Teaching Sentence Structure to ELL Students

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  • 0:04 Introducing Structure
  • 1:03 ELL Focus
  • 2:07 Sentence Basics
  • 4:29 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
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.

When English language learners (ELLs) understand the foundations of good writing, they are in a better position to excel academically. This lesson provides teachers with strategies they can use to teach sentence structure and formation to ELLs.

Introducing Structure

Teaching sentence structure to ELL students involves a few key components. First, students must understand the grammar and mechanics of sentence formation. Second, students must understand how to avoid sentence-writing mistakes, such as sentence fragments and run-on sentences. Finally, students need to know the different sentence types and how to vary their sentences to make their writing coherent, concise, and engaging.

Teaching these components of sentence structure to ELLs comes with its own set of challenges. To begin with, ELLs are often at a language disadvantage that's not usually shared by their native English-speaking peers. ELLs often come from an environment in which English is not often heard, so they may not have a history of hearing, writing, and reading English sentences on a regular basis. However, this disadvantage will allow you as a teacher to employ a few strategies with learners who essentially have a clean slate when it comes to understanding and using different sentence structures.

ELL Focus

As you teach sentence structure, it's necessary to both recognize and address how ELLs may approach and understand this information differently than native English speakers. A natural aspect of the language learning process is to relate it to pre-existing knowledge. Basically, as you teach sentence structure, ELLs may naturally attempt to draw parallels to sentence structure in their native language.

The accuracy and usefulness of this type of comparison may depend heavily on the native language to which English is being compared. For instance, sentence structure in Spanish is quite different than sentence structure in Chinese. Therefore, students with a Spanish speaking background may find certain similarities with English that Chinese speaking students may not and vice versa.

Because of this variety, it's necessary to explain English sentence structure clearly and from the very beginning. This means ensuring that students understand how to identify and use verbs, subjects, and phrases. Once students understand the building blocks of sentences, they'll be better able to accurately understand and use different sentence structures.

Sentence Basics

Perhaps the best place to begin when teaching ELLs about sentence structure is to teach them about sentence types. As part of this process, it's important not to overwhelm your learners with information they don't need. For instance, if you teach elementary school students, there's little chance they'll use compound-complex sentences in their writing, so it's best not to confuse them by teaching this sentence type.

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