In need of some quick research-based syntax speech therapy materials? Check out my Systematic Sentence Combining resource to target syntax with no-prep, printable worksheets (or no-print for digital learning and teletherapy!). Methodically move through sentence combining, conjunctions, adverbial clauses, relative clauses, compound sentences, complex sentences, and embedded details with over 200 worksheets covering 5 levels of difficulty!
If you need some quick goal ideas for syntax, sentence combining, or compound and complex sentences, read below or check out my FREE goal bank here.
Read more below to find out more on why we should be targeting syntax and how I go through the process to build my students’ skills over time.
Why target complex and compound sentences?
SLPs are not grammar teachers, right? And while we all have advanced degrees and maybe even learned to diagram sentences, do our struggling students need to know about all this grammar stuff? Is this even functional?
Syntax, or the arrangement of words to form a sentence, is an important pillar of reading and listening comprehension. Try speaking in short sentences without any conjunctions (words like and, but, or, so, etc.). It’s hard to get a full idea across!
While the majority of people learn compound and complex sentences through observation, and maybe some direct teaching in school, our student’s with language impairments need extra help to learn these structures. They need explicit instruction and consistent practice to solidify these skills.
Maybe you have a student who has been with you for awhile. You’ve helped that student increase in MLU. Your student can describe pictures with the present-progressive “She is ____ing.” But, what comes next? Let’s move along the progression to help our students understand and produce increasingly complex language structures.
How to target sentencing combining:
This 5 step process with help your students move from very basic sentences to understanding the most important grammatical structures they need to know, including compound sentences and complex sentences. My evidence-based Systematic Sentence Combining packet can walk you and your students through these steps in a logical, methodical way. It not only saves you time, but it gives you the opportunity to be the most effective therapist in an efficient way!
Plus, if it’s been a little while since you learned all these grammatical structures, my packet provides instruction and examples all along the way. I want you to feel confident as you target these vital skills with your students!
Step 1: Introduction to Sentence Combining
Goal: Become familiar with sentence combining.
I’ll say this again and again, but the very first thing we need to do is teach. We need to be explicit. We must teach our students instead of just modeling and practicing. Modeling and recasting might be best practice for the youngest kids, but once they are in school, they need explicit instruction!
Teach your students what “combine” means. Teach them why it is important to learn about combining sentences. Define “conjunction.”
Then, teach them to use “and.” We use “and” to combine subjects and/or predicates. It can be embedded or used as a conjunction.
Many students might already be using “and” in conversation. That’s ok! Your students will get a boost of confidence when you start breaking down something they already use naturally. This section may be a warm-up for the more complicated conjunctions.
Step 2 – Add a Detail
Goal: Add a detail to a given sentence to tell more information about a thing or an action.
Next, we need to teach how to embed adjectives and adverbs into sentences to give more information.
Some SLPs target this along with describing. When you describe an object, you are coming up with a list of details just perfect to be embedded into a sentence.
Step 3 – Connect the Ideas
Goal: Use a conjunction to connect or link two sentences to create one sentence.
Targeted Conjunctions: or, but, so, because, before, while, until, if, unless
Now we’re ready to dive into more traditional compound sentence structure. Teach each conjunction, it’s meaning, and then practice, practice, practice!
While many people use and teach the FANBOYS mnemonic to teach conjunctions, I prefer to target the words above. In modern Standard American English, “for” is not commonly used as a conjunction. We typically would use “because” instead of “for.” “Yet” is another term not commonly used as a conjunction and can easily be replaced with “but.” If you feel strongly that these conjunctions be taught to your students, please include them! My goal is to maximize the impact I making and I do that by targeting the most functional aspects of language. Of course, we always individualize and tailor our therapy to address the needs of our unique and special students.
Step 4 – Create Complex Sentences with Relative Clauses
Goal: Create complex sentences with relative clauses by combining two sentences.
Now we’ve made it to the good stuff! Relative clauses are usually difficult for students with language impairment to understand. This is a critical piece of comprehension, especially in middle school and high school!
A relative clause describes a person or object with a phrase that starts with “who,” “that,” or “whose” (and yes, I just used a relative clause in a sentence defining “relative clause”). My packet includes practice for center-embedded relative clauses, as well as clauses at the end.
