A clause is a group of related words that contains a subject and verb. Adverb, adjective and noun clauses function as adverbs, adjectives and nouns, respectively. Teaching English-language learners the functions of clauses can be challenging. Continual exposure will familiarize your students with the clause concept, and persistent practice will reinforce it.

Clause or Phrase?

Teach students the difference between clauses and phrases. Clauses contain a subject and verb, and phrases do not. Project sentences on the board that contain phrases and clauses. Highlight the phrase or clause in each sentence. Have students determine if highlighted words are a phrase or clause. For instance, display this sentence: “Covered with dirt, Billy shed his gardening clothes.” Highlight the words “covered with dirt.” The answer would be “phrase” because the group of words does not contain a subject and verb. In this sentence, “While he was covered in dirt, Billy didn’t walk on the new carpet,” highlight “While he was covered in dirt.” The answer would be “clause” because the group of words contains a subject and verb. Because ESL students need extra time to process, do not make this game a race or competition. Instead, have each student write his answers on corresponding game cards. Project only one sentence at a time, allowing students plenty of time to carefully consider each sentence.

Noun Clause Subjects

Play a game in which students have to replace subject nouns with noun clauses. For instance, write the following sentence on the board: “Your gift made me happy.” In this sentence, the subject is “gift.” Have a student come to the board and replace the subject noun with a noun clause. A proper answer would be “What you gave me made me happy” or “What you did made me happy.” Because these clauses are used as subjects, they are considered noun clauses. After the student correctly uses a noun clause in his revised sentence, have him write a new simple sentence on the board. Call up the next student to revise it in the same manner. Because ESL students benefit from modeling, give examples on the board first. Add a sensory dimension by using different colored chalk or white-board markers.

Adjective Clause Posters

Visual representations are helpful for ESL students. Teach students to modify their writing by adding adjective clauses to simple sentences. Ask for examples of simple sentences, such as “Sue is my friend.” Embellish these sentences with adjective clauses and then illustrate them for students. An example could be “Sue is my friend who plays piano.” Then have students make their own adjective-clause posters. They can write a sentence on the top of some poster board, highlighting the adjective clause, and then illustrate using different media such as sketching, watercolors, collage or pastels. Hang posters around the room.

Adverb Clause Charades

Nonverbal cues help ESL students grasp concepts expressed by language. Play a game in which the class has to dramatize an adverb clause. Adverb clauses are clauses that modify verbs, adjectives or other adverbs. Divide the students into groups. Hand each group several simple sentences written on sentence strips such as “Gail danced” and “Bob fed the dog.” Ask teams to modify their sentences using adverb clauses. For example, “Gail danced” could become “Gail danced whenever she got an 'A' on her paper.” “Bob fed the dog" could become, “Bob fed the dog when the dog brought its dish to him.” Have the teams act out their modified sentences and see if the other team can guess the adverb clauses.