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Teaching Grammar: A Guide to Successful Grammar Instruction


Teaching Grammar: A Guide to Successful Grammar Instruction

What is Grammar?

Grammar is the sound, structure, and meaning system of a language, a set of rules defining how language is structured. Grammar, usage, and mechanics are conventions of written English. Teaching grammar is a complex and rich process that helps students effectively read and write with authenticity.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, Past President of NCTE and author of Grammar Workshop, Tools for Writing and Grammar for Writing, here.

How to Start Teaching Grammar

Research reveals that effective grammar instruction is systematic and contextualized in reading and writing. Concise, focused instruction that links form with meaning is critical to mastering conventions of written English. Direct instruction of grammar concepts through clear explanation and modeling of grammar, usage, and mechanics should be followed by scaffolded skills practice in a variety of contexts as well as extensive applications in writing and reading. Grammar instruction that follows this approach is effective for students in the elementary, middle, and high school grades and called for by the state English Language Arts standards.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, Vice President of Learning, Sadlier School, here.

Helping Students Understand Why Learning Grammar is Important

When students know the benefits of learning grammar, they will be more invested in the process. Knowledge of grammar will help students improve reading, writing, and communication skills and support students in effective self-expression no matter what and for whom they are writing—both now and in the future. When students have a strong understanding of grammar, their reading will be stronger, their comprehension is increased, and they are able to comprehend more complex text. Grammar learning makes students’ writing clearer. As students develop grammar skills, they will see their communication become more effective and more personal. And as better readers, writers, listeners and speakers, students will have more success, both in the classroom and beyond, into college and careers.

General Objectives of Teaching Grammar

Teaching grammar is not a means to an end but instead deeply connected to reading and writing. There is a strong relationship among grammar, writing instruction, and student achievement. Teaching grammar explicitly and integrated with reading and writing will help students expand their repertoire of writing strategies, gain control of written and spoken language, develop their writing style, think creatively, improve comprehension, and ultimately help them succeed in school and on assessments.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

When to Teach Grammar

Grammar instruction is an essential component of literacy instruction, and it is most effective to implement using an intentional, research-based scope and sequence. Integrating grammar instructionally ensures it is an internal part of the way that students read and write, and a “habit of mind.” Students need multiple and various exposures to correct grammar for mastery. Ideally, teachers can find time for 2 to 3 mini grammar lessons a week with application opportunities.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Grammar should be taught systematically and in the context of reading and writing, often, and in response to student writing. To be responsive to the students in the classroom, teachers can look for patterns in student writing and identify conventions that students are using correctly or incorrectly and respond with appropriate and explicit lessons on grammar, usage, and mechanics. Grammar can be integrated into writing instruction during the revising and editing stages, enabling students to learn the conventions of standard written English in meaningful ways, especially in middle and high school.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

Stages of Teaching Grammar

Grammar instruction is appropriate in elementary, middle school, and high school. Specific objectives and standards at each grade vary, as will instruction, but the approach and the major goals remain the same for students at all grade levels.

Teaching Grammar in Elementary School

In upper elementary school (Grades 3–5), grammar instruction entails helping students communicate their written message with clarity and correctness so that students can make appropriate choices about grammar, usage, and mechanics to improve their writing.

Download Best Practices for Teaching Grammar and Writing at the Elementary Grades by Beverly Ann Chin, PhD.

Teaching Grammar in Middle School

In middle school, students learn to value writing purpose and audience to discover how conventions affect the clarity and impact of their messages, especially as they encounter more sophisticated and diverse texts than in elementary school. Teaching grammar in middle school entails helping students observe how writers make choices in ideas, organization, language, and conventions to create an effect on readers.

Download Effective Strategies for Engaging Middle and High School Students in Writing and Grammar Instruction by Beverly Ann Chin, PhD.

Teaching Grammar in High School

In high school, students continue to read and produce diverse and sophisticated texts. As text complexity increases, application opportunities for students change. Teaching grammar in high school requires focused instruction and abundant opportunities for students to learn, apply, and master the conventions of standard English in their own writing.

Download Effective Strategies for Engaging Middle and High School Students in Writing and Grammar Instruction by Beverly Ann Chin, PhD.

How Do You Teach Grammar Effectively?

