Improving Variety & Flow with Subordinate Clauses and Rapper Style

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SWBAT construct complex, varied sentences using appropriate subject/verb agreement and incorporating subordinate clauses to add interest, depth, and style.

Big Idea

While I'm not saying students should go Joyce-style with 4,391-word sentences, adding subordinate clauses for interest couldn't hurt, right?

Lesson Overview

Today's lesson is situated near the end of our investigation of Romanticism.  Students investigate and explore these concepts before moving on to our work with Gothic Literature and Transcendentalism, which includes a significant research and writing project.  Prior to tackling this formal writing activity, I want to ensure that students are using grammar correctly to communicate their ideas and considering elements like syntax and word choice when composing sentences.  Students have already been exposed to these elements in earlier grades, but I find myself having to constantly reinforce the idea that written products always deserve creativity, planning, and effort, otherwise the quality of the products they produce goes WAY down.  To that end, I have noticed sloppy errors like those in subject/verb agreement (albeit predominantly "special cases") and lazy errors like small, plain, boring sentences have crept into my students' writing.  

Last class period students were given a second exposure to complex subject/verb agreement through the No Red Ink platform.  Upon evaluating the results, I found that many students did not continue to work on their issues and were just randomly guessing responses to correct their errors (or making the same mistakes over and over again).  Due to this discovery, today's lesson evolved to directly counter the weaknesses my students display in subject/verb agreement.  The second piece of the lesson that explains and practices adverb and adjective subordinate clauses also evolved from a class-demonstrated need to explicitly learn about appropriate ways to create complex, grammatically-correct sentences to better explain their viewpoint.  The lesson also occurs on a shortened class day, so the entire period is only 47 minutes.  


10 minutes

To begin the hour, students will take a brief, 20-question No Red Ink quiz over subject/verb agreement.  The platform allows individual students to work with sample sentences that are aligned to their interests, while still covering the same set of teacher-selected skills assigned to all students.  I decided to assign students the "quiz" option in No Red Ink for two main reasons.  First, students have already had two separate opportunities to demonstrate mastery of these skills via formal "assignment" (and countless opportunities for independent skill practice through No Red Ink).  Second, the "assignments" are great for reteaching and remediating, but the "quizzes" do not allow for immediate prompting by the program, and while corrections are encouraged, they are only offered as an option at the end of the assessment rather than embedded into the testing process.  This quiz will force students to demonstrate their actual knowledge of the skill without the pseudo-safety-net of the ability to correct the assignment to 100%.  

When students are finished with their quizzes, they will be instructed to view their "Student Progress Report" to determine if they have grown in their grammar skills.  Any items that are still color-coded as "not mastered" will be up to the student to continue practicing.  I will use the results from today's assessment to conduct a "mini-lesson" on the most common errors in subject/verb agreement next class period, then allow students to retake the quiz at a later date for an averaged score.  Using formative feedback to guide my grammar instruction has really helped to streamline my teaching of grammar, and the No Red Ink platform makes it easier than ever to collect, monitor, and generate unlimited sample sentences, all with no extra effort on my part for planning.  Students also benefit from this activity, as they are put more in charge of their academic progress, and they are interpreting graphical data in a very genuine and real-world way to lead to self-improvement.

While students are waiting for their peers to finish their quizzes, they will assign themselves additional subject/verb agreement practice for their areas of weakness and work on those skills until all students finish.

Building Knowledge

15 minutes


When students have completed the quiz, we will continue to look at grammar skills identified from other formal and informal feedback this year.  Today's focus will be on creating complex, specific, and grammatically correct sentences, which will aid students in becoming more fluent in the conventions of English.  In order to work through this activity, I will display the "Adverb & Adjective Clauses Lesson," which I created in Google Drawing.  Students often feel disconnected from typical activities, so I created this image to add student interest.  It is obviously dorky, but I find that sometimes that's the best way into my kiddos' hearts (and more importantly, into their memories)!  I will ask them to review the slide, then ask the following questions:

