Monday, July 6, 2015

Compound Sentences against Humanity

After over a year and a half of constant complaining about it, I finally dropped First Language Lessons. It wasn't working for us, and by that I do not mean that it wasn't fun, because I don't personally feel that every school subject has to be the educational equivalent of a trip to the water park. No, I could handle First Language Lessons being dry and tedious.

What I couldn't handle was the eventual, slow realization that my kids weren't learning anything from it. That question and answer, rote-style, fill in the sentence diagram just wasn't getting anything into their brains. The kids weren't really able to identify or construct anything outside of FLL's scaffolding. They couldn't diagram a simple sentence of my own creation. They could barely tell the subject from the predicate! We dumped it, therefore, and I'm back to winging my own grammar curriculum. My goals are to teach grammar concepts as they come up, to continue to emphasize memorization (which FLL *was* great for, but the kids just didn't understand what they were memorizing), and to focus on identification and construction.

I want the kids to be able to identify all grammar concepts, of course, but that will eventually become pedantic. The true purpose of grammar education is gaining the ability to USE these grammar concepts, so that's what our goal should be, no matter where we are in the process.

Currently, I'm teaching compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences, beginning, of course, with compound sentences. You can learn this concept as soon as you've learned nouns, verbs, subjects, predicates, and the definition of a complete sentence, and it's actually a great place to go next, because you'll get a lot of practice in identifying and creating complete sentences, and you'll learn your conjunctions.

There's a good definition of the compound sentence here, and you'll also want to have the kids memorize the short list of coordinating conjunctions. The main point to make, however (and this is an important one, because it's both crucial to differentiating a compound sentence from a complex sentence, AND almost every other elementary resource that you'll find does not teach the correct way to identify a complex sentence, so you'll be relying on this difference when you teach it yourself the correct way), is that the two independent clauses do not rely on each other. They both have equal weight, equal importance in the sentence.

The kids won't understand that when you say it. They'll need examples--LOTS of examples. That's when you play Compound Sentences against Humanity!

Cards against Humanity is similar to Apples to Apples, but more user-generated, MUCH more irreverent, and much, MUCH more fun! I'm working on a Junior version, myself, but Cards against Humanity is otherwise very much for adults.

Compound Sentences against Humanity, however, is for everyone! This game is completely user-generated, since we're making it up, so you can include independent clauses about family members and inside jokes. Try to make all the independent clauses irreverent, as well, because that's way more fun for the kids than sentences that read, "The children pet the cat," etc. Blech!

To play this game, you'll make a set of independent clause cards and a set of coordinating conjunction cards. Make them using the Cards against Humanity template here. I did not include any "nor" cards, because the independent clause structure would have to be altered, and I also took out the "for" cards after the first game, because it was too hard for the kids to correctly structure an independent clause using it. They still memorized those coordinating conjunctions, but we'll deal with their structure another time.

Here are some of my independent clauses:

  • Barack Obama is my favorite superhero.
  • The Boy Scouts ate at Five Guys. (This is an inside family joke, stemming from an imaginary Boy Scout/Girl Scout rivalry that we pretend exists whenever we see Boy Scouts in uniform.)
  • The Nazis invaded Poland.
  • Do not swallow that magnet.
  • The tiny horse loved baby carrots.
  • Snakes do not fly.
  • I caught fire.
  • Silence is my favorite music.
  • Daddy only eats "real" food. (Another inside joke, originating from the hot dog incident in Chicago)

I had some longer independent clauses that I removed after the first game, since the game requires copying them down onto your dry erase board, and it was taking forever.

This game works best with three or more players, because you'll go around the circle and have one player act as judge each time. Everyone else is a player, and everyone should have their own dry erase board and dry erase marker, with a cloth nearby to erase the boards between rounds.

The judge draws one independent clause card and one coordinating conjunction card (I marked the back of the coordinating conjunction cards with a C. Later, when we add subordinating conjunction cards, I'll mark those with an S):
Ignore the fraction on the back of that card; I'm reusing old cardstock.
 The players will then copy that independent clause onto their dry erase board, add the comma and coordinating conjunction that are required to make a compound sentence, and then create their own independent clause to follow:

When the players are all finished, they turn their boards around and take turns reading their compound sentence:

All sentences will be admired, and the judge will award a unique prize to each sentence--Most Improbable Act to Occur Underwater, for example, or Stuffed Dinosaur the Size of Your Bedroom, etc. All prizes are, of course, imaginary. Rotate to a new judge, and play begins again:
This clause was too long, so I've since removed it from the game.

You really only need to play this game long enough for everyone to have a turn to be the judge. You don't want the kids to get tired of copying and writing, and even in three rounds, that's still two unique examples that they've created and four unique examples that they've read. But you'll want to play it again often, until you can see that it's a total no-brainer for the kids to correctly construct their compound sentences.

As extra practice, you can also have the kids work independently to write compound sentences using these cards, and then to mark nouns, verbs, subjects, predicates, and conjunctions on their sentences. They can copy just the independent clause cards and mark nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, subjects, and predicates. They can diagram just the independent clause cards. They can be in charge of creating a new set of independent clause cards.

Once that's a no-brainer, AND they've memorized a textbook definition of the compound sentence AND the short list of coordinating conjunctions, you can move on to complex sentences or to diagramming compound sentences.

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