Research shows that although extensive reading and writing is important to grammar acquisition, explicit instruction is crucial to mastering the conventions of written English (Haussamen et al., 2003). When it comes to teaching grammar, ongoing explicit instruction is essential, in addition to a mix of instructional strategies, embedded in and applied to lots of reading and writing. A research-based approach is best: it is critically important to have students learn grammar in the context of writing and apply grammar learning to meaningful, beneficial writing for a variety of purposes and audiences.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

An instructional routine that follows a gradual release of responsibility model has been shown to be highly effective for teaching grammar. This model progresses from direct, explicit instruction, scaffolded opportunities for practice, and application on important grammar concepts.

Ways to Teach Grammar Authentically

Authentic grammar instruction focuses on application to reading and writing, in which students use what they learn for their own purposes and purposes in the classroom. An integrated approach allows students to apply grammar concepts immediately to their own authentic reading and writing.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Following Grammar Standards

Before the Common Core State Standards, grammar, usage, and mechanics were commonly situated within writing and speaking standards. Within the Common Core State Standards, most grammar standards are found within standards for language. Grammar and mechanics have their own strand. Here is what the standards now say about grammar instruction:

  • The standards imply that we teach grammar across the grade levels. Think of the concepts as learning progressions that are building over time.
  • The standards have shifted to focus on authentic instruction and application.
  • Deep instruction needs to focus on the expectations at each grade level.
  • Grammar concepts are not explicitly defined in standards; the standards are the how and not the what of instruction. Using a research-based scope and sequence supports a teacher following grammar standards and wanting a roadmap for what concepts to teach when.

Different Methods of Teaching Grammar

Inductive Teaching

An inductive approach to teaching vocabulary invites students to observe grammatical patterns and determine a rule from these patterns on their own or with guidance.

Deductive Teaching

In a deductive approach to teaching vocabulary, students are given a rule which is then applied to examples and practiced.

Learning Through Writing

Grammar instruction in the context of students’ writing is an effective way to improve students' writing, especially in the context of sentence fluency. When students understand the structure of language, they are better and more engaging writers. Teachers can continually assess student writing to plan appropriate grammar lessons. Students can improve their writing while they learn grammar, designing their writing by making deliberate language choices.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

Best Practices for Teaching Grammar

Focus and Scaffold Instruction

Following a gradual release of responsibility model for teaching grammar is highly effective. Following direct instruction, practice should be focused to allow students to demonstrate understanding and receive judicious, corrective feedback through modeling or more instruction on critical errors.

Finally, application in reading and writing is essential as students directly apply what they are learning in grammar. Grammar instruction should link form and meaning to be effective.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Grammar Instruction that Sticks Grades 6–12 webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Use Mini Lessons and Modeling

Concise, focused mini lessons are the most effective way to teach grammar, usage, and mechanics. Mini lessons should focus on a concept of a rule, then the application of the concept to authentic reading and writing. For best results, mini lessons prioritize and select the one or two important concepts to be addressed in each lesson and avoid introducing too many concepts at the same time. Mini lessons should include modeling and examples.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Prioritize Sentence Work

Three effective strategies that improve students’ writing—and grammar—are sentence combining, sentence expansion, and sentence imitation. (Haussamen, 2003; Hillocks and Smith, 2003; Holdzkom, Reed, Porter, Rubin, 1984; Killgallon, 1997; Noguchi, 1991; Strong, 2001) These strategies are adaptable to any grade level and subject area.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.


HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Sentence combining is a strategy in which students construct more complex and sophisticated sentences by combining short, choppy sentences in longer, fluent ones.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

Experimentation with sentence combining supports students in making choices about language fluency and ways that sentences relate to meaning and effect. This strategy is very effective when presented to students during the revising and editing phase of their own writing and using their own drafts and when connected to punctuation. Revising can be defined as helping writing be more effective for purpose and audience. Editing can be defined as helping students correct for spelling, punctuation, grammar, and usage.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here. 

