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The Rationale Behind The Teaching Of Sentence Structure

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Extolling the great importance of knowledge, Aristotle the famous philosopher began his work on metaphysics by declaring that all men by nature desire to know. Thus, he makes knowledge the delight of man and links it with his quest for survival.  This search for knowledge is deeply rooted in human nature such that it represents an inescapable and defining requirement of the human being. Since in man‘s creative restlessness beats and pulsates what is most deeply human- the search for knowledge. Knowing can therefore be said to be ontological to man or in the existential parlance, it is part of man’s existentiality since man for them is condemned to knowing.

 A major issue in knowing and speaking of English language is through a proper pedagogy of the concepts of sentence structure and punctuations.  These two concepts have been problematic as it possesses a sense of difficulty to a proper grasp of English language.  This has attracted the attention of individuals from different facets of life. However difficult this might understand its importance and programmes associated with them with the two concepts can make things easier for us.

My goal in this essay is not to probe into the Nature of English language, but to elucidate the reasons behind the teaching of sentence structure and punctuations and equally, proffer an overview of the programmes, skills and the modules associated with sentence structure and punctuations.  To achieve this, the essay is divided into two subtitles namely: Why teach Sentence structure and Punctuations and Sentence structure and Punctuations; a Pedagogical approach.

Why Teach Sentence structure and Punctuations:

To improve your academic writing skills, you must first understand possible problems with sentence structure and punctuations so that you can not only recognize but write effective sentences. The study of language, its elements, and its nature are important components of a language arts program. Grammar and usage cause endless controversy both inside and outside the classroom. Much of this controversy stems from the misunderstanding of terms and their associated concepts. Grammar is perhaps the least understood term. Grammar is not not so-called good English, nor is it the abstract study of parts of speech. Certainly grammar is not the mechanical aspects of composition (i.e., punctuation, capitalization, and spelling). Grammar, in its broadest sense, is the study of the way language works. Two aspects of the grammar of English that students need to understand are sentence structure (syntax) and usage. “Language continues to develop through the use of language, not through exercises in naming of parts” (Sanborn: 1986). Diagramming sentences and learning the names of the parts of speech do not improve students’ writing or reading but do steal instructional time from meaningful language activities.

There is no gainsaying the fact that secondary school students should have a number of basic understandings. They should have a good understanding of English syntax–the principles of sentence formation. If students lack these understandings, it is important to take time to teach them.  Owing to this the importance of teaching sentence structure and punctuations can not be over-emphasized because to listen, understand and respond critically to others; pupils should be taught to identify the major elements of what is being said both explicitly and implicitly; distinguish tone, undertone, implications and other signs of a speaker’s intentions. You will not become a better writer simply by learning to name the different types of sentences, but you will develop a more sophisticated understanding of how language works. If you would like to make certain that you understand how to identify a  simple  sentence compound sentence complex sentence or a compound complex sentence.

To develop understanding and appreciation of texts, pupils should be taught to extract meaning beyond the literal, explaining how the choice of language and style affects implied and explicit meanings so as to exploit choice of language and structure to achieve particular effects and appeal to the reader, use a range of techniques and different ways of organising and structuring material to convey ideas, themes and characters.  The importance teaching sentence structure and punctuation is inevitable to enable a writer or students get acquainted with the principles of sentence grammar and whole-text cohesion and use this knowledge in their writing. They should be taught … the structure of phrases and clauses and how they can be combined to make complex sentences [for example, coordination and subordination].

The rationale behind the teaching of sentence structure and punctuations to student also lie in the fact that it extend their use and control of complex sentences by recognising and using subordinate clauses; exploring the functions of subordinate clauses, deploying subordinate clauses in a variety of positions within the sentence; use the active or the passive voice to suit purpose recognise the cues to start a new paragraph and use the first sentence effectively to orientate the reader, vary the structure of sentences within paragraphs to lend pace, variety and emphasis,  combine clauses into complex sentences, using the comma effectively as a boundary signpost and checking for fluency and clarity, explore the impact of a variety of sentence structures, review and develop the meaning, clarity, organisation and impact of complex sentences in their own writing; write with differing degrees of formality, relating vocabulary and grammar to context, integrate speech, reference and quotation effectively into what they write. Most pupils can make clear statements about what they have experienced and imagined.

The purpose of punctuation is to help the reader understand the writer’s meaning. Variations in punctuation may result in differences in meaning, lack of meaning, or different emphasis. Most punctuation marks are written substitutes for intonation–visual symbols that have developed as substitutes. Some punctuation marks, such as those found in the business letter, are dictated by custom. Students need to know the basic function of punctuation marks and their “customary” uses in writing. (Marland: 1977) recommends that punctuation be taught by function, including:  the seven ways of marking off a “sense group”: the comma, the semicolon, parentheses, the period followed by a space and upper-case letter, the paragraph indentation, the space or signs for section divisions, the chapter- ending space, the three ways of marking interruptions: a pair of commas, a pair of dashes, a set of parentheses, the different ways of showing that a word has been borrowed or is being used in a special way: underline, quotation marks, italics, or boldface.

