Interventions For Complex Syntax Part 1

Interventions for Complex Syntax Part 1

The Big Frustration

The following article is a guest blog post by Saundra Singletary, MA, CCC-SLP. Saundra has numerous years of experience working with middle school students on their articulation and language skills. She owns The Therapy Crate store on TPT and is a full time SLP in the Georgia School System.

Interventions for complex syntax 1

So, our language comprehension student mastered 100% of his communication goals this year! All that hard work we did was worth it: finding the right resources, dragging him out of PE, working creatively in group sessions, and doing all the things to keep lessons high-interest. Yep, aren’t we proud? Wait. What? What do you mean you don’t see a functional difference in communication and educational performance?!
Isn’t that the biggest frustration? We work hard to help students succeed, but sometimes it seems we’ve only scratched the surface. So, what is a SLP to do? Well, here’s what some of the research says about effective interventions for complex syntax.

What Do We Do?

It turns out that teaching complex syntax comprehension usually gives us the biggest bang for our therapy buck. It improves verbal communication, reading to learn, writing, and auditory comprehension. 

Interventions for complex syntax sounds a little daunting, doesn’t it? I wish I could say that you don’t have to worry about terms like subordinate conjunctions and adverbial phrases, but it’s best if you brush up on that a bit. The good news is that we won’t be diagramming sentences. Therapy should focus on the meaning and function of sentence structure. Language learning disordered students struggle with vocabulary for conjunctions like because, before, when, and yet. Tracking word relationships while reading, listening, and writing increases their difficulty. Those are weaknesses in syntactic awareness. 

How Do We Do It? 

Here are some practical intervention strategies for dealing with complex syntax.

We can bolster awareness of word order and its effect on meaning. Sentence anagrams, sentence elaboration, and sentence combining interventions improve the ability to track word relationships within a sentence when reading, listening, and writing. 

Interventions for complex syntax 2

Sentence Combining

-Kendra enjoyed the movie. Kendra liked the popcorn more. = Kendra enjoyed the movie but liked the popcorn more. 


-student paraphrases what they hear or read. SLP checks for comprehension periodically. 

Comprehension Questions

-asking questions about what students read or heard helps us identify which sentence or clause types pose a problem and provide instruction. Ask comprehension questions at the sentence level. 

Interventions for complex syntax 3


-Exposing students to the targeted sentence structure increases the likelihood of the student using that sentence structure. Students are passive learners in this intervention. Sentence presentation is controlled for sentence structure type. 


-Sentence models are given in a natural context so learners associate sentence structure with meaning. NOTE: Use interesting topics! 


-Using the student’s own spoken sentences as a structure model for the targeted pattern. SLPs interact by giving additional information or correcting sentence structure as needed. 

Think Alouds

-Model your own thinking as you read to demonstrate how you gain meaning from text. 

More Interventions for Complex Syntax To Consider 

When we create and choose stimulus sentences for therapy, they should be a combination of isolated sentences and sentences used within context. 

Isolated Sentences Without Context

-Using a series of sentences with the same structure to increase stimulus frequency. This increases long-term memory and retrieval during communication. This also provides opportunities for metalinguistic instruction. 

Stimulus Sentences Within Context

-Use real conversations and text with a focus on the targeted syntax structure during therapy. 

Combine Isolated Sentences with Sentences in Context

-This provides stimulus frequency to promote long-term memory for sentence structure. It also increases learning through natural conversation, listening, and reading. 

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AND when activities serve a meaningful purpose (like a mini project, craftivity, or a learning game), student buy-in increases. 

Lastly, give lots of exposure to the selected sentence structure within a brief teaching session. This helps students store information in long-term memory. 

Whew! That’s a lot of information in one brief post. It may leave you with more questions. I still have plenty of questions too. Let’s keep in touch and share how we’re using what we’ve learned to “create meaningful outcomes!” 

Products featured in this article:

Sentence Building Middle School Speech Therapy

Complex Sentence Comprehension Middle School Speech Therapy Task Cards

Complex Clues For Mixed Middle School Speech Therapy

Sentences Are Key: Helping School-Age Children and Adolescents Build Sentence Skills Needed for Real Language  Catherine H. Balthazar and Cheryl M. Scott 

Development of a Theoretically Based Treatment for Sentence Comprehension Deficits in Individuals With Aphasia  Swathi Kiran, David Caplan, Chaleece Sandberg, Joshua Levy, Alex Berardino, Elsa Ascenso, Sarah Villard and Yorghos Tripodis 

Improving Clinical Practices for Children With Language and Learning Disorders Alan G. Kamhi 

The Role of Complex Sentence Knowledge in Children with Reading and Writing Difficulties Cheryl M. Scott, Catherine Balthazar 

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