Skills for Early Reading: Syntax (2022)

Reading is the act of processing text in order to derive meaning. To learn to read, children must develop both fluent word reading and language comprehension (Gough & Tunmer,1986). Language comprehension is built upon vocabulary and morphology, knowledge, syntax, and higher-level language skills.

How Syntax Contributes to Reading Development

Syntax refers to the formation of sentences and the associated grammatical rules (Foorman, et al., 2016 ). "Syntax skills help us understand how sentences work—the meanings behind word order, structure, and punctuation. By providing support for developing syntax skills, we can help readers understand increasingly complex texts" (Learner Variability Project).

Syntactic skills are correlated with reading comprehension and language comprehension (Westby, 2012), although the nature of the relationship is still being studied (Oakhill, Cain, & Elbro, 2015). A number of recent studies have shown that syntax and grammar are predictors of later reading comprehension ability (Logan, 2017).

Promoting Syntax Development in the Classroom

Knowledge of how grammatical elements such as pronouns, lexical references, and connectives function in sentences allows young children to follow the ideas in a sentence and understand its meaning (Oakhill, Cain, & Elbro, 2015). Children do not need to know the names of these grammatical terms, but they do need to develop understanding of how sentences work in natural speech and in text. Working with sentences can be part of a class's engagement with complex text. Complex text offers rich language; teachers can facilitate a discussion of short snippets of text to help students parse rich sentences and develop understanding.

Teach Linguistic Structures Such as Pronouns, Lexical References, and Connectives

Teaching these support students to track and follow the meaning within sentences (Oakhill, Cain, & Elbro, 2015).

(Video) A Syntax-focused Kindergarten lesson

Example: Marcy was very thirsty for a cold drink* so she gulped her iced lemonade* quickly!

  • Pronouns: she, he, his her, their, they, them
  • *Lexical references: when a different word or phrase is used to refer to the original word
  • Connectives: and, also, because, so, then, before, during, after

Teach Word Functions by Asking Students a Series of Questions About a Sentence

Example from Literacy How: Our wet, hairy dog crawled under my bed during the thunderstorm.

  • Ask who or what did it? dog (looking for the namer/noun — the who/what)
  • Ask what did it do? crawled (looking for the action word/verb — the do)
  • Ask 'how many, what kind, which one? wet, hairy (looking for adjectives describing the namer)
  • Ask where, when, how, why? under the bed, during the thunderstorm (looking for adverbs that tell about the action)

Teach Sentence Structure, Sentence Types, and How to Build Sentences

Developing syntax can involve examining how sentences are built, learning to expand sentences, and learning to combine short, choppy sentences into longer, grammatically correct sentences. Studies have shown positive effects of sentence combining on reading comprehension (Scott, 2009).

(Video) Comprehension Skills: How to Analyse a Text using Syntax

Learn More About Syntax Development


Considerations for Students Learning English

English learners should have equal opportunity to meaningfully participate in all literacy instruction. The WIDA Can Do Descriptors highlight what language learners can do at various stages of language development.

Taking Bilingualism into Account

"It's important that young ESL students recognize word order and sentence structure. As students get older and progress with English, it becomes more difficult to correct syntax problems. In many cases, older students translate their native language directly into English without considering the word order that changes between languages" (Lubin, 2020).

(Video) The Syntax Attuned Educator: Supporting Students’ Ability to Comprehend Sentences - Margie B. Gillis

Supports for English Learners

References

Foorman, B., Beyler, N., Borradaile, K., Coyne, M., Denton, C. A., Dimino, J., Furgeson, J., Hayes, L., Henke, J., Justice, L., Keating, B., Lewis, W., Sattar, S., Streke, A., Wagner, R., & Wissel, S. (2016). Foundational skills to support reading for understanding in kindergarten through 3rd grade (NCEE 2016-4008). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (NCEE), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from the NCEE website: What Works Clearinghouse.

Freeman, D. & Freeman, Y. (2004). Essential linguistics: What you need to know to teach reading, esl, spelling, phonics, grammar. Heinemann: Portsmouth, NH.

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Krashen, S.D. (1981). Bilingual education and second language acquisition theory. In Schooling and language minority students: A theoretical framework. (p.51–79). California State Department of Education.

(Video) Literacy How Professional Learning Series: Syntax

Logan, J. (2017). Pressure points in reading comprehension: A quantile multiple regression analysis. Journal of Educational Psychology, 109(4), 451.

Lubin, M. (2020, March 23). A Simple Guide to Teaching Young ESL Students About Syntax. Retrieved August 24, 2020

Oakhill, J., Cain, K., & Elbro, C. (2015). Understanding and teaching reading comprehension: A handbook. New York: Routledge.