  • What must be included in a clause?  (A subject and a verb)
  • So is every sentence a clause?  How do you know?  (Students will typically respond that yes, this is true.)
  • Is the inverse true?  Is every clause a sentence?  (Students may hesitate a bit, but they will probably respond that every clause it not a sentence.  They may offer information directly from the slide, like that clauses can be independent or subordinate, which is not a complete sentence.)
  • So how short can a sentence be for it to still qualify as a complete sentence?  Can someone tell me the shortest, grammatically correct sentence in English?  (This question is hilarious to ask in a classroom, because it usually leads to much debate and eventual frustration with the English language in general!  Students tend to first offer 3-word sentences, like "I am cool."  I will chuckle and say, "Nope, shorter!"  Eventually you'll have a few smirking students demanding that 2-word simple sentences like, "He goes," is the answer.  They grow further frustrated, before they get philosophical, which is my favorite part of the day!  In every class I have ever done this in, some student will offer, "I love you" as the answer.  Though this is adorable, it isn't correct.  Remind them that we're looking for sentences shorter than 2 words, and wait for it.  Usually they cycle through interjections, or simple greetings like "hi" or "hello," but eventually they will come around to the correct answer.  You'll see the "aha!" moment when a student creates a command sentence, like "Go."  Make sure they can offer an explanation to cover the apparently-missing subject, which is understood, and move on.
  • Awesome job, I had faith in you that you'd get it!  So what's the longest sentence you can write?  Is there a limit?  (Students will usually say there isn't a limit grammatically, but there is definitely a limit with regards to clarity and comprehension.)
  • There are all kinds of claims for the longest sentences in the English language, but here are just a few.  Les Miserables contains a sentence that is 832 words.  In Ulysses, by James Joyce, a 4,391-word sentence exists.  Other claims give numbers as high as 40,000 words!  Obviously, that's getting a little lengthy for common sense.  But, for argument's sake, what are some grammatically-correct ways that a writer could lengthen a sentence?  (This is an ideal time to filter student responses for correctness and have discussions on appropriate comma use.  Typically at least one student will say that adding a comma and then another sentence is one way to lengthen sentences, but I always identify this as a comma splice and review how to avoid the grammatical error that I call the bane of my existence!  Students will offer solutions like creating compound sentences, making lists, using semi-colons, adding prepositional phrases in the "To Grandmother's House We Go" style, adding adjectives, etc.  I address the positive points of adding these options to make sentences better, including making writing appear more age-appropriate, interesting, and finessed.  
  • So, one way that you didn't list by name was the one we're talking about today: adverb & adjective subordinate clauses.  If you look at the picture, you can see that these clauses both have the same function and look very similar to one another, but how do they differ?  (Adjective clauses only modify nouns or pronouns, but adverb clauses modify verbs, adjectives, adverbs, or verbials.)
  • And what exactly does "modify" mean?  (Students will say it tells more about something.  I always draw an arrow on the board like the old-school grammar activities and label the arc of the arrow "modifies" and the base of the arrow "modifier" to help them connect and refresh on these terms when applied.)
  • So as you can see in the examples, these clauses are like the "extra" information in a sentence.  Consequently, they are often "hugged" by commas on either side, since they could be removed from the sentence without impeding the reader's understanding of it.  That's one of the big functions of commas, actually, that "hugging" of extra information.  You'll also notice that the examples show you that each of these clause examples start with the terms in the "Examples" boxes, either subordinating conjunctions for adverb clauses or relative pronouns or relative adverbs for the adjective clauses.  It might be tempting to try to simply memorize these types of words so that you can easily identify and match them with the type of clause associated with those words, but I promise you that this is NOT the easiest way to do this.  Learning the questions in magenta would be easier to memorize and more effective.  Ideally, however, you could do this an even easier way!  What do you notice are the only types of words modified by adjective clauses?  How about adverb clauses? (Students will read offer the information on the slide.)
  • Great.  So I think the easiest way to pick identify which is which is by simply deciding what is being modified and then determining the part of speech and then the type of clause.  The process for doing this would look like:
    1. Decide what phrase in a sentence offers extra information about something and could be removed.
    2. Check that the chunk you've identified contains both a subject and a verb.  Perform the same check to see that the leftover pieces of the original sentence is still a complete sentence that can stand alone.
    3. Decide what in the sentence the phrase is telling you more about.  Remember that the thing being modified must be close to avoid dangling modifiers!
    4. Evaluate the part of speech of the word you've determined as the thing being modified.  If it's a noun or pronoun, it's an adjective clause.  If it's not, it's an adverb clause.  Boom!  You're done!



15 minutes

After we've had the discussion, we will work through the sample process to "check" our examples on the lesson.  Then, we will complete guided practice of these skills by completing the Adverb & Adjective Practice Google Form.  I have attached a copy of this activity to the resources as well.  Throughout our guided practice, I will require students to work through the above process for each of the first five questions.  To increase participation, I will call on different students to complete each part, allowing three students to participate (or more if there are wrong answers or student exchanges to justify or question reasoning) for each sample sentence.  I find that breaking this activity down into a clear process sort of "demystifies" the grammar element.  It also helps me to see WHAT parts of the lesson student struggle with so I can provide more instruction on that specific element during the activity.

