Literacy 7-12

Systems Change

Factor Connections

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Syntactic skills help us understand how sentences work—the meanings behind word order, structure, and punctuation. Understanding syntax is one of the foundational skills for Reading Fluency and comprehension in the upper grades. Syntactic skills also help us to transform our ideas for writing into acceptable sentences that convey our intentions. Though Syntactic development begins in childhood, children in middle and high school develop greater syntactic knowledge, particularly as they develop Disciplinary Literacy.

Main Ideas

Within multiple content disciplines, older students are required to comprehend and create more syntactically complex texts. Adolescents develop multiple components of Syntax including:

  • Through the use of more complex language and academic vocabulary, adolescents typically produce longer sentences than younger students. This is measured by assessing the number of clauses in a sentence: communication units (C-units) in oral language and terminable units (T-units) in written language.
  • Adolescents also increasingly develop the ability to add subordinate clauses to their writing and speech. Subordinate clauses are parts of sentences that logically follow the main clause. For example, in the sentence 'she picked up the baby when he was crying', 'when he was crying' represents the subordinate clause.
  • Middle and high school students begin to understand cohesion devices, or ways of connecting sentences to form coherent sentences. This includes the use of adverbial constructs such as moreover, therefore, and consequently.

As students become more confident readers, they begin to read texts with correct intonation and expression. This ability is called prosody and is a way adolescent readers break down text into syntactic structures to aid in comprehension. Students with strong knowledge of Syntax tend to be able to express this in writing, particularly through correct punctuation, complex sentences, and transitions.

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