Scott, C.M. (2009). A case for the sentence in reading comprehension. Language, speech, and hearing services in schools, 40 2, 184–91.Westby, C. (2012). Assessing and remediating text comprehension problems. In A.G. Kamhi & H.W. Catts (Eds.), Language and reading disabilities (3rd ed., pp1–23). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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(Video) Foundational Skills Mini-Course Video: Module 5 - Early Reading

Last Updated: December 18, 2020

FAQs

What Is syntax in early child development? ›

Syntax refers to the rules used to combine words to make sentences; syntactic development is the way children learn these rules. Syntactic development is measured using MLU, or mean length of utterance, which is basically the average length of a child's sentence; this increases as a child gets older.

What are syntactical skills? ›

Syntax refers to the rules of word order and word combinations in order to form phrases and sentences. Solid syntactic skills require an understanding and use of correct word order and organization in phrases and sentences and also the ability to use increasingly complex sentences as language develops.

What is syntactic knowledge in reading? ›

Syntactic Awareness means having the ability to monitor the relationships among the words in a sentence in order to understand while reading or composing orally or in writing.

How do you teach children syntax? ›

How to Teach Syntax to Kids
  1. Model correct syntax. ...
  2. Use sentence completion exercises to improve syntax. ...
  3. Write words on cards and have the students arrange them to form complete simple sentences. ...
  4. Develop basic skills. ...
  5. Teach how sentences often use a noun-verb-direct object pattern. ...
  6. Perform verb exercises.

What is an example of a syntax? ›

Syntax is the order or arrangement of words and phrases to form proper sentences. The most basic syntax follows a subject + verb + direct object formula. That is, "Jillian hit the ball." Syntax allows us to understand that we wouldn't write, "Hit Jillian the ball."

What are the key elements of syntax? ›

Central concerns of syntax include word order, grammatical relations, hierarchical sentence structure (constituency), agreement, the nature of crosslinguistic variation, and the relationship between form and meaning (semantics).

How do students learn syntax? ›

Students build syntactic awareness through exposure to oral language when they are young and particularly through exposure to written language that they hear through read aloud or independent reading (around grade 3).

How is syntax learned? ›

You can learn syntax by writing sentences in a foreign language. Each language has its own syntax and rules for constructing sentences.

How does syntax affect the reader? ›

A writer's syntax can make a phrase or sentence pleasant to read, or it can make the phrases or sentence jarring and unpleasant. Syntax can also make a writer's words more memorable.

What is an example of syntactic knowledge? ›

Syntactic Knowledge. If child knows 100 words at 18-months, this means they learn 5900 words over the next 3 ½ years.

What is syntax in a lesson plan? ›

Syntax​are the rules for organizing words or symbols together into phrases, clauses, sentences or visual representations.

How do you teach English syntax? ›

Native English speakers learn syntax through repetition before they learn the parts of speech and rules of grammar. Young ESL students generally have no or little understanding of nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc. in their native languages, so there isn't a reason to teach them that the adjective must precede the noun.

At what age do children learn syntax? ›

Children start to use syntax (at least in a rudimentary form) when they progress beyond the one-word stage, usually at around two years of age.

Why is syntax important for ELL students? ›

Syntax helps us to make clear sentences that “sound right,” where words, phrases, and clauses each serve their function and are correctly ordered to form and communicate a complete sentence with meaning.

Why is syntactic awareness important for reading and writing? ›

The current findings support the hypothesis that syntactic awareness may facilitate the development of word reading in context; they also suggest that the relations between syntactic awareness and reading comprehension may reflect the importance of memory and language to both measures, rather than a special ...

What are the 4 types of syntax? ›

Syntax is the set of rules that helps readers and writers make sense of sentences.
...
At the same time, all sentences in English fall into four distinct types:
  • Simple sentences. ...
  • Compound sentences. ...
  • Complex sentences. ...
  • Compound-complex sentences.
10 Sept 2021

What is basic syntax? ›

Basic syntax represents the fundamental rules of a programming language. Without these rules, it is impossible to write functioning code. Every language has its own set of rules that make up its basic syntax. Naming conventions are a primary component of basic syntax conventions and vary by language.

What is a syntax simple definition? ›

syntax, the arrangement of words in sentences, clauses, and phrases, and the study of the formation of sentences and the relationship of their component parts.

What are the types of syntax? ›

Now let's look at the seven types of syntactic patterns so you can make proper sentences and clauses with whatever words you want.
  • 1 Subject → verb. ...
  • 2 Subject → verb → direct object. ...
  • 3 Subject → verb → subject complement. ...
  • 4 Subject → verb → adverbial complement. ...
  • 5 Subject → verb → indirect object → direct object.
29 Apr 2022

What are the goals of syntax? ›

Syntactic theory aims to provide an account of how people combine words to form sentences. A common feature of all human languages, both spoken and signed languages, is that speakers draw upon a finite set of memorized words and morphemes to create a potentially infinite set of sentences.

