Conjunctions are those little words that connect two parts of a sentence together. Also known as a joiner, these words are among the easiest and most fun to teach elementary students in grammar lessons. If you’re planning on teaching conjunctions to a group of students, don’t worry! It’s not difficult to find fun and practical ways to demonstrate conjunction use in the classroom, and many of the teaching aids that once helped you learn conjunctions (remember Conjunction Junction?) are available in free formats online.
Coordinating conjunctions are the easiest to teach. Each of the coordinating conjunctions is less than four letters long, and each is used commonly in the English language. The five coordinating conjunctions are for, and, nor, but, oh, yet, and so. A great mnemonic device is to show students that these conjunctions can be remembered as the acronym FANBOYS, which uses the first letter of each of the coordinating conjunctions. Worksheets and class exercises that require students to fill in the blank are particularly helpful, as they will help the students you teach see what conjunctions looks like in practice. Before even attacking the how and the why of coordinating conjunctions, familiarize the students with these seven words—it’ll make the remainder of conjunction teaching far easier for you.
If your students are old enough to take basic notes, it might be a helpful activity to have them write down some common uses for the coordinating conjunctions so that they’ll know when to anticipate their use. Although you will not be able to supply your students with every possible instance of every meaning of each conjunction, you can give them a functional background by providing a few common uses for each conjunction. You might begin with and, which is used in sequences and to suggest result. Or suggests alternative possibilities or negative conditions. Don’t overdo the notes; but do provide some definitive background for each conjunction.
Demonstrate to your students the ways conjunctions are normally used. Independent clauses, clauses that could stand alone as their own sentence, are a perfect place to begin because the necessity of conjunctions is readily apparent to most students. Take two independent clauses and have the students combine them using a list of coordinating conjunctions. Make these exercises easy enough at first that the conjunction the student should use is clear as possible. For example, you might want to try an example such as “Michael is sad. He should be happy.” The majority of students will choose “but” as the coordinating conjunction that ties the two sentences together.
Explain comma usage along with conjunctions so that as they practice, they’ll begin to understand the function of this punctuation mark as well. Independent clauses always make use of the comma when a conjunction is used, but dependent clauses often do not require commas. Demonstrate the use of the comma in a serial list (also known as the Oxford comma) before the conjunction and the final term of the list. When the word but is used to contrast two parts of a sentence, explain that a comma must always be used. Just as important as reinforcing comma use, make sure that your lessons demonstrate when a comma is not to be used. For instance, in sentences where conjunctions are used as joiners between terms other than independent clauses, commas are often superfluous.
Subordinating conjunctions are a bit more difficult for lower grade levels, especially because these conjunctions can also be used as prepositions in many cases. Provide your students with a list of the subordinating conjunctions and how they function in subordinate (or dependent) clauses. Only begin teaching the subordinating conjunctions once the students have mastered coordinating conjunction and understand the relationships between them. They will be able to apply the process for coordinating conjunctions to subordinating conjunctions without having to be re-taught. Once your students have the necessary background in these easier conjunctions, you will be able to visit the subordinating conjunctions using the same strategies that taught them mastery of the FANBOYS conjunctions.