My mom likes to tell a story about her high school English teacher, who carried a ruler and rapped students’ knuckles when they struggled with grammar exercises. Instruction has progressed by leaps and bounds since the 1960s, and students have access to more information than ever before. This access to a wide variety of texts must be streamlined by teachers in order to guide students toward choosing appropriate texts that will support their learning.
Direct instruction and modeling of thinking and decision-making in writing are necessary to effective grammar instruction. There a number of ways to engage students in grammar that goes beyond worksheets, isolated practice, and the way that my mother learned grammar.
Scrap your mother’s grammar instruction!
Make grammar instruction dynamic by adding activity to your lesson. For instance, in order to learn active verbs, students can move around and say what they are doing (walking, running, turning, skipping, etc.). Teachers then can add another element. To learn prepositions of location and prepositional phrases, have students say where they are doing it. If a student is walking down the sidewalk, then down the sidewalk is the prepositional phrase and down is the preposition.
Do away with old notions of sentence diagramming and quantitative measures of paragraph and sentence lengths. It’s about command of language and structures, and understanding different, varied purposes in writing. To get students thinking about sentence variety, have them write a 150-word paragraph, or have them write one sentence that takes up the entire page. Challenge students not to use a semicolon and encourage them to use dashes, commas, and coordinating conjunctions, or to make a list. On the other end of the scale, students can write a four-word sentence – remember the subject and verb and keep them writing!
Allow students to use the writing they are already doing. I hear students talk about posting to social media sites multiple times a day, which got me thinking about the types of writing that students do. Take pictures, put them on the bulletin board, and allow students to write captions for them. This activity can be a quickwrite, or it can be attached to a unit of study and the pictures can tie to the curriculum.
To help you re-invigorate grammar instruction in your classroom I've created a Social Media Quickwritehandout for download. Simply download, print and share.