Approximate time to complete: 45 minutes 

Download the Course Companion document before starting this course. You can use the Companion Document to take notes on your learning, address reflection prompts, and as an easy way to retrieve course resources.  

Learning Objectives: 

Participants will be able to: 

  • Explain the key role of syntax in successful writing and reading 
  • Incorporate key strategies for teaching syntax into their instruction

Consider This Scenario

Connection Point

In your Course Companion Document, consider these questions:  

  • Can you relate to this scenario? In what ways are your challenges in literacy instruction similar or different? 

Ms. Ryan has been working with her 8th grade English class to improve their writing. She notices that many of her students have trouble formulating sentences. This is especially true with word order – her students’ sentences often do not convey their intended meaning because the words are out of order or do not make sense.. One thing she tried was focusing solely on grammar for one unit. Instead of reading and analyzing novels or short stories, she helped her students to focus in on the “nuts and bolts” of sentence structure and formulation. However, after several weeks labeling parts of speech, analyzing word order and frequently assessing her students’ knowledge through quizzes, she still does not see any improvement.

What is Syntax?

  • Syntax is is the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences. In short, it is the word order within a sentence.
  • Syntax is an aspect of grammar, the whole system and structure of a language.
  • Syntax is vital to clear communication. If the words of a sentence are not ordered well, it is difficult to make meaning known:

Syntax matters!

Students studied a speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln in 2019.
In 2019, students studied a speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln. 

Syntax with William Van Cleave 

In this video, William Van Cleave discusses the importance of syntax to writing and comprehending sentences. There is a place in your Course Companion to take notes. 

After the video, answer these questions in your course companion: 

Consider the "Two Grammar Camps" mentioned by Mr. Van Cleave. Do you find yourself and colleagues consistently falling into one of these camps? 

  • If so, why? 
  • If not, why? 

Consider Mr. Van Cleave’s six-part Elements of a Sentence Structure Lesson.

  • Where could you introduce this lesson structure in your classroom, building or district work?  
  • What are the challenges that you might need to overcome to successfully implement this process? How can you overcome these challenges?

Knowledge Check



The following resources can help you to better teach syntax in your classroom or building. There is a place to take notes in your Course Companion.

  1. The article Sentence Combining from Reading Rockets describes the importance of sentence combining to increase the quality and complexity of students’ sentences. As you read through it, consider how it challenges or affirms your current writing instruction. In your Course Companion, list 1-2 important takeaways from the article.
  2. Connectives link and connect ideas and include words such as “because,” “instead,” and “later.” This short video by the Institute of Education Science covers the importance of connectives for building sentence complexity and increasing students’ ability to convey meaning.  


Course Reflection

In your Course Companion, answer the following questions: 

  1. Identify one or two key takeaways from what you learned in this course. How can you begin to implement your learning in your work in your classroom, building or district?
    1. What barriers do you anticipate in implementing this new strategy or approach?
    2. Are there other people who need to be involved to help you improve your work? Who are they and what are the next steps that you need to take in order to involve them?

To Learn More

The following resources can help you to continue your learning: 


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Last Modified: 4/24/2024 9:21:46 AM