Lesson plan

Musical Chairs with Complex Sentences

In this great grammar lesson, students will learn to identify the independent and dependent clause in a complex sentence. Then, they will play a game of grammar-themed musical chairs!
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Students will be able to identify the independent and dependent clause in a complex sentence.

(5 minutes)
  • Do a brain dump to get your students thinking about some key vocabulary:
    • Write the word "complex" on the board and ask students to share words or thoughts that they think of when they see the word (i.e., difficult, many parts). Guide students to make a connection with other subject areas in which they've encountered the word (i.e., complex figures in math).
    • Repeat the process with the words "independent" and "dependent."
  • Explain that today we will be learning how to write complex sentences and these are some of the key words we'll need to understand in today's lesson.
(10 minutes)
  • Tell students that a complex sentence is a sentence with one complete thought that contains a subject and verb and one or more dependent clauses, which are descriptive phrases that cannot stand alone.
  • Write an example on the board, like: "Although it's next week, Kelly hasn't practiced at all for the talent show."
  • Underline the independent clause and explain that this part of the sentence is a complete thought and can stand alone. Point out the fact that it has a subject and predicate.
  • Draw a box around the dependent clause and explain that this part of the sentence depends on the information in the independent clause (draw an arrow from the dependent clause to the independent clause). It cannot stand alone because it is not a complete thought (cover the independent clause with your hand and read the dependent clause to show students what it would sound like on its own). Tell students that the dependent clause can be located before or after the independent clause.
  • Circle the subordinate conjunction and explain that this is a special joining word that connects the dependent clause to the independent clause. Complex sentences always have subordinate conjunctions and we can usually find them at the beginning of the dependent clause. List some other common subordinate conjunctions: "after," "because," "if," "since," "until," "where."
  • Write a second example on the board and, again, identify each part (e.g., "Ben plans to go to the park, unless it is raining.").
(10 minutes)
  • Use a document camera to display the second page of the worksheet Combining Independent and Dependent Clauses and review the list of subordinating conjunctions.
  • Turn to the first page of the worksheet and read the instructions for the first section.
  • Model the activity by drawing a line from a clause in the first column to a clause in the second column (i.e., "Put your scraps into the compost bin after you are done eating."). Circle the conjunction "after," then read the complete sentence aloud.
  • Point out that the dependent clause is the one that begins with the subordinate conjunction because the phrase "after you are done eating" is not a complete thought.
  • Without completing any additional examples, read through several other clauses in the list and ask students to identify each as "independent" or "dependent." If it is independent, the students should stand up to show that the clause can "stand on its own." If it is dependent, the students should remain seated to show that it can't stand on its own.
  • Read the instructions for section 2 and complete one sentence as an example (i.e., "As I expected, it was snowing in the mountains.").
  • Hand out the worksheet and tell student to work with a partner to complete the rest of the worksheet.
  • When all students are finished, call on a few volunteers to share their sentences from section two with the class.
(10 minutes)
  • Hand out a sentence strip to each student.
  • Instruct students to write a complex sentence in large print on their sentence strip. (Note: have students write their name on the back in the same color they used to write their sentence.)
  • Circulate and offer support as needed.
  • When students are finished, tell everyone to stand up behind their chairs, leaving their sentence strip on their desk. (Note: ensure that there are colorful markers available at each student desk.)
  • Tell students that they will be playing a version of "musical chairs."
    • Play a song and instruct students to walk around the classroom reading the sentences they see on their peers' desks.
    • When the music stops, tell students to sit at the desk nearest to where they are standing.
    • Instruct students to use one colorful marker to identify the parts of the sentence in front of them. They should underline the independent clause, put a box around the dependent clause, and circle the subordinate conjunction. (Note: tell students to write their names on the back of the sentence strip in the same color they used to mark up the sentence.)
  • Invite several students to share their sentence with the class.


  • Keep a list of subordinate conjunctions displayed during the independent practice activity.
  • Review subjects and predicates so that your students are familiar with the basic parts of a sentence (see optional materials).


  • Have students look for examples of complex sentences in their own reading. Encourage them to record several examples in a reading notebook. Then, have them identify the parts of each sentence they recorded.
(10 minutes)
  • Hand out an index card to each student.
  • Have them label one side with a large "I" (for independent) and the other side with a large "D" (for dependent).
  • Write part of a complex sentence on the board, like: "As long as you're standing there..."
  • Tell students to hold up their index card to show you what part of the sentence you've written (i.e., they should show you the "D" for dependent).
  • Scan student responses to gauge understanding.
  • Repeat with several other sentence parts (i.e., "...I love ice cream," "Every time I get to school...").
  • Then, write an entire complex sentence on the board, such as, "I get to have cupcakes since it's my birthda,y" and underline one part. Have students identify the underlined part by holding up their index card.
  • Repeat with several complex sentences (i.e., "When the movie is over, we'll go home.").
  • Instruct students to write their name and five examples of subordinate conjunctions on the margins of their index card and collect them as exit cards.
(5 minutes)
  • Use a 3-2-1 protocol as a closing exercise. In a notebook, tell students to write:
    • three parts of a complex sentence,
    • two things that were challenging (or fun) during the lesson,
    • and one example of a complex sentence.

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