How To Teach Sentence Structure To High School Students
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How To Teach Sentence Structure To High School Students?

Many students have some form of difficulty grasping the meaning of sentence structure which is essential to write and express thoughts clearly and fluently.   This article will discuss how to teach sentence structure to high school students.

To teach sentence structure to high school students, begin with introducing the independent and dependent clauses first.  To avoid sentence fragmentation in their writing, teach the students the four sentence structures; simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.

Read on for more information regarding the different sentence structures discussed in detail with summaries to make it easy to share with your students.

We also have some resources at the end of the article for free download if you need some help introducing sentence structure to your students.

How To Teach Sentence Structure To High School

Many students have issues with structuring smooth-flowing sentences in their writing.  But what is sentence structure?

Sentence structure is to correctly construct a sentence using the different elements of grammar and the types of sentences in the English languageThe sentence structure types are; simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.  Students need to master these types of sentences to produce effective and articulate writing.

However, before teaching these sentence structures, students must understand the difference between independent and dependent clauses.  Once they understand these clauses, it will be easier to grasp the different types of sentence structures.  So, let’s discuss these clauses!

Independent And Dependent Clauses

Clauses are groups of words that are the primary building blocks of a good sentence.  The two types of clauses are:

  • An Independent Clause – this clause is a group of words containing a subject, a predicate (verb), and a single complete thought.  The independent clause stands by itself as a sentence.  E.g., “The boy is mowing the lawn” (subject = boy, mowing = verb)

This sentence can stand on its own = it’s about the boy (subject), what is he doing = mowing the lawn (verb).

  • A Dependent Clause (subordinate clause) – this clause also has a subject and a verb and begins with a subordinating conjunction (because, although) it does not complete a thought.  A dependent clause cannot stand on its own as a sentence; it must be linked to an independent clause.
  • E.g., “Even though I have slept” (does not complete a thought) but add it to an independent clause = “Even though I have slept, I am still tired.”

Below is a summary you can hand out to students to explain independent and dependent clauses.

Independent ClauseDependent Clause
Contains a SUBJECT and VERB and stands on its own as a sentence as it conveys a complete thought. (it makes sense)  Also contains a SUBJECT and a VERB and begins with a subordinating conjunction
It cannot stand on its own in a sentence as it does not convey a complete thought (it does not make sense)  
“The child is doing his homework” Subject = child      Verb = doing  “Because I hurt my arm”   Subordinating Conjunction = because Subject = I            Verb =  hurt  
(It must be joined to the independent clause to make sense)   “Because I hurt my arm, I cannot play tennis”  

Simple Sentences

Simple sentences are the first sentence structures to teach students and are also the easiest; follow the “subject-verb-object (SVO) pattern.  The subject is the noun (who) that begins the sentence, and it can be a person, place, or thing.  A verb describes the action, and the object (what) follows the verb

E.g., “Mary is sitting in the chair” (Mary = subject (who), sitting = verb (action), chair = object (what); this simple sentence is a complete thought and is a complete sentence.

Compound Sentences

Compound sentences are two or more independent clauses connected by a coordinating conjunction (and, but, or, for, so).  E.g., two independent clauses “I went to the shop” + “I bought some sweets” = “I went to the shop, and I bought some sweets” (joined by “and”).

Longer compound sentences would look like this:

Independent clausesCompound Sentence
(joined by a coordinating conjunction)
“Jane baked a cake”
“She iced it”“Jane baked a cake and she iced it but it was too hot so the icing melted.”
(joined by “and”, ”but”, “so”)
“It was too hot”
“the icing melted”


Complex Sentences

A complex sentence comprises one independent clause and at least one dependent clause.  These clauses are not linked by coordinating conjunctions but rather by sub-ordinary conjunctions.  The most common sub-ordinary conjunctions are; after, although, as, when, while, until, before, because, if, since).

An example of a complex sentence is:

  • “While the sun is shining, Mary likes to work in the garden”

(Note:  If the independent clause comes first, before the dependent clause, a comma separates the two clauses because we are placing it before the subject (Mary)).

But if the dependent clause comes first, there is no need for a comma.

E.g.  “Mary likes to work in the garden when the sun is shining.”

Here is a summary of complex sentences for your students:

Dependent clauseIndependent Clause
“because the food was hot”“the baby could not eat”
Complex sentence: “Because the food was hot, the baby could not eat”

• The independent clause comes first, so the two clauses are separated by a comma.
• But, if the two clauses are reversed: = “the baby could not eat because the food was hot”
(no comma is required.)

Compound-Complex Sentences

Compound-Complex sentences are a little more difficult for students to grasp, and students need to note where the comma should be placed when using these sentences.

A compound-complex sentence comprises at least two independent clauses (joined by a comma and a coordinating conjunction) and at least one dependent clause.

  • E.g., “Since my brother loves gardening, we gave him a set of garden tools, and he has created some beautiful flower beds.”
Compound-Complex Sentence
One Dependent ClauseFirst Independent ClausesSecond Independent clause
“Since my brother
loves gardening”
"We gave him a set of
garden tools”
“He has created some beautiful flower beds”
Compound-Complex Sentence:

• “Since my brother loves gardening, (add a comma) we gave him a set of
garden tools, and (add a comma and a coordinating conjunction) he has created some
beautiful flower beds.”

Now that we have discussed the different sentence types students will use in their writing, let’s look at the typical errors or mistakes they often make and how to avoid them.

Sentence Fragments

Sentence fragments are the mistakes made when writing in the English language.  Here are some of the rules to remember when constructing sentences to avoid making these mistakes and causing fragmented sentences.

  • Every first letter of a sentence starts with a capital and every sentence ends with a full stop, question mark, or an exclamation.
  • Every sentence must have a verb (action) and a subject (who, what).  *The only time this will differ is when the sentence is a command, E.g., “Be Quiet!” (but the subject could be you).
  • A sentence should be a complete thought or connect two thoughts.

If the sentence is missing one of the above, you have a sentence fragment.  More examples are:

  • “Was going to the store” (missing a subject) = “She was going to the store.”
  • “Went to the store, was in a hurry” (no subject) = “Mary went to the store, she was in a hurry.”
  • “She an old woman” (no verb) = “She is an old woman.”
  • “After we go to the mall.  While we were walking”.  (The sentence ended before the thought was complete. = “After we go to the mall, we can go and visit our friends  .” While we were walking, we saw a swallow in a nest.”

A good sentence always has a subject, a verb, and a complete idea.  There are only three options to correct fragmented sentences:

  • Join it to another sentence
  • Revise the sentence and add the missing elements
  • Rewrite the sentence

Sentence Resources

We have a couple of resources you can access for free that cover the basics of sentence construction below including online sentence games.


Teaching sentence structure to high school students is easy if they are first taught about independent and dependent clauses used to create sentences.  Understanding the four sentence structures is essential to writing effective, communicative, articulate, free-flowing, and easy-to-read sentences.


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