Sentences can be made more complex by increasing their length and by adding more advanced language elements.
Two common ways to do this are by adding noun phrases and by using subordination (sentences that include multiple clauses).
Three types of subordination make up the majority of multi-clausal sentences students will encounter. Here’s a little more information on each of the 3 types:
1 – Adverb Clauses: Adverbial clauses modify the associated main clause by adding information like how, when, where, why, or to what extent. They are connected to the main clause with a conjunction such as because, unless, after, when, or although.
“Although it was raining, Tim decided to walk to school.”
2 – Relative Clauses: Relative clauses follow nouns and provide additional information about that noun. Typically they begin with a relative pronoun (that, who, whose, which).
“The book that you lent me last week is fascinating.”
3 – Object Compliment Clauses: An object compliment clause is a complement that follows a direct object and modifies or completes the sentence’s object.
“I believe that the earth is round.”
Beyond multi-clausal sentences, there are many other ways to make sentences more syntactically complex for students. Sentences can be more difficult to comprehend when they include more advanced vocabulary, or when the syntactic structure is less common and uses unexpected word order. For example, sentences that deviate from the expected subject-verb-object (S-V-O) order increase processing demands.
Last, having the subject and verb separated (ex: in center-embedded relative clauses) in a sentence makes it more difficult to comprehend as well. For example, in the sentence “The child who is sitting on the box will be moving soon”, “the child” is separated from “will be moving soon”. This increases the difficulty as you have to keep “the child” in your working memory long enough to connect it to the end of the sentence.
One way to simplify any sentence is by finding the subject (who or what the sentence is about) and then what the subject is doing (any verbs in the sentence). This gives you the main (independent) clause of the sentence. It cuts out any extra information that you can later add back in one piece at a time.
The three main targeted sentence types have been targeted in several studies including the two linked below:
Balthazar, C. H., & Scott, C. M. (2018). Targeting complex sentences in older school children with specific language impairment: Results from an early phase treatment study. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 61(3), 713–728. https://doi.org/10.1044/2017_JSLHR-L-17-0105
Scott, C. M., & Balthazar, C. (2013). The role of complex sentence knowledge in children with reading and writing difficulties. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 39(3), 18–30.
For an easy to use resource that targets these 3 complex sentence types, check out my Complex Sentence Comprehension resource.
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Complex Sentence Comprehension
Understanding complex sentences is critical for understanding everything from picture books to oral communication to classroom texts. This resource includes digital activities, a digital assessment file, and a printable version as well!More Info
Hope this information is helpful for you and your students! You’re doing great.
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