Teach Students to Write Complex Sentences

When English students learn to construct complex sentences, their grammar becomes cleaner and their writing becomes more stylish.


Lesson time (30-60 minutes)

In this lesson, your students will learn how to recognize and write a complex sentence. This lesson is not a complete survey of complex sentences. It introduces students to one basic structure.

Why learn how to write this kind of sentence?

  • Because they squeeze a lot of information into a comparatively small space, complex sentences are efficient.
  • When students learn to craft this form, they will be able to write with a bit of style through sentence variety.
  • While learning to articulate cause and effect, complex sentences allow students to paint a picture of contrast and time changes.

Part 1. What Does a Complex Sentence Look Like?

Here are some examples:

  • Although it was cold and rainy, we decided to go for a walk in the park.
  • After graduating from university, she started working for a trading company.
  • While the children sang, the mothers talked about where to go for lunch.
  • Before I went to the gas station, I checked how much money was in my wallet.

A Closer Look

Complex sentences have three parts:

  1. a connecting word
  2. a dependent clause
  3. an independent clause

Connecting Word

This word can be at the start of a sentence or in the middle. There are about 30 different connecting words. Most students don’t need to remember all of them. But they should know how to use 5-7:

  • After, although, because, before, if, when, while

Independent Clause

This is a sentence by itself.  Independent means alone or by itself.

Dependent Clause

It has a verb and a subject, but it is not a full sentence. It needs to be added to an independent clause. Dependent means need another person or thing.

Part 2a. Practice Writing

Here are six proverbs that use the a complex sentence form. Complete the sentence by adding the last part of the proverb, which happens to be the independent clause. (See bottom of post for answers.)

  1. Where there’s smoke, …
  2. If at first you don’t succeed, …
  3. If it ain’t broke, …
  4. If you can’t beat them, …
  5. When in Rome, …
  6. When the going gets tough, …

Part 2b. More Writing Practice

Finish the complex sentence by adding an independent clause that makes sense.

  1. After eating breakfast,
  2. Although it was cold,
  3. Because my grandmother is such a good cook,
  4. Before entering the baseball stadium,
  5. If I were you,
  6. When she brought in the birthday cake,
  7. While the teacher was out,

Part 3. Fluency Drill

Part 1

This is a timed writing activity.

Students look at a total of 7 pictures each with a word prompt (which is a connecting word). For each picture, students write a complex sentence using the given connecting word. Give 90 seconds to write a sentence for the first picture. After that, 60 seconds per picture. 

Part 2

At the end of the exercise, give students 10 minutes to rewrite their sentences by choosing better words and fixing errors.

Part 3

Select a few students to write some sentences on the board. Review with the class.



Proverb Answers

  1. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.
  2. If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
  3. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
  4. If you can’t beat them, join them.
  5. When in Rome, do as the Romans.
  6. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.



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