In my 8th grade regular and Pre-AP classes I teach simple, compound, and complex sentences and the subsequent punctuation by using Legos. I assign each colored/sized block a name (clauses, conjunctions, semi-colons, commas, and so on). The students begin to visualize and manipulate sentences as building blocks. I emphasize that no structure could hang together with only on size of brick stacked upon one another without proper connections. I have enclosed the actual handouts that I give my students. They're a bit long. At the very end of the document are some of my reflections regarding the implementation and efficacy of this unit.
WHAT OBJECT DO ALL OF THESE THINGS HAVE IN COMMON?
A humanoid robot displaying basic emotional facial expressions
A prototype experiment with movements of a car accompanied by musical sounds
An experiment with physical modeling of a steel production plant
An artificial world inhabited by insect-like robots.
A programmable, microcontroller-based brick that can simultaneously operate three motors, three sensors, and an infrared serial communications interface
A linguistic tool used to unlock the mysteries of effective sentence construction by the world's singularly most interesting, intelligent, and arrogant English teacher
These are, in fact, projects being conducted in the Department of Computer Science University of Aarhus Aabogade in Denmark, conducted at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and most importantly, conducted right here at Will Rogers Middle School.
So, what is the secret miracle object?
We will use Legos™ to demonstrate how to construct sentences of variety (simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex).
Consider the following key:
The black Lego™ = an independent clause
The white Lego™ = a dependent clause
The yellow Lego™ = coordinating conjunction (2 pronged) and
conjunctive adverb (4 pronged)
The red Lego™ = punctuation
The blue Lego™ = subordinate conjunction
The green Lego™ = relative pronoun, adjective, or adverb
The Independent Clause (Black Lego™)
A group of words with a subject and verb that makes sense by itself
The Dependent Clause (White Lego™)
A group of words with a subject and verb that does not makes sense by itself and begins with a subordinating conjunction (Blue Lego™) or a relative pronoun/adjective (Green Lego™) (See Conjunction Handout)
Two different kinds of dependent clauses include:
Adverb clause -- a clause that begins with a subordinating conjunction (Blue Lego™) and functions as an adverb
Adjective clause -- a clause that begins with a relative pronoun or adjective (Green Lego™) and functions as an adjective
Conjunctions (Yellow Lego™)
Two pronged Yellow Lego™ = Coordinating conjunctions used to join independent clauses (See Conjunction Handout)
Four pronged Yellow Lego™ = Conjunctive adverbs used to join independent clauses (See Conjunction Handout)
Punctuation (Red Lego™)
Two pronged Red Lego™ = commas
Four pronged Red Lego™ = semi-colon
Single pronged Red Lego™ = period
Kinds of Sentences
Simple Sentence = one independent clause (Black Lego™)
Compound Sentence = two independent clauses (Black Lego™)connected with a semi-colon (Four pronged Red Lego™), a coordinating conjunction (two-pronged Yellow Lego™) or a conjunctive adverb (four pronged Yellow Lego™)
Complex Sentence = one dependent clause (White Lego™) beginning with a subordinating conjunction (Blue Lego™) or a relative pronoun/adjective (Green Lego™) and one independent clause (Black Lego™)
Complex/Compound Sentence =
Two or more Black Legos™ connected with two or four pronged Yellow Lego™
One or more White Legos™ beginning with a Blue Lego™ or a Green Lego™
Now, let's build our own sentences. Try imitating these sentences by reconstructing them with Legos.
1. Honesty is the best policy.
2. You can please some of the people some of the time, but you can't please all of the people all of the time.
3. Procrastination, which is the habit of postponing things, is an easy habit to acquire, but it is a difficult one to break.
4. Even though Osbert Woods is ninety-four years old, he goes to the gym every day to work out, and he routinely swims two miles in the pool.
5. A spectacular view surrounds Pikes Peak.
6. The tardy bell for the first class had not yet rung; nonetheless, I hurried down the corridor.
7. An office building now stands where my house was.
8. Although Michelangelo was a gifted painter, he is equally famous as a sculptor.
9. Before you go camping, you should learn to build a fire and pitch a tent.
On the back of this sheet write two examples of each kind of sentence. Your quiz tomorrow will be to reconstruct them using legos.
I use this activity during the syntax unit for both my Pre-AP and regular eighth grade English classes.
I ask that students identify sentence types by reconstructing them using Legos and discuss how they might move a clause to the front of a sentence for added variety.
I find this approach teaches more than sentence types. They better understand clauses by seeing how they function in a sentence. Secondly, they seem to learn the function of punctuation and conjunctions instead of simply memorizing rules.
This visual/tactile activity demonstrates that writing is a process of building ideas into sentences; sentences into paragraphs; and then, later in the semester, paragraphs into essays.
As students edit, I often refer to Linguistic Legos as they combine short choppy sentences, correct sentence fragments, or separate run-on and rambling sentences.
Of course, the color codes I use are arbitrary depending upon which set of Legos™ that I have available. It is the visual/kinesthetic concept that seems to work for middle school students. I will say that this unusual approach does frustrate the traditional learner. In that case I simply give those students traditional worksheets with traditional explanations.