Slice of Life.
Using giant binder clips, I draped a pocket chart from a low easel at the carpet area. At the bottom of it, I fastened a chart of coordinating conjunctions showing the age-old acronym FANBOYS. I was ready when second graders tumbled into the classroom, full of energy after lunch break, checking out the new face (mine) in their room.
My plan was to present an anchor lesson on simple and compound sentences. Actually, I was combining a series of lesson vignettes that would normally occur over several days. It would stretch students, but it would give teachers the full picture of what I refer to as the S-Cd-Cx Anchor Lesson, which was what the model was all about.
Students gathered around me on the floor. We introduced ourselves and then began sharing all they knew about sentences. It was a lively share time as students were eager to tell what they knew, and they knew quite a bit.
Conversation ebbed, and I put up the title Simple sentence. I explained that simple did not mean easy. It did not mean short. I explained we would, however, be working with very short sentences — skeleton sentences is what I call them. Skeleton sentences would make it easier for us to see changes that happen from one kind of sentence to another.
I added two simple (and short) sentences to the pocket chart: A snake hissed. The lady screamed. As you can imagine, a few students became animated at the mention of a snake. We chorally read the sentences. We observed the capital letter that began each sentence and the period that ended each one. We found the verb in the first sentence and marked it with a heart. (The verb is the heart of every clause; everything else spins around it.) I asked the subject-finding question: Who / what hissed? The class replied, the snake, and I underlined it because it was the subject. We repeated the mapping process with the second sentence.
Then I put the title Compound sentence into the pocket chart. We had a discussion about the meaning of the word compound. Without any prompting, students connected the word compound to compound words and how they are formed. I used that knowledge to get them to think about what we meant by compound sentence.
I placed a copy of each of the original sentences beneath the title Compound sentence.
I then used a couple metaphors to introduce the idea that something had to hold these two sentences together to make them into a single sentence. Nails hold wood together; glue holds paper together; thread holds fabric together. When we speak and write, we use special words and punctuation to hold ideas together.
I asked students to read the two sentences and think about how they could put them together, think about what might hold them together to make one sentence. They could talk with each other. I gave plenty of wait time as they read and tried stuff and talked. Then it grew quiet. No one seemed to have an idea. Still I waited, slowly scanning their faces. That’s when I really noticed him.
It wasn’t that I hadn’t observed him already. He was sitting in the middle of the group. I was aware that he had not raised his hand to answer any questions. And although he had been paying attention, he had not contributed to any peer discussions.
Now he was looking intently at the pocket chart. I watched his eyes look downward at the coordinating conjunction chart. (Remember, I had placed it near the bottom of the pocket chart but I had not mentioned it yet.) Then he looked at the two sentences. By his eye movement and slight movement of his lips I could tell he was reading the sentences.
I waited and watched. I ignored the restlessness of some students. I could feel a smile spreading across my face.
He looked back at the coordinating conjunction chart and back up to the sentences. Again his eyes and lips moved as he read. Suddenly a light broke over his face. He looked straight at me and his hand shot up like a rocket, as he lifted himself upward from a crouched position on the carpet.
With a nod, I gave him the floor.
Excitedly, loudly, he read: A snake hissed, and the lady screamed. By then, I was grinning ear to ear. I asked him to say his sentence again so we could all think about what he had used to join the sentences. He did, and his peers got excited with him. Some of them even looked at the coordinating conjunction chart.
When the excitement subsided, I asked him to tell us exactly what he did in his head to come up with the compound sentence. What followed made me want to do the teacher dance.
With a little prompting from me to help him start, he articulated his thinking process. How he had noticed and wondered about the coordinating conjunction chart at the beginning of our lesson. How he thought maybe we were suppose to use those words now. So he tried them in the sentence; first, for. (The conjunctions were listed in the order of the acronym FANBOYS.) But, according to him, that didn’t sound good. So he tried the next one — and — which he told us made sense.
I’m so glad I waited!
As you can tell by the picture, we went on to use the coordinating conjunction so and discovered that it gave our sentence new meaning. The lady screamed as a result (notice the chart) of the snake’s hissing. I also showed how we can use the semicolon to form compound sentences. Later, as students were lining up to leave the classroom, another student brought his library book to me to point out a semicolon he had noticed earlier that day.
I love being part of learning!
Teaching Note: FANBOYS and the comma
Charts are powerful visuals. Associations we make on grammar charts need to be accurate for all applications. Therefore, I would never put commas on a chart of the FANBOYS (coordinating conjunctions: for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so). We may commonly associate the comma with coordinating conjunctions; however, use of the comma does not depend solely on use of the FANBOYS and use of a FANBOYS word does not always require a comma.
That’s right! I will repeat it: We do not use a comma every time we use one of the FANBOYS in our writing. It isn’t the presence of one of the FANBOYS that determines the use of the comma. To use or not to use a comma with a FANBOYS is determined by the grammatical elements the FANBOYS is connecting. There are three types of situations.
If FANBOYS is joining two words as in a compound subject or compound predicate, there is no comma.
If FANBOYS is joining more than two words to form a series, a comma is recommended.
If FANBOYS is joining two independent clauses (sentences) to form a compound sentence, the comma should be used. However, there are times — when crafting a particular sentence in a particular paragraph — that it is better to leave the comma out.
I teach students to find the FANBOYS, determine the type of grammatical elements it is joining to decide whether or not a comma should be used. I always say, “If you error in comma usage, error on the side of too few.” In other words, if you are not sure the comma is needed, leave it out. I recommend reading the text with the comma and then without the comma. As you do ask yourself: Does the comma separate something that needs to go together? Does the absence of the comma make the meaning vague or confusing?
In my classroom
I especially like using the following paragraph as a mentor text. It is composed of three compound sentences, but each one has a different structure.