teaching independent and dependent clauses

Would it surprise you if I said that teaching independent and dependent clauses doesn’t have to be dry and boring? It’s true. Understanding the difference between the two is fundamental for students to be successful writers, but teaching it in an engaging way can certainly be challenging. Read on to see how I transformed my classroom into the “Clause Cafe” as my students and I dove into this concept. We emerged a bit smarter… and a bit sweeter. Order up!

Independent and Dependent Clauses in a Nutshell

First and foremost, teaching independent and dependent clauses should only occur after your students have a solid understanding of the parts of speech and the parts of a sentence. You should spend several weeks teaching about the minor pieces of a sentence and how they interact with each other. Trust me; students grasp the concept of independent vs. dependent clauses a lot easier once they have some background with subjects + predicates.

Your students need to grasp these three essential understandings:

  1. Clauses must contain a subject and a predicate.
  2. Independent clauses form a complete sentence on their own. They contain a subject and a predicate and form a complete thought. 
  3. Dependent clauses do not form a complete sentence on their own. While they contain a subject and a verb, they do not form a complete thought. They contain a “marker word” that links them to another thought (a relative pronoun or subordinate conjunction).

Here’s a brief example:

Independent: I ate a muffin for breakfast.

Dependent: Because I did not have time for an omelet.

Both clauses contain a subject, and both clauses contain a predicate. However, the second clause is dependent because the marker word because tells us there is more to the thought. 

You can grab a grammar reference sheet that includes this information (plus the parts of speech and parts of a sentence) by grabbing my free grammar e-book below. It’s a handy tool that I like to put in the front of my planner!

Teaching independent and dependent clauses is important because it helps students better understand sentence structure and the different sentence types, and it also helps them use punctuation correctly.

Now, let’s head over to the clause cafe!

The Clause Cafe: A {Minor} Classroom Transformation

I’m a big fan of making learning multisensory when teaching a concept. The rich experience increases engagement, but it also increases the likelihood of students retaining the information. “Neurons that wire together, fire together!”

independent and dependent clauses

You can make your clause lessons multisensory by adding a few fun touches:

  1. Set up a “mini-cafe” in the room, complete with a thermos of hot water for hot chocolate or tea and a thermos of decaf coffee with sugar and creamer. 
  2. Project a cozy cafe scene on the board while students are working.
  3. Play an acoustic coffeehouse playlist while students are working.
  4. Give students a “sweet treat” like mini-muffins, donut holes, etc., after they complete a task.

You can make this happen on a small budget by contacting local coffee and donut shops or grocery stores and asking if they have anything to donate. Typically, donut shops get rid of any unsold product at the end of the day, so you can get free products just by asking. You can also cut full-sized donuts into halves or fourths to stretch them further.

Independent and Dependent Clauses: A Day By Day Plan

Once you’ve got a plan for your learning environment, it’s time to prepare your mini-lesson. I created themed slides for my lesson that looked like a cafe menu. 

clause cafe

However, it doesn’t matter if your slides are cute or not, so long as they contain the info you want students to master, right?

On our first day, we learned the difference between a phrase and a clause. The students worked in groups of 2-3 to sort a variety of pre-cut strips into phrases and clauses.

With my advanced students (or advanced classes), we took it a step further. We examined the different types of phrases: noun phrase, verb phrase, prepositional phrase, infinitive phrase, appositive phrase, and participial phrase.

However, most of my 6th graders had their hands full with mastering the difference between phrases and clauses, so they stayed put.

Both groups then worked independently to differentiate between phrases and clauses on a worksheet.

On day two, we learned about independent and dependent clauses. I had students practice identifying the subject and predicate in various sentences, and then I had them practice working with “marker words.”

Next, they tested their knowledge and worked to identify whether clauses were independent or dependent on a worksheet.

On day three, we learned about the different types of sentences: simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex.

Students practiced creating each type by using sentence strips and macaroni noodles. I would challenge them to create a sentence (compound, for example), and they would assemble clause strips punctuated with a macaroni noodle! (simple + noodle + simple).

Then, they put it all together and completed a series of task cards around the room.

independent and dependent clause task cards

Creative Writing with Clauses

Wrapping up the mini-unit with a creative writing exercise is always a good idea! I challenged students to respond to the following prompt and use a set number of simple, compound, and complex sentences in their writing.

“You’ve fallen asleep in class while learning about clauses and phrases. Since your teacher kept referencing sweet delicacies, it only makes sense that you’re dreaming of pastry heaven. Dancing sugar plum fairies are dusting everything in powdered sugar; there’s a fountain of flowing caramel, freshly baked tarts, and so much more. Describe what you see, smell, and taste in your dream.”

Students always have a lot of fun with creative writing during our grammar lessons, and it’s usually the final task that cements the learning.

This is also when they get to enjoy a sweet treat from me!


I hope this deep dive into teaching independent and dependent clauses has inspired you to make your grammar lessons fun, multisensory, and interactive. You (and your students) won’t be disappointed!

If you’d like to use any of the resources mentioned above, you can purchase the complete lesson (presentation, activities, worksheets, task cards) below.

How do you help students master independent and dependent clauses? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Drop a comment below, or find me on IG/FB, and let’s chat!