You tell yourself, “This year will be different.”

You have a high-interest, data-driven teaching strategy in place.

You…

…hand out your favorite list of subordinate conjunctions.
…plan a great mini-lesson on independent and dependent clauses.
…provide stimulating practice sessions until your students can write award-worthy sentences on demand.

“This group of students will include masterful complex sentences in future assignments effortlessly,” you convince yourself.
“This group of students will achieve more advanced-proficient writing scores than any students I’ve ever taught.”

You then sit down with a cup of coffee and slide the paper clip off the stack of Period 1 writing assignments, eager to read pieces that will confirm that your hard work has paid off. Instead, you find paper after paper littered with fragments!

Arrgh!  Where did you go wrong?

The answer – more often than not – is that you are giving students too many choices. That’s right. Too many choices.

Luckily, the remedy for this is simple: just limit student choices and skill mastery will follow.

The fact is, teaching students to use complex sentences fluently can be easy.  All you have to do is try a technique I call Sharpening the SAW for two weeks and when the next set of assignments roll in, you will get the results you deserve…guaranteed.

Sharpening the SAW

Step 1 (Monday)
Select one of the following SAW (Since – Although – When) story starters and to write for 10 minutes.

  • Since I was the last one to see Carlo before he disappeared, I knew the police would have to question me.
  • Although everything about Lily Devereaux seemed normal, she was actually the farthest thing from it.
  • When I noticed Max Savage heading to the hardware store again, I knew exactly what I had to do.

Step 2 (Tuesday – Friday)
Click on the 50 Story Starters: Simplifying Complex Sentences picture link:

Have students select a photograph with an opening line that intrigues them and write for 10 minutes. Each of the openings for each picture begins with Since, Although or When. For instance, the opening line for the featured picture showcased above is: “When he opened the tiny letter postmarked December 18, 2025,________ finally understood the meaning of his recurring dream.” This exercise will be repeated for four days.

Step 3 (Monday – Tuesday)
Provide students with choices of three dependent clauses and have each student add an independent clause to one of them. Then get everyone to write for 10 minutes, using one newly-crafted complex sentence.

Monday choices:
Since Mr. Hackney is the toughest teacher in our school,________.
Although I am generally not a fan of reality TV, _______________.
When the school board voted to adopt a four-day school week,_______.

Tuesday choices:
S
ince today is my birthday,______________________________.
Although I promised never to disclose Tom’s secret , __________.
When I found out that I had won the lottery, ________________.

Step 4 (Wednesday)
Click on the Living Punctuation picture link and download four free lessons and a set of punctuation cards:

Students will “perform” the sentences they designed on Monday and Tuesday, using the punctuation poster cards.

Step 5 (Thursday – Friday)
Students design as many original complex sentences – beginning with Since, Although and When – as possible within a 10 minute time frame. When time is called, each class member will select one to share. As each sentence is shared, the reader will say the word COMMA out loud when it appears in the sentence.  Have everyone share one original complex sentence in this manner. At the end of the exercise, explain that Since, Although and When are subordinate conjunctions used to introduce dependent clauses. These dependent clauses will be followed by commas. Be sure to remind students that there must be a complete sentence (an independent clause) after the comma.

Note: Here is the trick that will make grading the next set of essays or narratives more satisfying. First, have students write SAW (Since – Although – When) at the top of their sloppy copies to remind them to include complex sentences in all writing assignments. Next, have students highlight one or more complex sentence(s) on their final drafts. Then, continue to require at least one highlighted, complex sentence in future assignments in order to ensure skill mastery.

When can you expect to see magical changes in your students’ writings?

Right away.

But the best part is that next time you close your eyes, wave your hand over a stack of Period 1 papers, and whisper, “Fragments be gone,” they will be.

If you would like more lessons on Simplifying Complex Sentences, check out the PowerPoint in my TPT store:

Fill-in-the-Blanks Share Point: The acronym or mnemonic device that helps my students remember important concepts is______________. It stands for__________________.

Until next time…stay committed…teach with passion…and inspire students with who you are.

About the author: Janice Malone is a teacher and owner of ELA Seminars. For more of her story, go here www.ELAseminars.com.

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