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Teaching Language Structure

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Grammar and language structure is something none of us like to talk about. It was my least favorite subject in school, yet I find myself devoting a lot of thought to it professionally. Why? Because it can help improve productive language and reading comprehension. Teaching language structure is vital to improving reading. 

Recently I had a wonderful experience with one of my students. This is a kiddo who mostly speaks in simple sentences and can usually only understand simple sentences in reading. 

Then before a session, I was reading “The Reading Comprehension Blueprint” by Nancy Lewis Hennessy. Technically a textbook, but I like to read one of those every now and then to stay up on research.

Essentially this book breaks down the different components of the reading rope, chapter by chapter. 

To learn more about the reading rope, click here!

Chapter Five is all about syntax and understanding language structures. According to the reading rope theory, children need to be able to utilize several skills at the same time in order to read and understand what they are reading. 

Syntax or language structure is one of those skills, and in order to improve reading comprehension, children have to be able to understand the sentences they’re reading.

The student I was seeing that day struggles with complex sentences. So I developed an intervention targeting that particular part of the rope. 

It’s had a wonderful effect and has improved immediate reading comprehension, and hopefully soon, speech. 

Read on to learn about how to create interventions in language structure.

If you are a special education teacher or a one-on-one service provider make sure to join my email list! You get access to my free resource library, which includes a checklist of reading skills! It can help you observe your students as they read, and note what they do well and what they don’t! That way you can choose to target specific areas! 

Click here to join!

Language structure, or syntax, is a big tier three word for grammar. It’s about understanding how words within a sentence relate to each other.

For example,

Susie runs. 

In order to understand that sentence, I have to know that in English the subject always comes first and they are the person doing the action. 

That tells me the relationship between the word “Susie,” and the word “runs.”

If I didn’t know this relationship then I wouldn’t be able to connect these two words together to understand the meaning of the sentence. 

Of course, to get to that point, I have to have an understanding of phonics skills like decoding, and word recognition, as well as language skills like vocabulary. That’s a different part of the rope though, and today we’re just focusing on language structure. 

Stay tuned though for more information on how to develop those skills. 

This is easy enough for most kids to do with simple sentences but it gets harder with more advanced sentences with more clauses and prepositional phrases and so for.

For example 

Susie runs away from her house to the playground every afternoon. 

This sentence is much harder to understand. There are two prepositional phrases and a temporal component. 

Language structures like this are normally where our struggling readers get tripped up.

I can already hear the groans on this one, and trust me, I am among them, but you do have to teach language structure and grammar rules to help with reading comprehension.

I know. Grammar is the worst! Believe me, I hate it too, but I think of it as taking out the trash. I really hate it, but I have to do it to achieve my ultimate goal of not having a stinky house.

We really hate teaching grammar, but we have to do it in order to reach our ultimate goal of improving reading comprehension. 

So how do we start? The simple thing to do is to start with subjects and verbs. These are usually where everyone begins, and chances are your students probably already have a good grasp on them.

Beginning at an easy point can make them feel more confident as you expand into new territory. 

After they’ve mastered that you can expand into the extra parts, as I like to call them, which includes all the things you don’t necessarily need to make sentences. 

This includes things like where and when, as well as the direct and indirect objects.

When teaching language structure, I like to have graphic organizers available that allow my students to break down sentences into individual parts or create individual parts to build them back up. 

We’ll do an exercise like this at the end of every reading session and read back what we wrote before moving on to the next chapter the next day.

To get this graphic organizer completely for free join my email list to get access to my free resource library.

Including my sentence chunks graphic organizer, you’ll also get access to my reading rope checklist so you can determine where to focus your interventions!

Click here to join!

Children need time for interventions to work, so make sure to give them lots of practice with that free graphic organizer you just got after your lessons on sentence structure. 

Have them break down difficult sentences they don’t understand into the organizer and use it to have them add more complex sentences to their writing assignments. 

Click here to get this great freebie!

The important thing is to make sure to give them time to learn and practice these new skills. The thing about reading and language is you can’t learn a new concept in a day. You need time to learn to apply the theory. 

Over time with consistent chances for intervention and practice, you will see improvement in writing and reading comprehension, which could very well translate to speech as well!

Teaching grammar and language structure can be very dull but incredibly important for your students’ reading comprehension. Without formal instruction in this area, some students will never be able to understand complex sentences, limiting their reading skills for the rest of their lives.

Do your best to be upbeat about it, and make it fun. And if all else fails then promise them a reward for afterward. I believe in you and know you can do it!

And once you’ve taught your lessons, don’t let them go to waste. Make your students practice. Join my email list to get access to my free graphic organizer on language structure!

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