Download: Sentence and Clause Connectors
Every semester, I see my students holding enormous charts of transition words that they’ve downloaded from the Internet. I’ve never been a big fan of them. They usually give too much information and little to no guidance on how to use them.
The typical one divides transitions and connectors by function, such as to show an effect, introduce a new idea, signal an example, and so on. All of the words are then categorized vertically into transition signals, coordinating conjunctions, and subordinating conjunctions.
The problem for students is many don’t really understand the difference between the words or their correct usage. To illustrate, to introduce a fact, students may be given the transition signals In fact and Actually. In a student’s eyes, In fact and Actually are equal in meaning, when in fact that’s not actually always true. (We tend to use both to “correct” information, but only In fact to emphasize a previous point with some kind of specific detail.)
Another issue is that many charts do not include lexicogrammatical chunks of language in addition to the standard transition signals and conjunctions. The final issue is that if students don’t really know punctuation conventions for transition signals and the various conjunctions, they may well end up trying to use them all the same way.
With that in mind, I wanted to make a new handout that was a bit more stepped out and better illustrated. (You can download the handout here: Sentence and Clause Connectors.) Now my students can read example sentences for each kind of connector within a category. That way, they can see the grammatical differences between the connectors and also get a better feel for their meaning. Making this version also allowed me to include more of those lexicogrammatical chunks of language that Alice and I are so fond of teaching.
The first time I brought this to my students was just before writing their first drafts of their first essay. The prompt was Is social media helpful or harmful? I told them I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with the chart (since I had never used one of these things before), but I showed them how it worked, and highlighted the ones that could have been useful for essay on social media.
Many ended up incorporating several of the ones “to introduce an example,” as I was requiring them to include several personal examples in their essays. It was fun to see them using signals in their writing that I’m not used to ever seeing, such as “To demonstrate” and “To illustrate.”
I do not think I have come full circle. I’ve always hesitated giving students too much at once because that can often lead to greater confusion, but my students are at a level where they can handle a bit more. As this is a working document, it could also be customized and leveled down as necessary to fit a particular group or level of students.
For now, I’m having my students work on a couple of the connectors at a time. For homework this weekend, they had to write sentences with connectors that are used to “add a similar idea.” I asked them to choose 2 transition signals, the 2 coordinating conjunctions, and 2 of the “Other Phrases,” and write sentences with them. Here were a few they wrote:
- When you are married, you can’t do things like go out alone, buy something without asking, nor make big decisions alone.
- In addition to understanding minds, psychologists have to ask questions about childhood.
- The Brazilian people don’t have a voice to make decisions. Besides that, they try to change their life to be better, but the corruption is everywhere and everything.
And this was favorite one: In my country, the farmers see the actions of some insects to predict the weather. For instance, when the dragonfly flies high on the sky, it will be sunny, when it flies low, it will be rainy, and when it flies averagely, it will be cloudy.
In the future, I think I will continue to focus on 1-2 groups per week as homework until we finish the handout. I may have students consult it in class and work in groups to write more example sentences. I don’t think it’s a failsafe, but it’s a start. Students always enjoy learning ways of saying the same thing in different words, and I’ve been enjoying seeing them use and play with them. It’s old territory, but new territory for me and my students, hence the 2.0.