This is another great target to work on when describing because a relative clause gives more information about whatever you are talking about. A dog is an animal that barks and has a tail. A firefighter is a person who puts out fires.
Step 5 – Mixed Sentence Combination
Goal: Combine a variety of sentences to describe something or tell a story.
The final step empowers your students to synthesize everything they have learned. Take target sentences and write a paragraph full of awesome sentences containing conjunctions, relative clauses, and embedded details.
Generalizing Sentence Combining
Once you have walked your students through the process, defining important terms, and getting lots of practice, it’s important to apply their skills to a more contextualized activity.
Pair these worksheets with opportunities for practice using your student’s own writing, texts from their classroom, and other more contextualized activities. Show them how understanding complex and compound sentences can help them outside of the therapy room (when reading and writing).
Some ways you can do this include:
- Find a lower reading level text and practice combining sentences within the text
- Have the student bring in their own writing and revise it together, using sentence combining strategies
- Use speech-to-text (like on Google Docs) to auto-transcribe your student talking about a specific topic. Then look at the transcription together and find sentences to combine.
Goals for Combining Sentences
Try some of these goals when working on complex and compound sentences with your students:
- Given two sentences and a target conjunction, NAME will combine the sentences with 80% accuracy.
- NAME will create a complex or compound sentence when given a target conjunction with 80% accuracy for at least 5 conjunctions.
- Given a target simple sentence, NAME will add an embedded detail (adverb and/or adjective) to create a new sentence with 80% accuracy.
- After writing a paragraph, NAME will revise the paragraph by combining sentences at least two times with 80% accuracy.
- After giving a two-minute language sample about a specified topic, NAME will review the transcription and combine sentences with 80% accuracy.
- Given an object, NAME will describe the object with a sentence including a relative clause in 80% of opportunities.
Of course, using the Speechy Musings Systematic Sentence Combining packet to target syntax in speech therapy will make data collection really simple and help you feel confident you are meeting those goals.
For more speech and language IEP goals, check out my FREE goal bank. It’s awesome. There, you’ll find lots of great goal ideas, including lots for those harder to hit secondary students!
Praise for Systematic Sentence Combining
More than 450 SLPs have tried and LOVED the Systematic Sentence Combining Packet. Here are just a few of the hundreds of 5-star reviews on TPT:
I am so happy I purchased this resource! I have always had trouble with breaking down syntax and effectively working on improving my students’ comprehension and use of complex language. THIS DOES IT FOR YOU. It’s amazing. Each section is well-structured, naturally increases in difficulty, and includes posters, visuals, and examples to use with students. You can print the worksheets out or use them digitally with students. I love how structured and straightforward it is and it is evidence-based. This saves me so much time and is the perfect roadmap to help me help my students with their language! Thank you!Kelly G.
This resource has so many targets to work on. The breakdown of the material covered is so helpful with the different levels. The helps in the material are great for showing the students how to complete the activity and helps them be successful later when the helps are not in the sentences. I use this resource at least 2 times a week in my therapy sessions with older students.Carol M.
As always, resources from Shannon are easy to read, straightforward, and evidence-based! I wish I had this one a long time ago! I felt the teaching structure Shannon included was better than any explanation of teaching sentence combining that I received in grad school. Great product!Madeleine M.
Resources and References for Complex and Compound Sentences
While many different research articles and books informed the information in this resource, I wanted to mention a few that were particularly descriptive or helpful. I would highly encourage you to do your own research on sentence combining and effective syntax interventions in general.
On explicit modeling using sentence combining…
Saddler, B. (2012). Teacher’s guide to effective sentence writing. New York: Guilford Press.
Saddler, B. (2005). Sentence combining: A sentence level writing intervention. The Reading Teacher, 58, 468-471.
On the importance of sentence-level work for reading comprehension…
Scott, C. M. (2009a). A case for the sentence in reading comprehension. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 40(2), 184-191.
Nippold, M. A. (2017). Reading comprehension issues in adolescents: Addressing underlying language abilities. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 48, 125-131.