I teach ACT prep courses through a community college. My classes are mixes of high school students who want to prep for taking or retaking the test as well as college students who want a higher score to vie for scholarships or placements in specific programs. Even though ages range from 15-50, classes start the same way: I introduce myself, students tell me an overall picture of their goals, and a few people tell me: “I hate grammar.” To which I reply: “I know.”
It’s sad that grammar — the study of our language and sentences’ constructs — is widely despised. Students never hold back in expressing their frustration with grammar. I understand the frustration, though. I haven’t always loved grammar. Until I studied grammar in depth — beyond the worksheet — did I have an appreciation for the language I use daily. Now, I believe that teaching grammar is my true calling. If you’re a teacher sighing as you read this, dreading grammar lesson plans… don’t. Grammar can bring a new level to your English instruction, and you and your students can have fun with grammar. When students thoroughly understand the language they read, write, and speak, they see a deeper meaning across all ELA lessons. Furthermore, one-fourth of the ACT covers grammar, and it’s on other standardized tests in some form. College professors and employers expect adults to be well versed in grammar. This is one reason the Common Core State Standards outline grammar expectations for every grade. Everyone wants students to understand grammar. Many students dislike it though, and many teachers do too… why did this happen?
Grammar disappeared. Memorizing grammatical rules and diagramming sentences regularly took place in school. Then an experiment in education happened: what if students learned grammar from reading, writing, and speaking — not formal instruction? Students didn’t learn the vocabulary dealing with grammar. Soon those students turned into teachers, and the cycle continued. Grammar was no longer taught. The concept of learning grammar within reading, writing, and speaking works — but not alone. Grammar as a concept still needs to be reinforced. Students need to understand the language.
Grammar returns. About 10 years ago (dependent upon your state, is my guess!), formal grammar instruction made its way back to the classroom. The National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) changed its stance concerning grammar. State learning objectives focused on grammar, and then the Common Core gave grammar objectives. It was a tough combination: students needed to understand grammar, teachers had little or no experience teaching grammar, and schools’ grammar materials didn’t align with current pedagogical research — or was nonexistent. As I’ve mentioned, I have sympathy to the grammar deficit. I haven’t always enjoyed learning grammar, and it wasn’t always my teaching strength. As my approach with grammar changed, I learned from my experiences. For the teacher who knows the importance of grammar lesson plans, but isn’t sure how to incorporate grammar instruction, here are a few ideas.
What can teachers do?
1. Take opportunities to show students that grammar is everywhere. Note interesting sentence constructs when reading. When classes define verbs, point out the present and past participle of verbs. When teaching vocabulary, absolutely mention the part of speech and the word’s function in the sentence.
2. Use grammatical terms with writing. Are students using too many linking verbs? Are they using strong nouns? Tell them — using correct grammatical terms. After all, algebra teachers don’t shy away from using terms like “coefficient.”
3. Teach basic concepts. Students will be frustrated with higher level thinking if they haven’t grasped general concepts. Recognizing pronouns, sentences, and gerunds is necessary for fixing pronoun antecedent agreement, varying sentence types, and making words parallel. Learning the foundation of any material can take time, so…
4. Use a variety of tools. Students will need the information presented in varying methods. Interactive notebooks provide visuals and allow students to personalize terms. Studying the basics of grammar needn’t all be worksheets — try grammar scrambles or task cards.
Be sure that the grammar tools are for the age you are teaching. I often teach high schoolers parts of speech (Common Core asks that this be taught by 3rd and 4th grades). Still, I need to provide materials to my students, and I can’t hand a 10th grader an activity made for a 4th grader. The concepts may be the same, but the approach needs to reflect where that student is.
5. Have fun! Grammar can be amazing. Once students are empowered by a knowledge of language, they’ll be able to manipulate that language. Future lawyers and marketing executives need this power of words — which starts with understanding grammar. No matter a student’s future, he or she will benefit from speaking and writing well.
6. Be honest. Deconstructing a sentence can stump me, and I break sentences apart in my spare time — for fun. When I’m unsure of a word’s function or a phrase’s meaning, I model for students my exploration. I use a dictionary, I Google (capital “G” for the verb Google?) ideas, and I hash it out with a coworker. In education, grammar once was an isolated lesson, and then forgotten. As grammar returns, we ELA teachers have a responsibility to keep grammar lessons interesting, and make them permanent fixtures in the curriculum. Of course, we’ll do this together.
Lauralee has been an educator for over 10 years. She’s taught 6th through 12th grades in both a typical and alternative setting. When creating products for TpT, she relies on those experiences and strives to make products that are adaptable for every type of student. She lives in Illinois with her husband, three children, and crazy dog. “I love the freedom TpT affords me, both personally and professionally,” she states. You can find more ELA ideas on her blog, Language Arts Classroom.