You’ve noticed something. Your students are at least an intermediate level, but their writing isn’t. Sure, they use adjectives, and they add prepositional phrases. You’ve done sentence stretching exercises with them. But they still write short sentences that are short on details and sans anything like adjective clauses. You dream of the day that you grade essays with sentences that make you stop with a WOW escaping your lips. It’s time to go beyond encouraging them to use strong verbs and not rely on adjectives. It’s time for adjective clauses. So why aren’t they using them?
Using adjective clauses intimidates students
Your students aren’t lazy, and this isn’t a reflection of your ability to teach grammar. Have you ever wanted to try something but never did because you were too scared? Chances are you didn’t have the support that practice gives. If we want our students to use longer, more complex sentences, we can’t just require them. We have to sign them up for summer camp, so to speak, so that they can practice it in a fun environment.
THIS is what you want.
Your students’ writing gives you chills. It’s just that good. You doubt YOU could write as well in a foreign language, even if you were at their level. You can help make that happen. Practice. They need practice. Very few people become proficient at playing the piano without lots and lots of practice. To improve the quality of their writing, you need to furnish them with experience in seasoning their sentences. Those sentence stretching exercises are for lower levels. No more stretching. Time to bulk up.
So, start with this.
First, ensure your students know what adjective clauses are. Then, have them write numerous sentences using adjective clauses…unless you want to set them up for success. You wouldn’t hand someone a violin, tell them how to play it, and then have them perform in a concert five minutes later, right? You also wouldn’t expect them to play a song that they created themselves without practicing playing songs that already exist. Same idea.
So let’s start at the beginning. Can they pick an adjective clause out of a line-up, I mean, I sentence? Do they know what the adjective clause modifies in a given sentence? This comes before writing sentences with them. What about those relative pronouns and relative adverbs? Do they know what they are and how to choose which one to use? They need practice with that first. You don’t cook a gourmet five-course meal without having done something much simpler over and over first.
Using adjective clauses WILL power up their sentences.
But it’s not like waving a wand and saying abracadabra. Provide them with scaffolding to practice until they are ready to write their own sentences completely from scratch. They should do this first:
- Identify adjective clauses in sentences.
- Determine what the adjective clauses modify in sentences.
- Choose the most appropriate relative pronoun or relative adverb for given adjective clauses.
- Combine two sentences by transforming one into an adjective clause.
- Add an adjective clause to given sentences.
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How well do your students know grammar terms? If you aren’t, Why AREN’T you teaching grammar vocabulary?