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

Sentence expansion is a strategy in which students add information to short sentences to make their writing more detailed and interesting. This strategy supports students in learning grammar in the context of writing new sentences, and helps make connections to word choice, variety, and writing style.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

This strategy is effective when scaffolded for students, especially for English Learners. It is easier for students to begin using this strategy by expanding sentences at the end to make their sentences livelier and more detailed.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

Then, students can implement the strategy by adding information at the beginning of sentences to make their sentences more creative.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

When students master sentence expansion at the beginnings and ends of sentences, they are ready to learn ways sentences can be lengthened at both ends and/or in the middle.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

Sentence imitation is a strategy in which students imitate the structure of a sentence but replace the original words and ideas with new words and their own ideas. Using model sentences from authentic literature and complex text is a particularly effective source for sentence imitation exercises.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Using Grammar as a Tool for Improving Students' Writing webinar by Dr. Beverly Ann Chin, here.

With sentence imitation, students can see parts of speech and sentences at work and in relationship with sentence structure and word choice. Using published authors’ sentences as inspiration helps students as they gain insight into the craft of writing. As students work with their own ideas and words, they learn how authors create effective sentences (Knudson, 1989; Knudson, 1991; Haussamen et al., 2003).

Apply to Reading and Writing

Grammar lessons must be contextualized and embedded into the reading and writing in the classroom. It is critical that students learn grammar in the context of writing and apply grammar learning to meaningful, beneficial writing for a variety of purposes and audiences.

Writing and grammar go better together! Learn more at a 2-part, on-demand Masterclass hosted by grammar expert Dr. Beverly Ann Chin and Ellen Edmonds.

Use Authentic Examples from Complex and Authentic Text

Exposure to and engagement with a variety of texts is essential. Students should see examples of grammar concepts in a variety of texts and genres and encounter a variety of writing styles, forms, and sentence structures in texts.

Focus on the Positive

Feedback is important, but too much feedback can be a detriment when it comes to teaching grammar. Teachers can point out students’ correct use of conventions to reinforce the importance of grammar, usage, and mechanics as tools that help readers while building students’ confidence as writers. Modeling and reteaching are strategies that help teachers focus on the positive when it comes to grammar instruction.

Practice

Successful grammar implementation occurs over time and across varied contexts. Ensuring students have ample opportunity to practice is essential. Practice should be offered with guidance and feedback before independent practice and application by students.

Strategies to Engage Students While Teaching Grammar

Utilize Mini Lessons

Using mini lessons is an effective strategy for grammar instruction, whether whole class, small group, or individual. This approach is more effective than an isolated approach and powerful when applied to reading and writing. A mini lesson focusing on a concept of a rule can then be applied to an authentic reading and writing experience.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Model

Building on mini-lesson strategies, modeling is a highly engaging tool for teaching grammar. An example of modeling might be taking a text and modeling error correction. Think-alouds and writing are examples of modeling strategies for grammar instruction.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Grammar Instruction that Sticks Grades 6–12 webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Get Visual

Use real objects, gestures, pictures, and facial expressions to teach words and clarify meaning for all learners, and especially those learning English. For example, an effective grammar technique with nonlinguistic representation could be used for teaching action verbs.

Integrate Variety and Cross-Curricular Connections

Consistently providing different texts for students to read and analyze in multiple classes or subject areas helps broaden perspective and provides text-rich examples for modeling. Read-alouds (even at middle and high school) also exposes students to a variety of writing genres, sentence structures, and details through oral processing that are important and are embedded in various academic contexts.

Offer Interactivity

Games and interactive activities that allow students to practice grammar skills with motivation boosters like time clocks or competitive elements are opportunities to engage students as they learn grammar.

Make Grammar Lively

When teaching grammar, teachers can engage students by making instruction lively. Encourage language play, experimentation, and risk-taking. Foster an environment that supports high-quality discussion about language and effects. Show examples from print and nonprint media that use written language. Jokes, puns, and misplaced modifiers offer opportunities to discuss grammar.

Encourage Journaling

An authentic and engaging writing opportunity for students, journaling offers a lot of connections for mapping grammar concepts to writing for different purposes on many topics. Journaling is another opportunity for contextualization in which grammar instruction is embedded in reading and writing.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Grammar Instruction that Sticks Grades 3–5 webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Differentiate Instruction

A structured grammar program is appropriate for all students, but differentiation is essential. Students in each classroom have diverse backgrounds, needs, and levels of English proficiency and may therefore need additional support. In any given class, teachers must address a wide range of student writing abilities, interests, and needs. To help all their students grow as writers, teachers need to help each student develop the ability to write clearly, effectively, and correctly. Teachers must make adjustments based on individual students and provide varying levels of guidance and direction.

