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Ways to Teach Comprehension of Complex Sentences to ESL Students

By Audrey Alleyne

The purpose of these lessons are to show the use of conjunctions and adverb clauses in forming complex sentences. Your ESL students will benefit from the following activities to understand complex sentences.

Reading a succession of loose sentences in a complex idea using the conjunctions and, but and so, in addition, who, which, when and where, can become quite monotonous. Take for example the following sentence:

That day was very rainy and the concert was that evening. But there was a large audience which attended the concert. So, it turned out successful after all.

Activities for comprehension of complex sentences can help your students to turn that sentence into something more attractive with one complex sentence, making clear which ideas were important. With the use of subordinating conjunctions and adverb clauses, the sentence can become:

Although it had rained so much that day, the concert which had been scheduled for that evening was a great success since there was a large audience in attendance.

When you write the subordinating conjunction “although” at the beginning of the first clause, your readers are clear that the rain was less important than, or subordinate to the fact that the concert was successful due to the large crowd in attendance; the ideas are all conveyed in one sentence, and does not provide jerky reading.

Complex Sentences

We see from the above example that a complex sentence contains one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.

A subordinating conjunction introduces a dependent clause and indicates the nature of the relationship among the independent clause(s) and the dependent clause(s).

Use the following most common subordinating conjunctions – "after," "although," "as," "because,” before," "how," "if," "once," "since," "than," "that," "though," "till," "until," and "when” in your activities for to aid in understanding complex sentences.

To make it simple for your students before you present the activities, ensure they understand that an independent clause can stand on its own like:

The government plans to shut down.

If the same sentence was put with a subordinating conjunction at the beginning:

……..because the government plans to shut down,

The sentence now becomes dependent. The clause cannot stand as a sentence by itself, and the conjunction “because” suggests that the clause is providing an explanation for something. You may then end the sentence with “many people are worried about their salaries.” This can also be an independent clause. Add the conjunction “because” after, the word "salaries," and once again this independent clause becomes a dependent clause:

Many people are worried about their salaries because the government plans to shut down.

Activities

The following activities are samples of lesson plans to help explain the process:

Here is an example of a lesson plan quiz. Choose the correct subordinating conjunction to fill the space at the beginning of the adverb clause, to complete the sentence correctly:

  • You should keep your tomatoes outside of the fridge, ______________ they don’t go bad. (although, since, so that, after)
  • Exercise is good for you ______________ (even though, so that, because, before) it tones your muscles.
  • It is not wise to drive ______________ drinking alcohol. (after, before, in order that, even though)

Answers: 1. so that; 2. because; 3. after

Combine the following sentences using adverb clauses at the end of first sentence:

  • We watched the dogs. They played in the yard.
  • I read the book. My friend recommended it to me.
  • I ate some nuts. I wrote my article.

Suggested answers:

  • We watched the dogs as they played in the yard.
  • I read the book since my friend recommended it to me.
  • I ate some nuts while I wrote my article.

Combine the following sentences using adverb clauses at the beginning of the sentence:

  • My daughter started studying at USF. She attended HCC before.
  • There was a serious sink hole at the complex. The condominiums were not safe to live in.
  • I did a lot of hiking. I was much younger.

Suggested answers:

  • Before my daughter started USF, she attended HCC.
  • Because of the serious sink hole at the complex, the condominiums were not safe to live in.
  • When I was much younger, I did a lot of hiking.

Summary

These are just some samples of activities to teach students how to understand complex sentences. You can find more in the references mentioned below and other online sites about complex sentences and adverb clauses.

References

1. Adverb Clause Examples, http://www.learn4good.com/languages/evrd_grammar/adverb_clauses_ex.htm

2. Adverb Clauses Exercises, http://www.carmenlu.com/fifth/grammar/adverb_clauses5_1b.html

3. Kinds of Sentences and Their Punctuation, http://www.towson.edu/ows/sentences.htm