Parallel Structure

This lesson plan helps students discover and notice parallel structure in phrases and then use it particularly with correlative conjunctions such as both, either, neither and not only…but also. Because this is a pretty straightforward point that students need to practice more than anything else, this is pretty practice heavy with lots of activities and games.


Students will be able to write more effective sentences.


  • Students will be able to use parallel structure correctly at the word, phrase and clause levels.
  • Students will practice using correlative conjunctions.


Warm Up

This is taken from Fun with Grammar by Sue Woodward (or download it chapter by chapter free here). Break students into pairs. Give partner A a piece of paper that says: My father is tall, kind, and intelligent. Give partner B a piece of paper that says: My father is tall, does kind things and his intelligence is high. Give them one minute to memorize the sentence. Then have them turn the paper over or scrunch it up and tell their partner the sentence.

In general, partners A will find it easier. Ask them why it was easy to remember the sentence. You’ll probably get that it was short and that the words were similar. Tell them that sentence A was written in parallel structure and that it makes their writing easier to remember and easier to understand!


Hand out the Parallelism Discovery Activity to the groups (or let them get into double pairs). Let them look at the examples of parallel structure and note that the sentences on the left are parallel. They are also easier to understand and sound nicer. It’s worth going over this and showing them how they are parallel. I like to put the sentences on the board or on a projector and elicit the parts of speech so students get it.

Points to emphasize:

  1. We use it with conjunctions: AND, BUT, OR, NOT and EITHER..OR, BOTH..AND, NEITHER..NOR, NOT ONLY…BUT ALSO or any place we are making a list.
  2. There is no right answer as to which form to use: I like to swim and sail is just as good as I like swimming and sailing.
  3. Anything that follows the coordinating conjunctions should be parallel Either X or X.
  4. Formal English is concise. Elminate as many words as possible.
  5. Parallelism is a stylistic thing, not a grammar thing. In other words, it’s not WRONG not to use it but it makes their writing and speaking better.


I like this online quiz if your workbook doesn’t have a similar basic highly controlled practice. Then I like to pull out the Complicated Parallel Practice and do a few as a class. These are more complicated sentences than I like ice cream, but I find that can help build confidence.

Depending on how it is going, I might give them the  Either…Or Discovery to emphasize the point. And then tell them the principles remain the same for Neither…Nor, Both…and, and Not only…But also. Except for verb agreement–Both…And is always plural. I then give them the Either…Or/Neither..Nor Cards and have them create sentences in groups for each card. To review, have each group write two sentences on the board and go over the sentences as a class–anonymously, of course.

Not Only…But Also

I like to go over this construction separately as students are often confused by it. I start by putting up these sentences on the board. I ask students what they mean and elicit that it means both are true. I then point out that there is a nuance. What follows not only is something expected or something good. What follows but also is amazing!

  • My father not only cooks well but he also owns a French restaurant!
  • Mohammed owns not only one Mustang but also three Ferraris!
  • Learning English is not only fun, but also useful for work!

As a class, go over why the second part is more exciting or amazing than the first part and underline the parallel structures.

Then put up on the board: I like coffee. I like tea.

As a class, turn it into a sentence with Not only…but also.

Then do the same with: Xiang hasn’t been studying. He hasn’t been working!

Sentence Auction

Finally I do the  Sentence Auction: Parallel Structure as a fun review.

Students are put into pairs.

They write 5 sentences, one each with “either or” “neither nor” “not only but also” “both and” AND parallel structure.

There should be 3 sentences with a mistake! On purpose!

This will produce 5 sentences per every two students or 2.5 sentences per student.

Take the 20 best ones and put them in random order on a sheet of paper. Hand out to students in groups.

Students will bid on the sentences. The team that buys the most correct sentences and the fewest incorrect sentences wins.

Students have $200 to spend and all spending is in increments of ten.
Remind students that in an auction you can trick the other students into buying bad sentences by bidding on them.

Ties are determined by who has the most money left over!

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