Are your students struggling with incomplete sentences or fragments? Try teaching them how to identify the parts of a sentence – and then encourage them to use them correctly!
I’ll never forget my first round of writing conferences in middle school. I’d cycled through maybe a third of the class when I stumbled upon a draft written by a sweet kiddo who wrote his draft with nothing but sentence fragments. Not a single complete sentence could be found! I was initially impressed, then immediately overwhelmed because I didn’t know where to start. I stumbled over the typical feedback, “This is not a complete sentence,” and “You can’t finish your sentence in that spot!” Then I realized:
- I wasn’t being specific enough when describing the problem, and
- I would be speaking gobbledegook if I did.
This particular kiddo was missing critical knowledge about the essential parts of a sentence!
As I started creating a few minilessons to help him identify the basic parts of a sentence like subject and predicate, I realized that all my students could benefit from a quick review!
Why Teaching the Parts of a Sentence is Helpful For Students
Whether you’re worried about a student who writes in fragmented or incomplete sentences or not, all students can benefit from a quick review of the parts of a sentence. By taking the time to teach the basic parts of a sentence, you’ll ensure your students are equipped with the proper academic vocabulary for writing and have the knowledge to improve their writing. After all, Grammarly is only great if you understand the suggestions.
Identifying the Parts of a Sentence: Teaching The Basics
The parts of a sentence that middle school students should know are:
- Complements (Direct Object, Indirect Object, Predicate Noun/Adjective)
- Prepositional Phrases
- Nouns of Direct Address
To be clear, I only teach these after students have a decent grasp on the parts of speech because the parts of a sentence build off those foundations.
Step 1: Start with Subjects & Predicates
By middle school, students have usually been exposed to subjects and predicates a few times. Just ask them; they will draw a line to separate the subject from the predicate almost every time! ?
In a sentence like, “We played basketball after lunch,” most students can identify the subject and predicate with ease. “We | played basketball after lunch.”
However, in a sentence like “Before lunch, meet me at my locker,” students will struggle. It’s still a simple sentence (one subject, one predicate), but the sentence starts with a prepositional phrase and has an understood subject (you).
At the middle school level, students need to be able to identify a simple subject and a complete subject, a compound subject, and an understood subject.
Similarly, they must be able to identify the simple predicate, compound predicate, and complete predicate. This task is easier to do with action verbs than linking and helping verbs!
Step 2: Complete it with Complements
Once students have confidence and adequate competence with subjects and predicates, they can “complete it” with complements.
Complements are the words that complete the subject and predicate. They include direct objects (She threw the ball), indirect objects (She threw the ball to me), predicate nouns (She is home), and predicate adjectives (She is happy).
Step 3: Add Your Phrases
Basic sentences include a subject, predicate, and complement.
The science lab is gross.
Maria forgot her backpack.
Jacob and Samson delivered the awards to Mrs. Driggs.
If your students are ready for the next level, it’s time to turn up the party with phrases. Phrases allow students to add variety and a bit more personality to their sentences!
There are three types of phrases middle school students should understand:
Prepositional phrases are the easiest to tackle, so I recommend teaching them first.
Prepositional phrases give additional information about time, location, or position. They start with a preposition (marker word) and end with an object. I love teaching prepositional phrases because they are one of the first ways I encourage students to “level up” their writing. They can move prepositional phrases that modify a verb to the front of their sentence for variety.
Maggie found a rotten banana in her backpack.
In her backpack, Maggie found a rotten banana.
It’s not something you want students to overuse, but it’s a great way to encourage students to add variety to their writing (as well as practice proper usage of commas).
Appositive phrases are the second type of phrase I teach. They may be easier for students to grasp, but they occur less commonly, so they take a backseat to prepositional phrases.
Appositive phrases give additional information about a noun or pronoun in a sentence.
Example #1: Solomon, who is 13, can walk to school on his own.
Example #2: His friend Cameron is not.
In example one, the appositive phrase is nonessential and is set apart with commas. The sentence still functions without it (Solomon can walk to school on his own). For added variety, students can also set apart appositive phrases with parentheses.
In the second example, the appositive is essential (Cameron), so it is not set apart with commas.
Appositive phrases are a fun skill for young writers to learn because they offer a fun & appropriate way to use nonrestrictive parentheses.
Infinitive phrases are the last type of phrase to teach. They are a bit more complicated because they start with “to” and end with a verb. It is easy for students to look at “to” and immediately think prepositions, but that isn’t always the case. Second, infinitive phrases are “to” + a verb, so students may confuse them with the predicate.
For example, in the sentence “Gentry went to play baseball, but it was too windy,” students may identify play as the predicate. Then they won’t know what to do with went to.
However, if they understand that to + verb = infinitive, they’ll mark off that phrase and will be left with the subject and the predicate.
Step 4: Wrap it up with Nouns of Direct Address
Finish out your minilessons by teaching students to identify nouns of direct address. This last piece is really the cherry on top because it’s so easy!
Anytime someone is addressed directly in a sentence, set it apart with commas.
Mrs. Brown, will you let us out early today?
Mr. Hawkins, can we use our phones?
When teaching nouns of direct address, the biggest thing to watch out for is that students may confuse them with an appositive.
If you’d like to grab a simple and ready-to-use lesson on Nouns of Direct Address, you can grab my instructional slideshow and worksheets (for free) by subscribing to my email list below.
Make Identifying the Parts of a Sentence Fun & Interactive
How can you get students to enjoy learning about grammar? By making it fun and interactive! Middle school students love to be silly and sarcastic, so if you can find ways to speak their language during your lessons, do it!
One of my favorite ways to do this is by giving my students outrageous tasks when I ask them to apply what they’ve learned.
For example, when teaching complements, I ask students to complete the following task:
“Your dad just got off the phone and announced that his brother, Uncle Barry, will be in town for the weekend. You haven’t seen Uncle Barry for years, but you know that the last time he visited, he was quite the fella. He was messy, hadn’t had a shave or cut in forever, had terrible table manners, and drove your mom crazy. You vividly remember your last dinner together. Write the dinner scene below, being as descriptive as you can. Try to use a variety of direct and indirect objects and predicate nouns, and predicate adjectives. Underline each complement you use!”
Most students have such a blast drafting their wild scene that they have no problem learning grammar and identifying complements. (It’s like sneaking a vitamin into that piece of cake!)
Once students can identify all parts of a sentence, I put their knowledge to the test with a scavenger hunt.
A grammar scavenger hunt (or question trail) gets students up and moving around the room. It allows the teacher to see who GOT IT and who needs more coaching.
And last but not least, my favorite way to wrap it all up is with an escape room. If you’ve been around long enough, you know that’s my favorite way to wrap up a unit!
A parts-of-a-sentence escape room is a higher-stakes opportunity for students to work together and see if they know enough to “escape.”
And that’s it! Hopefully, you’re feeling more confident about teaching your students how to identify the parts of a sentence. Don’t forget to grab a free done-for-you lesson on Nouns of Direct Address by subscribing to my email list.
I’ve also made it super easy for you to grab any other lesson or activity mentioned in this post. Check them out below and give yourself the precious gift of time.