English as a Second Language (ESL) can be a challenging subject, both to learn and to teach. With complex sentences, it is often not the combination of sentences, but the subordinators or relative pronouns that students struggle with. Students should not attempt complex sentences until they have mastered simple sentences. Once they do, you can use their knowledge of simple sentences to create easy exercises that will help them grasp the basics of different subordinators and complex sentences.
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Change the Meaning
Show students how different subordinators can change the entire meaning of a complex sentence. To begin, write two simple sentences students will understand on the board. For example, "Joe watched TV," and "Joe finished his homework." Choose two subordinators to focus on, such as "after" and "before." Ask students to create one complex sentence out of the two using the first subordinator: "Joe watched TV after he finished his homework." Next, have them write the same complex sentence with the other subordinator: "Joe watched TV before he finished his homework." Ask students which of the sentences Joe's parents might approve of, and discuss how the simple change in subordinator changed the complex sentence meaning.
For this exercise, provide students with several notecards each. On the board, brainstorm a few simple sentences about one character. For example, "Cindy is a student. She thinks fractions are hard. She doesn't like math," and so on. Instruct students to write each of these on their own separate notecard. Have students mix the notecards up on their desks, then choose two or three and line them up. Students then write a complex sentence in their notebooks combining the simple sentences. In this example, "Cindy is a student who doesn't like math because she thinks fractions are hard" would suffice.
Write a complex sentence on the board, such as "When the dog bit him, Alex cried." Have students write the sentence down, then ask them to highlight the subordinator ("when"). Next, instruct them to rewrite the sentence with a different subordinator that doesn't change the meaning of the sentence, then highlight the new subordinator. In this example, students could write "Alex cried because the dog bit him" and highlight "because."
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