I began reading If You Give a Dog a Donut by Laura Numeroff and noticed the "if "clause on the first page. On the third page, I saw the "when" clause. Hmmm, I thought, this series might be a good one to teach adverb clauses.

Yeah, I know, "adverb clause" sounds too technical. I prefer calling them AAAWWUBBIS clauses, like Jeff Anderson does in Mechanically Inclined.

What do you need to know about them?

1. They begin with the following words:
although      after      as      when      while      until      before      because      if      since
2. They can occur anywhere in the sentence: beginning, middle, or end.

3. Where there is an adverb clause, there is a comma nearby (two commas if the clause is in the middle of the sentence).

4. They depend on complete sentences. If you write an adverb clause without one, you will end up with a fragment.

Here are examples from two of Numeroff's books:
"If you give a dog a donut, he'll ask for some apple juice to go with it."

"When you give him the juice, he'll drink it all up."

"It will go higher and higher, until it gets tangled in the apple tree."

"While he's waiting, he'll play a quick game of soccer."

To give your students practice with writing and punctuating AAAWWUBBIS clauses, have them write their own series of sentences, each one including a word from the AAAWWUBBIS list. 

Make the task more challenging by having students write their own If You Give... story, mimicking Numeroff's pattern by starting and ending the story at the same place.

Example (Numeroff's writing with my revisions to fit the assignment):
  • If you give a dog a donut, he'll ask for some apple juice to go with it.
  • When you give him the juice, he'll drink it all up.
  • Because he likes it so much, he'll ask for more.
  • Since there won't be any left, he'll want to make his own.
  • He'll go outside to pick apples, after leaving behind a mess.
  • When he's up in the tree, he'll toss you one.

If all of the rules are followed correctly, the goal of the lesson is accomplished.


...if your students want to have their own versions of an If You Give... book, invite them to revise their sentences to make the story flow naturally, since it sounds clumsy to have every sentence structured the same way.
Rule #1: No sentence fragments.

Rule #2: Avoid run-on sentences they are hard to read.

Rule #3: A writer must not shift your point of view.

See what is happening? 

In How Not to Write, William Safire breaks the rules he pronounces, then creatively explains the rules, tossing in some rule breakers in his explanations.

Ideas for how to use this book:

* Read the rules, finding and fixing the mistakes Safire includes.

* Mark or highlight the times Safire breaks the rules in his explanations.

* Demonstrate the rules with original, correctly-written sentences.

* Marvel at how Safire can take potentially stuffy content and make it fun.
When students are learning to write, we tell them that fragments--partial sentences that are missing either a subject or a verb--are no-no's. We don't want them writing grammatical horrors, such as "David bought a gopher ranch. Hoping to strike it rich." or "David bought a gopher ranch. Although he knew nothing about rodents." These examples show that the writer lacks sentence sense.

Rules are sometimes made to be broken, though, right?  Writers break the complete sentence rule all of the time, using fragments to their advantage.

When I began reading Eileen Spinelli's The Best Story, I noticed fragments. Plenty of them. (Whoops. There's one of my own.) 

Use Spinelli's book with your students, giving them a closer look at fragments. Start by reading the story together, being reminded that the best stories we write come from our hearts.

Okay, now for some grammar in context. Look at page 2.

I ran home.
Went to my room.
Shut the door.
I sharpened five pencils.
Opened my notebook to a brand-new page.
And thought.
And thought.
And thought.
And all I could think was this writing stuff was hard and lonely.
Maybe I needed help.
How many sentences do we have here? If your students think sentences start with a capital letter and end with a period, we have ten.  In that case, maybe Mr. Morton of Schoolhouse Rock can teach them about the essential parts of a sentence.

Test Mr. Morton's lesson with two-word sentences here, finding the subjects and predicates.

Now return to Spinelli's text. Look at the first line. Is there a subject?  Yes.  Is there a verb?  Yes.  It passes the test.

How about the second line. Is there a subject?  No. What subject can we add to make it a sentence?

Continue through each line, writing the revised sentences line by line as Spinelli does.

When you are finished, compare the two lists. What do your students think?  Why do they think Spinelli chose to use fragments instead of complete sentences?

