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Kernel sentences

Deaf learners who use sign, dyslexic learners, and many with learning difficulties will find complex grammatical forms and sentence structure, as well as punctuation, difficult. The kernel sentence approach (adapted from Shaughnessy [1977], see Resources) is useful for teaching grammar and punctuation to learners who find a traditional analytic approach unsuccessful, or who have problems using written language flexibly.

Starting from simple or 'kernel' sentences, learners identify the subject, verb and object, then practise expanding the sentences systematically, by adding adjectives, then adverbs, preposition phrases and, finally, clauses. Punctuation can then be introduced in a contextualised way in relation to sentence structure and meaning. Terminology can also be introduced as sentences are expanded.


Kernel sentence: The man left his country.

Then: The tall, dark-haired man left his country.
The tall, dark-haired man left his country because of the war.
The tall, dark-haired man from Afghanistan left his country, last year, because of the war.
The tall, dark-haired man from Afghanistan, who started class yesterday, left his country, last year, because of the war.

Practice at building sentences gives learners the confidence to manipulate and extend their range of complex sentence structures. It can also be a lot of fun, as learners can build extremely long, yet wellformed sentences.

Some dyslexic learners and other learners who tend to write long and confused or run-on sentences can be helped to identify the kernel sentence within the muddled one. They can then often tease out the meaning from the confusion and rewrite what they want to say in a more clearly structured way.

This is especially helpful for those learners who wish to express complex relationships between ideas and who find that simple sentences are inadequate, but have difficulties structuring complex ones.