Connecting Grammar and Writing: Parallel Structure

Posted by Rod Burnette on

In this post, we are continuing our series on strategies for helping students connect grammar and writing. This week's focus is parallel structure.

In order for students to understand parallel structure, it's important for them to see the parallel parts of a sentence.  

Start by compiling a list of non-parallel sentences from student essays and providing each student with a copy.  (Sentences from parallel structure worksheets will work also, but student-generated sentences are more authentic and usually more complex.)  

Give students the following list of “parallel structure signal words”:

  • signal words for coordinate ideas: and, but, or, neither, nor
  • signal words for comparison and contrast: than, as well as, as much as
  • signal words for correlative constructions: neither/nor, either/or, not only/but also

Have students circle or highlight these signal words in their sentences.  Then ask them to underline the elements that are being compared or connected.  (Color-coding helps, too.) Example:

Not Parallel: Creon is a hypocritical character who is more concerned with his reputation and power than making the right decision. 

Parallel: Creon is a hypocritical character who is more concerned with his reputation and power than with making the right decision.

Making these marks will help students to see the parts that are supposed to be parallel.  As a class, correct the sentences to make them parallel.  Point out that with correlative constructions, sentences can often be corrected simply by moving one of the signal word pairs.  Example:

Not Parallel: This symbolism not only shows the care Karla has for the relationshipbut also for its broken fragments. 

Parallel: This symbolism shows the care Karla has not only for the relationship but also for its broken fragments.

As an added challenge, you can ask students to diagram one of the “not parallel” sentences and its corresponding “parallel” sentence to help them visualize the structure.

Finally, have students look through their drafts of a current writing assignment and focus on parallel structure. They should follow the same process as in the practice exercise above so that they can correct problems with parallel structure or provide evidence that they don’t have such errors. This type of annotation will show you without question which students understand and which ones still need more practice.

Tune in next time for another specific strategy for connecting grammar and writing in your classroom!

(This strategy comes from Burnette Writing Process, available from DGP Publishing, Inc.)


Post by Dawn Burnette.

Dawn is a National Board Certified Teacher who has taught middle and high school English since 1990. In addition to English, she is also certified in gifted education for grades K-12. She is the author of Daily Grammar Practice as well as numerous other publications for teaching language arts. She received the NCTE High School Teacher of Excellence Award for 2005 and was a 2007 finalist for Georgia Teacher of the Year. Dawn teaches professional development courses and has presented at countless conferences.


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