ESL Sentence Structure: Activities & Games

Instructor: Matthew Hamel

Matt has degrees in Journalism and Business and has taught a variety of courses at high schools and universities around the world.

As English as a Second Language (ESL) students progress, they need a solid understanding of English sentence structures. This lesson provides both a review of English sentence structures and classroom activities for review.

Explaining Sentence Structures to ESL Students

Your English as a Second Language (ESL) students may be building their vocabulary and mastering some useful English phrases, but how can you help them take it to the next level? You need to dig in to the different sentence structures that appear everywhere in speaking, writing, and reading.

Before using the activities in this lesson, let's review the three main sentence structures commonly used in English that you need to introduce to your students.

Simple Sentences

Simple sentences contain a subject and a verb and express one complete thought. However, just because a sentence is simple doesn't mean it has to be short. Simple sentences can contain compound subjects and compound verbs as long as there is one subject-verb combination.

  • Sally is running. (subject-verb)
  • Sally is running and texting. (subject-compound verb)
  • Sally and Amy are running. (compound subject-verb)
  • Sally and Amy are running and talking. (compound subject-compound verb)

Another term for a simple sentence is an independent clause. Generally, simple sentences do not contain commas.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences are made up of two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction. There are seven coordinating conjunctions in English:

  • For
  • And
  • Nor
  • But
  • Or
  • Yet
  • So

One simple way to remember the coordinating conjunctions is with the acronym FANBOYS, which is created by the first letter of each of these coordinating conjunctions. In a compound sentence, a comma always comes before the conjunction and is used to join the independent clauses.

  • I wanted to play the game, but I was too tired.
  • Sally was hungry, so she decided to eat.

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