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Skill Overview

What is syntax?

Syntax is the system of rules governing word order in well-constructed sentences.


What tasks should students be able to demonstrate to indicate mastery of this skill?

  • Demonstrate correct word order when speaking and writing.

  • Join words into meaningful sentences, sentences into coherent paragraphs, and paragraphs into coherent passages in speaking and writing.

  • Comprehend complex sentences in print.


Why is understanding syntax important to reading?

Syntactic awareness, or consciousness of sentence structure, helps a reader notice and correct errors of word recognition when reading, which is critical for comprehension.  Syntactical awareness contributes to effective self-monitoring and metacognition that supports comprehension.

Structured Literacy Tools

Sequential and Cumulative

Systematic and Explicit

To Mastery

Teaching syntax follows the logical progression built into most grammar texts.  A good sequence begins with instruction and practice identifying and using the eight parts of speech, the building blocks of all simple and complex sentences. 


Students must know early:

  • the sequence and function of the subject and the predicate,

  • the direct object and indirect object,

  • the function of gerunds (noun form of a verb, such as running) and

  • the function of infinitives (verb forms that do not function as the primary predicate, such as "Let them eat cake.")  

The significance of a cumulative approach is that basic word functions scaffold more sophisticated reading and writing.

How language works and knowledge of the parts of speech and sentence types are foundational skills for comprehending text.  Therefore, a systematic and explicit approach for teaching syntax utilizes tools and techniques for making sense of the English language and ensures that young readers are attuned to and can successfully manipulate the complexities of our language.  


Some of these techniques include color-coding parts of speech, annotating text, and highlighting clauses.  An example of a systematic tool is use of the familiar acronym, "fanboys" (for, and, nor, but, or, yet, so), for memorizing the coordinating conjunctions that can significantly aid in dissecting a sentence to support comprehension.


These systematic and explicit techniques are especially true for English Language Learners and for dialect and regional speakers, whose language structure varies from Standard English.

Mastery of syntax occurs in stages as grammar content builds across grade levels.  The Common Core Standards,  MS-CCRS, and accompanying scaffolding documents provide clear statements for student performance at each level.  In the early grades, essential milestones in mastering syntax are: 

  • knowing the functions of punctuation and capitalization,

  • understanding the difference between a telling sentence and an asking sentence,

  • distinguishing parts of speech, 

  • recognizing dialogue.


Although mastery of these skills is necessary for reading comprehension, being able to apply accurate syntax to one’s writing may be the best form of assessing mastery of this language feature.

Practice Resources

Downloadable Files From BRI Resources
Downloadable Files From Literacy Partners
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