In the second section of the activity, I will again help students to see a clearer process to combining sentences using an adverb or adjective clause.  I think it is easiest to point out to students that both sentences in this activity (and often in their own work when they're using simple sentences instead of complex ones) have one item in common.  Their process here will be:

  1. Identify the element that is addressed in both sentences.  That's your target for modification.
  2. Choose a sentence to leave as an independent clause in the revised sentence.  If your original decision doesn't work out, try using the other sentence as the independent clause and see which has a more natural flow.
  3. Add one of the words on the Adjective & Adverb Lesson to the sentence you've decided to make a subordinate clause.  Play with words here to find the best word for the relationship between sentences.  Also try moving the subordinate clause around in the independent clause to see if it works better in a different place.
  4. Once you think you have a new sentence containing an adjective or adverb clause, make sure that if fits the following requirements:
    • The piece of the sentence you changed still contains a subject and a verb, but it is NOT a complete sentence.  (Remember that compound sentences don't fit this construction, as both clauses are independent in that scenario!)
    • The piece of the sentence you left the same is still a complete sentence if you remove the subordinate clause.
    • The subordinate clause if very near the word or phrase it modifies.  You don't want any danglers!
    • Check the sentence for redundancy as well.  If you have the same phrase in your sentence twice, could you change one of those to a pronoun while still maintaining reader comprehension?


Students will offer their sentence creations, and we will try to generate many possible correct answers to reinforce the idea that there are multiple ways of doing this.  Every writer has their own style, which I want to support in my classroom!  

Now that students have had many practices with this topic, I will give students a few minutes to take a crack at the final two sections of the practice sheet.  Once students have had time to work, we will share our sentences, and students will offer both the modifier, type of clause, and rationale for that answer with their sample sentences.  


7 minutes

To wrap up this activity, I want to get some feedback on students' comfort level with grammar and give students some tools to help them with these grammar tasks in the future.  I will ask them to explain their "grammar history," which I consider to be how they have learned grammar in the past, good experiences, negative experiences, and areas of strength or weakness of which they are currently aware.  I have seen through their writing that we have some definite struggles, but I have not gotten the opportunity to hear an assessment of their own skills from their perspective.  I will use this information to help cater their instruction to them.  

One thing that I have noticed in previous lessons, and which will probably show up as an issue today as well, is the lack of comfort students display with identifying parts of speech.  It is my contention that students have more of a chance of developing and maintaining grammar skills if they can use procedures like those employed in this lesson rather than simply memorizing words or questions associated with individual grammar tasks.  However, this requires that students have a relatively high level of comfort with identifying the parts of speech (as they are the building blocks of grammar and used to describe pretty much every grammatical concept we discuss), which they don't typically display now.  

In order to make their learning more effective, students will need to take some initiative on their own to review the parts of speech so that they can more easily apply our grammar lessons to their own practice.  To aid them in this endeavor, I will share with them some simple grammar games, including The Grammar Gorillas and Word Invasion.  Admittedly, these games are juvenile, but I will be honest with my students that being familiar with parts of speech is a skill that should already be mastered before high school.  Additionally, the best way to improve at identifying parts of speech is through repeated exposure and practice.  These games will allow students to supplement their own knowledge gaps to make their learning of grade-level skills more efficient.  (And they are actually entertaining to play, as I can personally attest after accidentally spending a half-hour of my prep period destroying jellyfish in Word Invasion!)  

The other suggestion I will have to help supplement this area of weakness is to check out a YouTube search on the parts of speech.  Many of my students are musical or visual learners, and YouTube boasts a plethora of videos incorporating both into studying all kinds of grammatical elements.  To prove my suggestion has merit and close the end of a challenging hour with a fun, relevant video (that ties in both parts of speech and rap from my Adverbs & Adjectives lesson!) about parts of speech from Flocabulary.  The other perk of this closing is that it usually runs right up to the end of the hour, and pretty much nothing feels cooler than walking out of your English class to a rap song.  Winning!




Next Steps

Their homework for tonight will be to check out these games, wander YouTube for more help or cool videos to share, note questions that they have about parts of speech, and come back ready to apply that knowledge next class period!  They should also get back onto No Red Ink to assign themselves more practice in their areas of weakness in order to prepare for a quiz retake next time.