Now revise the first eight lines, linking them with commas, so they are all part of one longer sentence. How does it compare to the other two lists? Which one do they prefer?

Read the story a second time, pausing at fragments and discussing how to "fix" them.

Bonus: Look at page one, where it says "Write the best story. Win first prize."  Discuss with your student whether these are fragments or sentences.

A Second Bonus: Do you remember teachers telling you never to begin sentences with and, but, or so?  Maybe Spinelli is rebelling against language arts teachers or something because most of her sentences start with one of these three conjunctions. Again, discuss why she may have chosen to do this. How would the text sound if these words were eliminated?

A Little More Practice: If your student tends to use fragments unintentionally, pull out some of her pieces to analyze and revise. If your student has sentence sense, ask him to sprinkle a couple of fragments in an assignment to see if he likes the effect.

Gopher sentences come from Steps to Writing Well by Jean Wyrick.
Who/whom has trouble knowing when to use who/whom? Who/whom do you ask when you need to know whether to use who or whom? Who/whom cares?

I do. : )

Read this excellent explanation to help you figure out how to use who/whom correctly.

P. S. Notice The Oatmeal's other grammar comics at the bottom of the post.
Oh, the things you can do with The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter. Here is my list.

  • Turn the title, a fragment, into a complete sentence which summarizes the story.

  • Choose xx of Selig's favorite words. (You decide the number.) Based on the context, guess the meaning and part of speech of each one.  Then use a dictionary to check your guesses.

  • Make a list of the words you love.
            I love the sound of these words in my ears.
            I love the taste of these words on my tongue.
            I love the thought of these words in my brain.
            I love the feel of these words in my heart.

  • Incorporate words from the list into a story, identifying them with italics.

  • Find several favorite sentences to imitate. Follow their structure, not their content. (If you want to practice using a dash in your writing, choose one of Schotter's many examples to imitate.)
           "Pursuing that perfect note, Selig found a young woman seated by a lake, playing a lute."
            Hearing a soprano scream, Billy noticed a petite girl perched on the bleacher, rallying the             fans.

  • Go on a language arts scavenger hunt. Find one or more of each of the following:   
            serial comma, alliteration, assonance, parallel structure, verb, adjective, appositive,                         metaphor, fragment, participle, simile, adverb

  • If you want to take a deeper look at participles, look at the lesson here.
Rick Walton makes teaching and learning language arts fun. In Pig, Pigger, Piggest, he demonstrates, in sometimes silly ways, how to use comparatives and superlatives. (If you're having a memory lapse about what they are, review them here.) 

When you're finished reading, invite your student to compare toys, blocks, stuffed animals, family members, etc., using the appropriate comparative or superlative.

Note: Walton includes witches in his story.
Imagine teaching a classroom of 26 students or, if you're a homeschooling mom, having a crew of the same size  in your house. One cherub annoys another and sets off a domino reaction of blaming and crying, drooling, elbowing, and fuming.

On second thought, you don't need to imagine the scene. You are either watching it in real time with your own brood or you can see it described and illustrated in Barbara Bottner's An Annoying ABC.

Possible activities for students to do with this book:
Read the book and make observations about the text or illustrations.

List the verbs, either verbally or in writing.
         annoyed, blamed, cried, drooled....

Talk about alliteration (the repetition of initial sounds). Where does it occur?
        Flora fumes, Grover grabs, and Joshua jabs, for instance.

Cover an advanced topic. Read about transitive and intransitive verbs. Categorize the verbs from above in one of the two categories.
        Annoyed is transitive. The direct object is Bailey. (Poor Bailey!)
        Cried is intransitive. It has no direct object.

Review alphabetization. Write the names, one per index card, and shuffle. Put the cards in alphabetical order.

Talk about cause and effect.

Some of the sentences, such as "Bailey blamed Clyde," are simple. Young students can identify their subject and verb.

Possible writing connection:
Write a similar alphabet book, choosing an adjective other than annoying. The characters don't have to be children in a classroom. They can be animals or insects or professional athletes.  Follow Bottner's example and include alliteration.

If your student writes an alphabet book, give us a taste of it in the comments or submit it in full to the Student Showcase.