A Mini Lesson On Syntax As Students Draft An Essay

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SWBAT learn and/or gain deeper understanding of a few sentence structures through direct instruction of these followed by an activity where students imitate these structures.

Big Idea

Imitating unfamiliar sentence structures is a great way of “playing” with language.


For the past few days, students have been working on a draft of an essay in which they are to respond to an article written by Tom Carhart, a Vietnam War Veteran who expressed strong opposition when the current Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall design was selected among hundreds of design proposals. In their essay, students are to either support or challenge Carhart’s argument, explain their position and support it with evidence. In past lessons we have worked on several aspects of a writing task like this one and I have provided multiple resources to help them through the process. For this essay, I also want to help them gain better control of language. In the previous lesson, I gave them a mini lesson on punctuation. Today, I will give them a mini lesson on syntax. 

Mini Lesson On Syntax

15 minutes

This mini lesson gives a broad overview of syntax. I use this packet on SYNTAX. I don’t cover everything on this packet. It’s too much to throw at them at once. I skim through parts and spend a good amount of time on others. Before covering the information on this packet, I have to explain an independent and a dependent clause because so much of the information on syntax relies on an understanding of a complete sentence. This is what I tell them to explain clauses:

An independent clause is basically a complete sentence such as, “I am tired.”

Adding one word can make an independent clause a dependent clause, such as “Because I am tired”

I ask them if they can tell that the second clause sounds like there is something missing, like something else is coming. I let them know that this clause needs additional words to make it a complete thought, which is what makes it dependent. This is one way of making it a complete sentence, “Because I am tired, I am going to bed early.” Once this is clear I move on to the packet. In this video, I explain what part of the packet I actually focus on today.



20 minutes

To apply the information I just gave them, I have students produce sentences that imitate those in the packet. We focus on periodic sentences, loose sentences and interrupted sentences. This is partially because we do not have enough time to imitate everything on the packet, but it is also because these three sentence structures have very clear examples that students can easily imitate. Students have done this type of activity before so I simply tell them to select one of the two examples of each type of sentence and write one just like it but with their own content.

I let them work for a few minutes and interrupt them only if I see a pattern of confusion, in which case I will get their attention and address it. For instance, as students write their own sentence, they add words, which is fine because it may be necessary, but some add so many words that they lose control of the sentence and ignore the structure they are to imitate. This is a common point of confusion for those students with a weaker grasp of language structures. However, it can be corrected by providing a good example. I choose one or two successful sentences to read aloud and this makes the process more clear for those who are struggling. These are two student samples of this assignment.

Writing In Silence

20 minutes

I give students the rest of the period to continue working on their draft of their essay on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.