Strategies for Teaching Sentence Structure

Instructor: Angela Janovsky

Angela has taught middle and high school English, Business English and Speech for nine years. She has a bachelor's degree in psychology and has earned her teaching license.

Teaching sentence structure is not usually seen as an enjoyable learning concept. This lesson outlines some creative strategies for teaching different aspects of building sentences.

Sentence Structure

The written word. We often take it for granted, but it's truly essential in our society. Writing is a complex system of communication, which means learning how to write can pose difficulties.

Most can learn the alphabet without much trouble, but what comes next? Writing sentences, of course! A major factor of this is sentence structure, or the grammatical organization of a sentence. The rest of this lesson outlines strategies for teaching the various aspects of sentence structure.


Let's start with the basics for writing sentences. One strategy is to start with simple verbal concepts and then relate them to sentence structure. The best way to do this is to use verbal cues that could be turned into written sentences. Have a student walk across the room. Then ask these two questions to the class.

  • Who is it?
  • What did he/she do?

Have students answer these questions. Answers should include the student's name and the action of walking. Emphasize that these are the two questions that must be answered in the structure of every written sentence. Write this sentence on the board.

  • Jamie walked across the room.

Point out the person who did the action (Jamie) and the action that was completed (walked). Explain that this is what every sentence needs, the person and the action. Depending on the ability level of your students, connect those ideas to the terms subject and predicate.

Further Instruction

Match Game

Once the basics have been covered, move on to other teaching methods. This first one focuses on the four types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex. For each type, show examples to your students, pointing out the subjects, predicates, verbs and objects. Give as many examples as needed until your class grasps the basics.

Then, turn these terms into a matching game. Split your class into teams. Complete rounds by displaying sentences on the board. Teams that correctly identify the type of each one earn points. Advanced students can write their own sentences to challenge the other teams. This is the perfect game to practice identifying ways to build sentences.

Lost and Found

This next teaching strategy focuses on finding the missing information in given sentences. Provide sentences that are missing the subject, verb or the entire predicate. Then, show options of phrases to fill in the missing spot. The students' job is to identify the type of information missing and the correct filler to make the sentence complete.

Take this teaching method a step further to focus on word order. In English, most sentences are in the order of Subject Verb Object, or SVO. Use this concept when identifying the lost information. Advanced students can even write their own sentences in an incorrect order, challenging other students to correct the errors.

Write Around

A final teaching strategy takes writing sentences to the next level. For this, have each student get out a sheet of paper. Each student will begin a story that will be completed by the other students. For round 1, have each student write down a descriptive subject.

Then, each paper is passed to the next student, who must complete that sentence with a predicate. Finally, they will start the next sentence with another subject for the next round. The rounds continue until each student gets their original paper back with a creative story now complete.

For advanced students, allow for variations in the sentence structure. Students can choose to either provide a subject or a predicate, or even give verbs that need objects to make a complete sentence.

Learning Disabilities

Everything discussed so far can be modified depending on the ability level of your students. But what about students with learning disabilities?

Contrary to popular belief, having a learning disability does not equate to low intelligence. Simply put, students with LDs have brains that are wired differently. The average method for teaching might not work, so instead provide different learning opportunities.

A major strategy for these students is to provide visual aids. For example, provide pictures to connect to written sentences. For example, you might show your students a picture of some boys playing baseball. Then, use simple sentences to represent the actions in the picture in writing. Here are some examples.

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