If you're planning on teaching conjunctions to a group of students, don't worry! It's not difficult to find fun and practical ways to demonstrate conjunction use in the classroom, and many teaching aids are available in free formats online. Take a look at these strategies for teaching both coordinating and subordinating conjunctions to students of all ages.
Coordinating conjunctions are the small words that join two independent clauses, or clauses that could stand alone as sentences. They can also join compound nouns, verbs and objects. When put together, they form the acronym FANBOYS (For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So). Once students learn how to use these words effectively, they’re on their way to more complex conjunctions.
Whether your students are younger, learning English, or in need of grammar review, it’s good to go over the basic definitions of coordinating conjunctions. Teaching how these seven words are similar and different is an important part of your grammar instruction. Follow a few simple steps when beginning a conjunctions lesson plan.
- List the FANBOYS conjunctions on the board. See if students can supply the definitions for each word.
- Discuss which conjunctions are easier to use, and which ones are trickier. Conjunctions like and or but might be easier for students to understand than nor, which is a correlative conjunction when used with neither.
- Clarify that the word for is also a common preposition (“I bought the gift for Julia), and that so is also an adjective (“so special”) and an adverb (“so nicely”). Clarify that when used as conjunctions, for means “because” and so means “as a result.”
- See if students can identify which conjunctions can be used in the same way. Can but replace yet in a sentence? What about for and so?
Demonstrate to your students the ways conjunctions are normally used. Independent clauses are a perfect place to begin because the necessity of conjunctions is readily apparent to most students. Some steps to consider in your instruction include:
- Make a list of simple sentences (independent clauses) on the board.
- Reference FANBOYS in a whole-class discussion. Starting with for, see if students can add independent clauses to the simple sentences with coordinating conjunctions.
- Have small groups, pairs or independent students try the rest of the sentences along with the conjunctions. See how many different compound sentences the class can create!
You can also create pairs of simple sentences for students to link with the correct conjunctions. Make these exercises easy enough at first that the conjunction the student should use is as clear as possible. For example, you might write, "Michael is sad. He should be happy." The majority of students will choose but as the coordinating conjunction that ties the two sentences together.
Explain comma usage along with conjunctions so that as they practice, they'll begin to understand the function of this punctuation mark. This would also be a good time to address proper semicolon usage.
- Using your own sentences or student sentences, discuss where you might need to include commas. Independent clauses usually make use of the comma when a conjunction is used, but not always.
- Demonstrate the use of the comma in a serial list (also known as the Oxford comma) before the conjunction and the final term of the list.
- Discuss how students can use a semicolon in place of a coordinating conjunction in some cases, if the ideas in each clause are similar enough.
Just as important as reinforcing comma use, make sure your lessons demonstrate when a comma shouldn’t be used. For instance, in sentences where conjunctions are used as joiners between terms other than independent clauses, commas aren’t needed.
Subordinating conjunctions are a bit more difficult for lower grade levels, especially because these conjunctions can also be used as prepositions in many cases. Subordinating conjunctions join dependent (or subordinate) clauses to independent clauses when forming complex sentences. They include words such as after, because, since, although, as, whenever, and if. Once students know how to use these conjunctions, their writing becomes more sophisticated.
After your class has mastered coordinating conjunctions, move on to subordinating conjunctions. There are many more of these conjunctions, so students may feel overwhelmed at first. Try some steps to teach subordinating conjunctions:
- Write two categories on the board: “Time and Place Relationships” and “Cause and Effect Relationships.”
- Pass out a list of subordinating conjunctions or project it on the board.
- Explain that subordinating conjunctions are used for these two purposes. They join the main idea of a sentence (independent clause) with a less important idea (dependent clause) to form a relationship between them.
- Add a few sample subordinating conjunctions into the proper categories. For example, because, since, and if would go under “Cause and Effect” while after, before, and when would go under “Time and Place.”
- For younger students, stop at 10 conjunctions or so. Older students can go on to more complex conjunctions like even though and whether or not.
Using subordinating conjunctions in a sentence depends on what you’re trying to say. This is a chance for you to explain the proper way to use conjunctions in a sentence, including starting sentences with them.
- Write or project ten simple sentences on the board.
- Start with one subordinating conjunction (for example, because). Have every student write a new subordinate clause that connects to the independent clauses with because. See how varied the answers are!
- Keep going with more conjunctions to reinforce the concept.
- An alternative approach is to split the class into pairs or small groups and assign certain subordinating conjunctions to them. How does the sentence change in the if group? Is it different than in the unless group?
Complex sentences aren’t correct without the proper punctuation. Explain these main points about subordinating conjunctions, commas, and semicolons.
- Write a complex sentence on the board such as “The dog is happy if her owner is around.”
- Ask students if the sentence needs a comma. Explain that unlike coordinating conjunctions that connect two equally important ideas, subordinating clauses simply add more information.
- Switch the clauses around: “If her owner is around the dog is happy.” How many students think there should be a comma? Where should it go?
- Explain that comma usage depends on the conjunction used and its purpose in the sentence. If the reader needs a moment to process the transition, you might need a comma.
Conjunctions are an important part of speech that connect two ideas together. When students know how to combine sentences, their writing variety and quality increase. Check out these tips for teaching sentence combining in the classroom, or assign some sentence combining worksheets for extra practice.