coach were happy with the referee’s call.
  • Neither my brother or my sister were happy that I won.
  • I will either have pie or cake after dinner is over.

Practice, practice and more practice. It takes time and practice for a student to make this change.  Writing simple sentences is all a student has been able to use or wanted to use, so it’s like changing a habit – and we all know how hard that is to do.  Patience, encouragement and a dash of creativity will help your child or your student move into this higher level grammatical skill.