What are syntax rules? ›

Syntax rules are those rules that define or clarify the order in which words or elements are arranged to form larger elements, such as phrases, clauses, or statements. Syntax rules also impose restrictions on individual words or elements.

Why is it important to develop syntactic knowledge? ›

Increases in syntactic knowledge allow children to communicate more complex ideas. Acquisition of more complex noun phrase structures may involve clearer use of pronouns.

What is education subject syntax? ›

Syntax is a branch of linguistics that studies the structure of sentences and the relationships between words. In a classroom setting, syntax is most useful when studying English grammar rules and the main types of sentences.

What are morphological skills? ›

Morphological awareness, which is an understanding of how words can be broken down into smaller units of meaning such as roots, prefixes, and suffixes, has emerged as an important contributor to word reading and comprehension skills.

What are the effects of syntax? ›

Oxford Dictionary defines syntax as "the arrangement of words and phrases to create well-formed sentences in a language." Your syntax, or sentence structure, greatly affects the tone, atmosphere, and meaning of your sentence. It can make something sound more formal.

How can syntax be used to enhance meaning? ›

Syntax adds meaning and vibrancy to your sentences, where grammar simply ensures that the rules of language are followed within that sentence. This is also, essentially, the difference between professional editors and proofreaders.

What Is syntax in language development? ›

Syntax refers to the formation of sentences and the associated grammatical rules (Foorman, et al., 2016 ). "Syntax skills help us understand how sentences work—the meanings behind word order, structure, and punctuation.

How do children develop and acquire syntax? ›

Acquiring Syntax

All typically developing children pass through similar stages and in a short time become adult speakers of their local language (or languages). Children babble, pass through a single and multiword stage, and then start to produce entire sentences that increase in complexity.

At what age do children learn syntax? ›

Children start to use syntax (at least in a rudimentary form) when they progress beyond the one-word stage, usually at around two years of age.

How is syntax primarily learned VPK? ›

since syntax is primarily learned by exposure, your speech as teacher, no matter how incidental, will form syntactical patterns for your children.)

What are the 4 types of syntax? ›

Syntax is the set of rules that helps readers and writers make sense of sentences.
...
At the same time, all sentences in English fall into four distinct types:
  • Simple sentences. ...
  • Compound sentences. ...
  • Complex sentences. ...
  • Compound-complex sentences.
10 Sept 2021

How is syntax learned? ›

You can learn syntax by writing sentences in a foreign language. Each language has its own syntax and rules for constructing sentences.

How does syntax affect the reader? ›

A writer's syntax can make a phrase or sentence pleasant to read, or it can make the phrases or sentence jarring and unpleasant. Syntax can also make a writer's words more memorable.

What are the stages of syntactic development? ›

Additionally, four different stages in the process will be presented in count for approximately the first four years; pre-language, holophrastic, two-word and telegraphic speech (Lightbown and Spada 2006).

What is syntactic processing? ›

2 Syntactic Processing. Syntax refers to the structure of phrases and the relation of words to each other within the phrase. A syntactic parser analyzes linguistic units larger than a word.

What is syntactic acquisition? ›

The acquisition process is defined in three stages: (1) words are recognized as concrete referents; (2) syntactic development begins, separating action classes from thing classes and introducing modifiers; (3) hierarchical order appears and sentence subjects begin to be recognized.

How does a teacher support the syntax development of the children in the class? ›

Teachers can support language development by using and providing Syntax that is appropriately leveled (e.g., short, simple structure for young students). Physically acting out a text enhances reading comprehension. Audiobooks allow students to hear fluent reading and to experience books above their reading skills.

What results from a child with poor understanding of complex syntax? ›

Difficulties with syntax can impact a child's expressive language skills and can cause: Poor narrative skills. Incorrect word order causing misinterpretation. Omission of words in sentences.

What is semantics child development? ›

Semantics is the understanding of word meanings and the relationships between words. Children's semantic development is a gradual process beginning just before the child says their first word and incudes a wide range of word types.

What Is syntax in a lesson plan? ›

Syntax​are the rules for organizing words or symbols together into phrases, clauses, sentences or visual representations.

What syntax rules do? ›

Syntax rules are those rules that define or clarify the order in which words or elements are arranged to form larger elements, such as phrases, clauses, or statements. Syntax rules also impose restrictions on individual words or elements.

Videos

1. HOW TO ANALYZE SYNTAX IN LITERATURE | THE GARDEN OF ENGLISH
(Garden of English)
2. Van Cleave - Syntax Matters: The Link Between Sentence Writing & Sentence Comprehending
(PaTTAN)
3. Reading Comprehension ~ Syntax
(Stefanos Vasileiou)
4. Syntax: What's age appropriate and what skills are high priority K-12?
(Karen Dudek-Brannan)
5. Language: The First 5 Years of Life of Learning
(Sprouts)
6. Developing syntax skills in your preschooler | Getit Young Moms
(Getit Young Moms)

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