Relatively Speaking: 5 Strategies for Teaching Relative Clauses

Relatively Speaking
5 Strategies for Teaching Relative Clauses

Jessica Madsen
by Jessica Madsen 88,918 views

Some grammar topics are best taught within the context of writing, and relative clauses is among these.

By moving from noticing, to guided practice, to production, students can begin to incorporate relative clause structures into their writing, which will serve to enhance the level of detail and description, as well as cohesion and coherence in their writing. Relative clauses can be a tricky concept for students, and they will likely need thorough practice with the form in order to begin to produce the form correctly.

Check Out These Splendid Ideas to Help You with Relative Clauses

  1. 1

    Identify In-text

    Like with any new grammar form, students benefit from being introduced to relative clauses through exercises that are based first on simply noticing patterns. Therefore, to begin a lesson on adjective clauses, have students first identify relative clauses within a text or isolated sentences. This requires some guessing on their parts, so the instructor will need to go over the answers with the class and discuss, but it’s a great way to get started. The teacher will want to direct students’ attention to both form and function, asking students to identify how the clauses are structured and what purpose they serve in sentences. This should lead in nicely to a formal explanation from the teacher, at which point a handout outlining the rules of usage is always is good idea.

  2. 2

    Introduce the Structure

    Once students have a basic understanding of relative clauses, it’s time to present them with the formal rules for constructing and using this form. Students can contribute to a lecture on relative clauses in a guided discussion. Remember, students learn best when they come up with the information they need to learn by themselves first. In other words, the teacher should strive to ask questions that will guide the students’ attention to the information that he or she would like them to have. With relative clauses, questions for students should include the following:

    • What do you notice about the structure of relative clauses?
    • Which words do we see at the beginning of relative clauses?
    • Where in a sentence do relative clauses appear?
    • Which words do they describe?
    • What happens is we remove the relative clause?

    It’s also very important to directly compare restrictive clauses and non-restrictive clauses by providing example sentences that are identical, but for the difference in relative clauses. For example, the teacher might write the following two sentences on the board:

    • The girl who has red hair has two brothers.
    • The girl, who has red hair, has two brothers.

    Students will probably have a difficult time discerning any difference between these two sentences, at first, but with a little coaching, they for the teacher, they will eventually start to see how a subtle difference in comma usage can have a major impact on meaning. The first sentence has a restrictive relative clause, the information within it is necessary in order for the reader to know which girl is being referred to. In the second sentence, the relative clause is non-restrictive, and the information provided serves as added detail, but it is not necessary for the purpose of identifying the girl.

  3. 3

    Start to Add Relative Clauses to Sentences

    Once students have a general understanding of relative clauses, it’s time to engage them in productive practice. A simple way for students to begin using relative clauses is to design a speaking or writing activity in which students add a descriptor to a sentence in the form of a relative clause. If students are catching on slowly, the teacher can give students pre-prepared relative clauses to be used in a matching activity as part of a worksheet or in a more interactive way. As learners become more comfortable, they can eventually create their own clauses to Us

  4. 4

    Use Scrambled Sentences

    There are many ways to create fun and interesting games that target relative clauses. When students are first working on acquiring familiarity with the structure of this form, scrambled sentences are a useful tool for increasing students’ level of comfort with using relative clauses. This kind of activity can be set up in worksheet format, but for a more interactive approach, it can also be done with cut-up words that students need to work as a team to put together to form sentences with relative clauses. The sentences that students create can then be put on the board and evaluated by the class as whole. This kind of hands-on activity engages students in a way that is harder to achieve with traditional exercises done in a workbook or on paper. Getting students up and moving is always great when the option is available.

  5. 5

    Create Relevant Writing Tasks

    Like with any grammar that we teach, our ultimate goal is to have students use the forms they learn in speaking and writing as naturally and as automatically as possible. Once student have had the opportunity to practice relative clauses in scaffolded activities, it’s time to give them the opportunity to produce the form within a larger context. Presenting students with an appropriate writing task is essential. Because relative clauses are typically used to add description, its best to assign a paragraph or other short writing assignment that asks students to describe something in detail, whether that’s a person, a favorite vacation, or a special place. If the relative clause lesson coincides with an American holiday, it can be fun for students to write a story that relates to the traditional customs associated with the special occasion. For example, at Halloween time, students can write a spooky ghost story, or at Thanksgiving, they can recreate the traditional (though perhaps fictional) tale of the pilgrims and the Indians.

    Relative clauses are a valuable grammar point for writing, in particular.

    Students will need ample practice in order to fully understand the structure and usage of these clauses and to ultimately integrate them into their own productive language.

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