Learning new language skills, especially sentence structure, can be daunting for some learners. While traditional instruction is beneficial for auditory and some visual learners, kinesthetic learners require a more hands-on approach to grasp the material. Fortunately, there are ways to incorporate manipulatives such as LEGO bricks into certain lessons to engage these learners. This article on how to teach sentence structure with LEGO explains how to get started.
Complex sentence structure is something that students typically tackle in their late middle-school years. Learning these concepts helps students improve their reading comprehension and understanding. When these skills are mastered, students are better equipped to read and compose more advanced literature and essays.
Unfortunately, even a student who previously thrived in language courses may become overwhelmed when faced with complicated concepts such as coordinating conjunctions. The differences between some of these more advanced terms can be subtle and confusing. Teaching the material and then practicing the principles with more familiar symbols, such as LEGO bricks, can alleviate student anxiety and improve comprehension and offers a fun way to teach sentence structure.
There are many types of students who can benefit from tactile learning. One study showed that students who struggle with dyslexia or attention disorders may find it easier to focus on manipulatives than written words. In the study Gifted Achievers and Gifted Underachievers, researchers demonstrated that underachieving students, who are capable but often refuse to participate, are also more likely to engage when tactile materials are used.
Manipulatives, such as LEGO bricks, have also proven effective in helping English language learners understand difficult language concepts, as outlined in Teaching Techniques for the ESL Classroom. Another study in Advances in Physiology Education concluded that nearly 20 percent of students identify as tactile and kinesthetic learners, who grasp new concepts best by doing something rather than reading or listening. As a result, students in nearly every classroom can benefit from using LEGOs to master language concepts.
A fun way to teach basic syntax and sentence structure is by using LEGO to represent the various components and their relation to one another.
Preparing for the Activities
Prepare for the activity by separating the LEGOs by color. Each student participating in the activity will need several of each color. Provide an explanation of the color code to each student. Although the color code can be modified depending on the type and quantity of bricks you have available, a suggested code is outlined below.
- Black LEGOs represent independent clauses, or groups of words that include a subject and a verb to form a complete a thought. An independent clause is a sentence.
- White LEGOs represent a dependent clause, or group of words that contains a subject and verb but does not express a complete thought. Dependent clauses often start with a dependent marker word, such as “when” or “although.”
- Yellow LEGOs will be divided into two groups by size. Small, two-stud yellow bricks will represent a coordinating conjunction, such as “and” or “but.” Four-stud bricks will represent conjunctive adverbs, such as “accordingly” or “then.”
- Red LEGOs must be sorted according to size. The number of studs on the bricks will determine what the red brick represents. For example, a period can be represented by a one-stud brick, a comma is a two-stud brick, and so on.
- Blue LEGOs represent subordinate conjunctions, such as “after” and “unless.”
- Green LEGOs represent a pronoun, adjective, or adverb.
Assemble the Sentences
Supply each student with a list of sentences and enough bricks to form them correctly.
Before the students begin to work independently, it might be helpful to demonstrate a variety of sentences. For example, the sentence “I sat.” would be represented by a black LEGO with a single red LEGO at the end. “I love English, but I hate math” would be represented by a black LEGO, a two-stud red LEGO, a two-stud yellow LEGO, a black LEGO, and a single-stud red LEGO.
Fix the Sentences
Students who frequently make writing errors may benefit from creating tangible representations of run-on sentences and incomplete fragments. Identify where the problems are and show the students how to correct the sentences with punctuation and other pieces. For many students, this kinetic, tactile approach will be much more effective than simply learning the rules or revising their writing.
Rearrange the Sentences
As students begin to identify parts of the sentence as building bricks that can be manipulated, encourage them to restructure sentences in different ways. Encourage the students to move dependent clauses to different positions in the sentence and experiment with different types of conjunctive words and phrases. As they experiment with this, the students will learn to master a variety of effective sentence structures that can add variety and quality to their writing.
Students find learning with LEGOs entertaining and educational. Although this method of teaching may seem unconventional, the hands-on approach offered by LEGO lessons caters to the specific learning needs of many students who may otherwise be overwhelmed by traditional teaching methods.
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