Writer's toolkit

14th January 2005 at 00:00
Looking for ways to talk to your class about clauses? Dick Hudson and Geoff Barton offer some quick tips

Grammatical terms can scare people off: terms like subordinate clauses.

But these clauses play an essential part in all subjects, so instead of scaring anybody off you'll want to confidently pack them into your pupils' toolkits.

A subordinate clause is a kind of mini-sentence planted inside a larger sentence.

Take the sentence "I like teaching Year 7". Here it is embedded in longer sentences: * You know how much I like teaching Year 7.

* I'm happy because I like teaching Year 7.

* Year 7, who I like teaching, were in trouble today.

We may have to adjust the original sentence slightly, but a three-year-old can do that - in speech. In writing it's another matter and this is where you can really make a difference in your pupils' skills.

The first teaching objective for sentence-level work at Year 7 is to teach pupils to "extend their use and control of complex sentences by recognising and using subordinate clauses".

Three good reasons: l In KS3, older and better writers do, in fact, use more subordinate clauses than younger and less successful writers.

* Subordinate clauses help writers to express more complicated ideas.

* Subordinate clauses help the reader to understand complicated ideas.

It boils down to one great virtue of subordinate clauses: they add detail and depth to our writing.

In class

A subordinate clause can nearly always be replaced by a single word which has a simpler meaning.

Ask pupils to imagine they want to say they know something. They could use a pronoun: know it or a subordinate clause: I know the boy was there.

The pronoun and the clause both answer the question: "What do I know?"

Pupils can add detail to a noun such as "chemical" by modifying it using either an adjective: another chemical or a subordinate clause: the chemical that I then added.

A verb such as "diluted" can be modified either by an adverb: diluted slowly or a subordinate clause: diluted when it had turned clear.

Do they begin to see why subordinate clauses are so useful to them?

An entire mini-sentence behaves like a single word to add variety and detail to another sentence.

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