And and or may be little, but they are fierce: They connect ideas not only in writing but also in math and logic. For instance, Boolean algebra uses and and or to determine the logical relations of compound propositions. These little words also make computers work. Because of and and or, you can send an email, share a selfie, like a meme, and access your bank account.
In fact, recent studies suggest that we should do more to directly teach these and other conjunctions. If developing writers can't use them effectively, they will struggle to formulate and express ideas. And readers need help with connectors, too.
And, or, but, nor, for, yet, and so can empower writing in many ways:
- Connecting two or more words, phrases, or clauses
- Combining choppy sentences to create a smoother flow
- Elaborating simple sentences and ideas
- Expressing relationships between concepts
- Fixing comma splices and run-ons
- Signaling comparisons, contrasts, causes, and effects
- Creating cohesion
- Creating surprise
The following minilessons help students understand and use these little but fierce words.
Choosing the Right Coordinating Conjunction
This minilesson teaches a mnemonic for coordinating conjunctions and helps students understand their subtle meaning. It also includes an activity for choosing the right conjunction for each sentence.
Elaborating Ideas with Compound Sentences
This minilesson provides three sets of sentence stems, each ending with a different conjunction. Students complete the stems, discovering how different coordinators lead to different thoughts. You can adapt this activity for any topic of study. For instance, here are sentence stems about history, with one student's responses:
- The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States, and it gave the U.S. control of the Port of New Orleans.
- The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States, but the purchase also greatly increased the national debt.
- The Louisiana Purchase doubled the size of the United States, so many citizens migrated from the crowded east to the wide-open West.
Combining Choppy Sentences
In this minilesson, students learn how to use coordinating conjunctions to combine choppy sentences and create better sentence flow. Students practice this important skill by revising a sample paragraph. Encourage students to combine choppy sentences in their own writing projects to improve coherence and establish important connections.
Ifs, Ands, or Buts
Whether you teach writing, history, math, or programming, you can improve students' thinking with a whole lot of ifs, ands, and buts. Teaching the subtleties of these connectors helps students think and write with precision and elaboration. Who knows? These little words might help one of your students turn into the next Austen, Newton, or Turing.