Complex Sentence Goal Ideas
- After deconstructing and discussing a complex sentence, NAME will point to the correct picture that depicts that sentence out of a field of 4 options in 8 out of 10 opportunities.
- NAME will answer literal questions about a complex sentence with 75% accuracy across 2 sessions.
- Given a complex sentence, NAME will identify the subject(s) and verb(s) in 75% of opportunities.
- NAME will correctly answer 3 WH questions (who, where, why, when) about information from a complex sentence in 4 out of 5 opportunities across 2 sessions.
- When retelling a short story, NAME will use 2 or more complex sentences (OR 1 or more relative clause) in 3 out of 4 opportunities given minimal supports, prompts, or cues.
Read more about my goals here.
Teaching Sentence Deconstruction in Speech Therapy
The ability to comprehend a sentence is supported by many foundational language skills including the understanding of vocabulary and syntax, as well as executive functioning skills including working memory. More on that here >> Sentences
Typically developing children begin to use complex sentences at 2 years of age. They begin to use subordination and dependent clauses by age 3. These facts underscore the importance of targeting complex sentence comprehension earlier than you might think, even with preschoolers! (Kamhi, 2014)
Then, as students get older, classroom texts get longer and sentences get more and more complex. This puts significant demands on both their language skills (vocabulary, syntax, etc… ) and executive functioning skills (working memory, planning, etc…).
We know from research that specific sentence types (sentences that include specific types of phrases and clauses) are harder for kids with language disorders to understand. These sentence types are 1 – adverb clauses, 2 – relative clauses (especially center-embedded ones), and 3 – object complement clauses.
These types of subordination make up a large majority of the types of complex sentences your learners will encounter (in their academic texts and in day to day life!) and will need to understand. Therefore, I focus a lot of my complex sentence comprehension therapy on these sentence types.
I use a process called “sentence deconstruction” to directly teach these sentence types. We break the sentence apart into smaller chunks, discuss what each means, and then try to put it all back together and figure out how each piece relates to the others.
Here are some steps you can follow to teach sentence deconstruction in an explicit, systematic way in speech therapy:
- Break the sentence apart into separate pieces. (e.g., parts of speech, WH question information in the sentence). Specifically, focus on what the main topic/subject of the sentence is and what the rest of the details say about the subject.
- Understand how the pieces relate to one another. What information is added by each part of the sentence? (e.g., who is doing what? how? why? what are the relationships between each of the phrases?)
- Visualize each piece together as a whole and reflect on the overall meaning.
Like I mentioned above, complex sentence comprehension requires significant cognitive, language, and working memory resources.
Take this example sentence: “The white fish swam toward a bigger black fish to try and scare it away”. To understand this sentence, you have to understand many separate, smaller pieces of information that help you understand the whole of the sentence.
You need to understand there is a smaller white fish, a bigger black fish, which fish is swimming at which, for what reason, etc… To do all of this, your brain relies on working memory skills. Your working memory allows you to hold the auditory information in your mind long enough to understand it and connect the pieces together.
Sentence deconstruction is a helpful tool in our learners’ toolboxes so they can better break apart, process, and understand complex sentences and texts.
It helps to build a robust set of mental frameworks for a variety of sentence types making comprehension of these structures increasingly automatic.
Complex Sentence Comprehension in Context
We can teach sentence deconstruction and complex sentence comprehension skills in context by dissecting and deconstructing sentences from contextualized activities. Most picture books, classroom texts, and informational articles contain lots of examples of complex sentences.
Instead of focusing primarily on overall comprehension of the text, target the comprehension of individual, complex sentences.
Remember that the highest priority targets for complex sentence comprehension should be:
Adverb Clauses: Adverbial clauses add information like time, place, reason, manner, or condition. They contain adverbial conjunctions including after, although, as soon as, because, before, if, once, since, until, when, or while. Example: Although it was raining, we decided to go for a hike.
Relative Clauses: Relative clauses use a relative pronoun to tell more information about the subject of a sentence. Relative pronouns are words like “that”, “who”, or “whose”. Center-embedded relative clauses (like the example below) are even more difficult for many of our students. Example: The movie that I watched last night was hilarious.
Object Compliment Clauses: An object complement clause is a clause that follows a direct object in a sentence and further explains or modifies it. It is called an “object complement” because it complements the object by providing more information about it. Example: She made him happy. (”happy” provides more information about “him”)
Look for these sentence types in the activities you’re doing and target them directly! Follow the steps above (break the sentence apart, discuss how the pieces relate to one another, imagine the information all together). My students have enjoyed doing these activities on white boards and sometimes I’d model the skill (circling, underlining, drawing arrows while thinking out loud) on a whiteboard in front of the entire group!Shop Story Units Shop Themed Units