Unpacking Syntax

Tell me about it

Syntax refers to the order of words in a sentence that makes the sentence understandable. While often a trouble spot for nonnative speakers, learning to navigate syntax improves fluency and comprehension, making it crucial for all students to master.

Considerations for instructional planning

  • Look for instances and examples where syntax is unusual - perhaps for effect.
  • Note juicy longer sentences that require breaking into manageable chunks.
  • Be aware that ELLs will need direct assistance and support.
  • Think not only about syntax in reading complex text, but also include it in writing assignments and instruction.
  • Use mentor texts to teach syntax.
  • Remember that syntax instruction benefits all students K through 12!

Be sure to

  • Talk directly about syntax. Explain that words have a certain order in a sentence and sentences come in different patterns - and represent those ideas graphically!
  • Play with word order in sentences to see if the meaning changes.
  • Practice Sentence Unscrambling where students put meaningful chunks of a sentence into a logical sequence. Practice Sentence Expanding where students change basic sentences into more complex sentences. Practice Sentence Imitation where students work with different syntax patterns from mentor texts when writing.
  • Use songs, poems, and choral reading to practice syntax.

Tools and Resources


  • This PowerPoint presentation explores 7 strategies for teaching syntax as well as the research behind them.
  • This presentation shows the connection between syntax and sentence combining.