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How to Teach Conjunctions

Remember the elementary school Schoolhouse Rock song, Conjunction Junction? Here’s the first verse to refresh your memory.

Conjunction Junction, what’s your function?
Hooking up words and phrases and clauses.
Conjunction Junction, how’s that function?
I got three favorite cars
That get most of my job done.
Conjunction Junction, what’s their function?
I got “and”, “but”, and “or”,
They’ll get you pretty far.

That’s an additive, like “this and that”.
That’s sort of the opposite,
“Not this but that”.
And then there’s “or”:
O-R, when you have a choice like
“This or that”.
“And”, “but”, and “or”,
Get you pretty far.            by Bob Dorough ©1973 Schoolhouse Rock

Countless students have learned that a conjunction “hooks up words and phrases and clauses” from this elementary song. Although only a few examples are given, the tune and lyric are memorable and many students can identify this part of speech, more so than others, because of this song. Now, of course, the above verse only refers to one of three types of conjunctions—the coordinating conjunction.

Upper elementary, middle school, and high school students will need more examples of all three types of conjunctions to assist in accurate identification, and more importantly, to prompt their use of more sophisticated sentence constructions beyond those at the simple sentence levels. However, teaching the function of the three types of conjunctions with the most common examples in memorable ways certainly makes sense for older students. So, here are the three types of conjunctions, each with 1. Definition 2. Common Conjunctions 3. Example 4. Writing Connection 5. Writing Practice and 6. Memory Trick.

Coordinating Conjunctions

1. Definition: A coordinating conjunction joins words, phrases, or clauses of equal weight or similar grammatical construction.

2. Common Conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so

3. Example: Two desserts are fine, but three are better.

4. Writing Connection: Avoid overuse of the conjunction so. Also, do not use the words then and now as coordinating conjunctions. A comma is placed before the conjunction if it joins two or more independent clauses. Teach students that joining two simple related sentences with a comma conjunction forms a more sophisticated compound sentence.

5. Writing Practice: Write cloze sentences with blanks for the coordinating conjunctions, e.g., The food looked good, ______ she was not hungry. Have students compose original sentences for each of the seven common coordinating conjunctions. Have students “book search” for the seven common coordinating conjunctions. Require students to include a certain number of compound sentences in a writing process paper and underline each of the coordinating conjunctions.

6. Memory Trick: Teach the seven common coordinating conjunctions as F.A.N.B.O.Y.S. (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). For younger children, the most common should be taught as B.O.A.S. (but, or, and, so)

Correlative Conjunctions

1. Definition: A correlative conjunction joins another correlative conjunction as a pair. The paired correlative conjunctions serve as conjunctions to connect two balanced words, phrases, or clauses.

2. Common Conjunctions: both-and, from-to, whether-or, as-as, such-that, not-but, neither-nor, not only-but also, as many-as, just as-so, either-or, as-so, so-that

3. Example: Either we work together, or we will fail together.

4. Writing Connection: A comma is placed before the second of the paired conjunctions, if the sentence ends in an independent clause. Teach students that using the correlative conjunctions forms a complex sentence, which is one mark of mature writing.

5. Writing Practice: Write cloze sentences with blanks for the correlative conjunctions, e.g., ______ ______ did the food look good, ______ it ______ tasted great. Have students compose original sentences for each of the common correlative conjunctions. Have students “book search” for the common correlative conjunctions. Require students to include a certain number of correlative conjunctions in a writing process paper.

6. Memory Trick: Teach students to memorize the common correlative conjunctions to the tune of The ABC Song.

ABC Correlative Conjunctions

both-and from-to whether-or

A      B    C      D  E    F      G

as-as such-that not-but neither-nor

H   I   J       K     L     M   N  O     P

not only but also

Q    R S  T    U V

as many-as

W           X

just as-so

Y     +   Z

either-or     as-so  so-that

Now I  know my A,  B,  C’s

if-     then such-as   between-and

Next time won’t you sing with me?

Subordinating Conjunctions

1. Definition: A subordinating conjunction always introduces a dependent clause (a noun and a verb not expressing a complete thought). The subordinating conjunction signals the relationship between the dependent clause and the independent clause (a subject and verb standing alone as a complete thought). A dependent clause is less important than the independent clause and is sometimes called a subordinate clause. It is helpful to remember that sub means under, so that the subordinate clause is subordinate to the independent clause.

2. Common Conjunctions: after, although, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, as though, because, before, despite, even if, even though, how, if, in spite of, in order that, once, since, so that, than, that, though, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, whether, while

3. Example: Although my friends had already seen it, they saw the show a second time.

4. Writing Connection: Adding a subordinating conjunction to one of the clauses can revise a run-on sentence. A comma is placed after the dependent clause, if it begins a sentence. Teach students that using the subordinate conjunction to signal a dependent clause forms a complex sentence, which is important to sentence variety.

5. Writing Practice: Write cloze sentences with blanks to help students practice subordinating  conjunctions, e.g., ______ the food looked good, I ordered it for dinner. Have students compose original sentences for each of the common correlative conjunctions. Have students “book search” for the subordinating conjunctions. Require students to include a certain number of subordinating conjunctions in a writing process paper. Avoid stringing together two or more sentences with dependent clauses.

6. Memory Trick: Use the following memory trick to prompt your use of these subordinating clauses: Bud is wise, but hot! AAA WWW

B         U         D                             I                       S      W       I     S       E,

Before Unless Despite (In spite of)    In order that     Since   While  If    Since  Even though (if)

B                    U          T         H         O          T.

Because           Until    That     How    Once    Than

A                      A                                A

After                Although (though)        As (As if, As long as, As much as, As soon as, As though)

W                     W                          W

Whether           When (Whenever)   Where (Wherever)


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