In KS1 children are required to use commas to punctuate lists. Once they enter KS2, the 2014 National Curriculum begins to introduce the idea that commas can be used to punctuate other units of grammatical meaning within a sentence. All of a sudden, using commas becomes tricky. Here, we discuss a few ways to ease the pain when teaching how to use commas with clauses.
Use key grammatical terminology
The big problem children have with commas is knowing where to put them! Punctuating lists with commas is fairly straightforward (see our post on commas in lists) but knowing where to use commas to mark where one clause ends and another begins is quite another story. Start at the beginning and ensure that they are able to identify the verb in simple sentences.
I wore my boots.
It was raining.
The cat was sleeping.
The mouse grabbed a snack.
If they’re not able to do this with ease, then once you start asking them to add commas to mark clauses in complex sentences they’re going to get in a punctuation pickle.
Spot the clause
Looking at What A Good One Looks Like (WAGOLL) is standard practice in English teaching. So before asking children to add commas to mark grammatical boundaries, practise spotting the clauses in compound and complex sentences.
The cat was sleeping and the mouse was grabbing a snack.
I wore my boots because it was raining.
Once children can identify the clauses in single sentences, like the ones above, start looking for examples of WAGOLL in real texts. Encourage children to find the verbs as a quick way to spot the clause. Remind them: no verb – no clause.
Identify main clause and subordinate clause
Use sentences such as the ones above. Help children identify the main clauses (the ones that make sense on their own) and the subordinate clauses (those that are dependent on the main clause to make sense). Essential to being able to do this is knowing which conjunctions glue clauses together (coordinating clauses ) and which conjunctions create subordination (subordinate clauses). Ensure your classroom has both types of conjunctions on display and that children understand how everything following a subordinating conjunction sticks to the conjunction and becomes subordinate to the main clause.
Play with sentences
Children love being able to write sentences on strips of paper to then cut-up those sentences and re-arrange them. This type of active learning is particularly useful for learning how to use commas to mark grammatical boundaries. Write a sentence such as, ‘I wore my boots because it was raining.’ Then show the children how they can move the subordinate clause to the beginning of the sentence, ‘Because it was raining, I wore my boots’. You can then investigate how moving the conjunction to the beginning of the sentence means a comma is needed to mark the boundary between the clauses.
Embedding a subordinate clause into a sentence can be taught in a similar way. My experience is that once you’ve taught this, you rarely need to revisit it. Children love embedded clauses! Write a sentence such as ‘Mrs Clarke drives a red car‘ on a sentence strip. The show the children how you can add more information about Mrs Clarke in the form of a relative clause e.g. ‘who is a teacher’. Simply cut-up the sentence, insert the relative clause and mark the boundaries from the main clause with commas. Voila, ‘Mrs Clarke, who is a teacher, drives a red car.‘
Lots of talk about: identifying the verbs; the number of clauses; the types of conjunctions and the impact they have on the words that follow them, will naturally accompany this type of activity. How the children respond to these questions (or how they ask them) will provide you with the key feedback you need about their learning.
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This post was written by Rachel Clarke, Director at Primary English Education. If you’d like Rachel to train your staff in how to teach grammar in a creative and engaging manner please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org
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