Sentence structure and Punctuations; a Pedagogical approach:

There are three common myths concerning effective teaching: 1) if you know the subject, then you can teach the course; 2) effective teachers are born, not made; and 3) “effective teaching” cannot be defined. Educational research indicates that these assumptions are not valid. Several dimensions of effective teaching have been identified, and these include: 1) knowledge of the subject to be taught; 2) organization and preparation for teaching; 3) instructional delivery skills; 4) evaluation skills; and 5) enthusiasm for teaching. As this list indicates knowledge of the subject in only one dimension. It must be complemented by other skills to produce effective teaching (Kenneth: 1979)

The grammar (sentence structure and punctuations) of a language consists of formal devices -forms and their arrangements, meanings and distribution. Both forms and their arrangements have their significance as parts of a system. Sentence in a language is not merely a group of words but a structured string of words. The formal meanings of the arrangements into which words fall in a sentence can be generally understood without an understanding of the lexical meanings. Sentences of a language are innumerable but the underlying patterns of all the possible sentences in a language are finite in number. Through the use of finite patterns, we produce an infinite number of sentences in human languages. The native users of a language have generally no difficulty in identifying what a sentence is and what a sentence is not in that language. They know intuitively well to identify and use the admissible combinations of clusters of words in sentences of that language.

The most important factor in writing exercises is that students need to be personally involved in order to make the learning experience of lasting value. Encouraging student participation in the exercise, while at the same time refining and expanding writing skills, requires a certain pragmatic approach. The teacher should be clear on what skills he/she is trying to develop. Next, the teacher needs to decide on which means (or type of exercise) can facilitate learning of the target area. Once the target skill areas and means of implementations are defined, the teacher can then proceed to focus on what topic can be employed to ensure student participation. By pragmatically combing these objectives, the teacher can expect both enthusiasm and effective learning.

Choosing the target area depends on many factors; what level are the students? What is the average age of the students, Why are the students learning English (sentence structure and punctuations), are there any specific future intentions for the writing (i.e. school tests or job application letters etc.). Other important questions to ask one are: What should the students be able to produce at the end of this exercise? (a well written letter, basic communication of ideas, etc.) What is the focus of the exercise? (structure, tense usage, creative writing). Once these factors are clear in the mind of the teacher, the teacher can begin to focus on how to involve the students in the activity thus promoting a positive, long-term learning experience.
Having decided on the target area, the teacher can focus on the means to achieve this type of learning. As in correction, the teacher must choose the most appropriate manner for the specified writing area. If formal business letter English is required, it is of little use to employ a free expression type of exercise. Likewise, when working on descriptive language writing skills, a formal letter is equally out of place.
With both the target area and means of production, clear in the teachers mind, the teacher can begin to consider how to involve the students by considering what type of activities are interesting to the students; Are they preparing for something specific such as a holiday or test?, Will they need any of the skills pragmatically? What has been effective in the past? A good way to approach this is by class feedback, or brainstorming sessions. By choosing a topic that involves the students the teacher is providing a context within which effective learning on the target area can be undertaken.

            To avoid a too radical departure from what is expected in the sentence structure and punctuations, grammatical features will be introduced through an authentic so that the student will encounter the grammatical features.  Additionally, because this module is directed towards the students, some explicit grammar instruction will likely be necessary once the feature has been discussed
finally; the question of which type of correction will facilitate a useful writing exercise is of utmost importance. Here the teacher needs to once again think about the overall target area of the exercise. If there is an immediate task at hand, such as taking a test, perhaps teacher guided correction is the most effective solution. However, if the task is more general (for example developing informal letter writing skills), maybe the best approach would be to have the students work in groups thereby learning from each other. Most importantly, by choosing the correct means of correction the teacher can encourage rather discourage students.


  • ), McKeachie (1986) A Guidebook for the Beginning College Teacher.
  • Bach, E. (1974) Syntactic Theory. Rinehart and Winston, Inc., New York.
  • Onions, C. T. (1932) An Advanced English Syntax. Sixth Edition. Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
  • Jacobs, R. A., and Rosenbaum P. S. (1968) English Transformational Grammar. Blaisdell, Waltham, Mass.
  • Chomsky, N. (1965). Aspects of the Theory of Syntax. I. T. Press, Cambridge,


  • Kenneth, E. (1979) The Craft of Teaching
  • Wolfgang, S. (Ed) ( 1992) the Development Dictionary; a Guide to Knowledge as power. London & New Jersey: Zeed bks. Ltd.
  • (2006) The world Almanac and Book of facts. New York: World Almanac Books.

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