How to Teach Grammar Online

To supplement focused direct instruction of grammar concepts and application in writing and reading, online activities and games can provide opportunities for engaging student practice. Digital resources offer opportunities for practice, feedback, and assessment that is dynamic and personalized.

Basic Grammar Activities

There are many grammar concepts students must understand to communicate effectively. Students also need to know when to apply grammar rules they are learning to situations in their reading and writing. Here are just a few of the basic grammar concepts students should know at a variety of grade levels and related simple activities.

Commas

Commas are a common punctuation mark often used before a conjunction in a compound sentence. Commas are also used between items in a series of three or more items. There are other comma uses including after a noun of direct address, after an interjection, and not to set off an introductory word. Students of all ages need to know when to use this common punctuation mark. Standards on comma use include applying the conventions of standard English and correctly using punctuation to set off nonrestrictive or nonessential information.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Grammar Instruction that Sticks Grades 3–5 webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Fragments and Run-on Sentences

Run-on sentences are one of the most common errors students include in their writing. A run-on sentence is two complete sentences that run together. One way to correct a run-on sentence is to separate it into two sentences. Another way to correct a run-on sentence is to make a compound sentence. Fragments, or incomplete sentences, are another concept on which students need instruction and practice.

Parts of Speech

Naming conventions are less important than understanding the functions of grammar concepts. Students at all grade levels will continue to revisit the parts of speech and the functions of nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and interjections. Students need to be able to construct quality sentences that communicate information accurately and clearly. Understanding basic parts of speech is the first step to this effective communication.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

What Doesn’t Work in Grammar Instruction

Teaching grammar is not easy. There are many common pitfalls that teachers can avoid in grammar instruction. When it comes to an approach, the research is clear that a lecture-based, isolated approach doesn’t work. A “drill and kill” approach that prioritizes worksheets and memorization has not been seen to be effective for impactful grammar instruction. A one-size-fit-all approach is not as effective as one that is differentiated and targeted for every learner and writer.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

Common Issues in Grammar Instruction

Classroom Management

When teaching grammar, teachers will have to make adjustments based on individual students, since some students need a lot more guidance and instruction or time in application, while others can apply quickly. Small group work can support teachers in differentiating. The evidence is compelling that that investment of time in applying to writing, though challenging, is worthwhile.

HubSpot Video

View the complete Can Authentic Grammar Instruction Improve Students' Understanding of Complex Texts webinar by Ellen Edmonds, here.

The Wrong Approach

Using a program with the wrong type of approach, (i.e., an isolated program that prioritizes memorization over application) can be a detriment to students. To overcome this challenge, teachers can implement a program that is research based and focused on best practices.

Low Engagement

Active instruction is an opportunity to infuse grammar with joy, for both teachers and students. Grammar instruction need not be boring or rote. In fact, it should be neither! Teachers are encouraged to move away from worksheets and instead use strategies that promote and enhance student engagement and success.

Avoid more common pitfalls in grammar instruction with these suggestions of what to do and what not to do when teaching grammar.

The Advantages to Leveraging Grammar Materials

A research-based, intentional grammar program that integrates with reading and writing will ensure that teachers are meeting grade-level standards of grammar, usage, and mechanics and provide a framework for teachers to follow when teaching grammar. Due to the history of teaching grammar in the United States, many American teachers may have never been students of grammar, so implementing such a research-based program ensures that they can provide the best and standards-based grammar instruction to students.

Grammar Instruction Must-Haves

To be effective, a grammar program for use with elementary, middle-school, and high-school students must be research based and aligned with standards. A grammar program must have an intentionally designed scope and sequence suited for students at each grade level with well-constructed mini lessons and ample opportunities for students to apply skills to writing.

The Importance of Lesson Planning and Content Structure

Structure is a key consideration for a grammar program. Use of the proven gradual release of responsibility model is a plus for an effective grammar program. Well-sequenced lessons that can stand alone and be taught in response to student writing and classroom needs makes a program flexible. Explicit instruction and explicit examples and modeling as students write and read are best, especially via focused mini lessons. Practice with the appropriate type and amount of feedback that is provided in interactive formats should be present. Application to writing is essential.

Benefits of Sadlier Grammar Programs

Sadlier offers standards-aligned grammar solutions for Grades 3–12 that are research based and intentionally and logically sequenced to lay a solid foundation for students in grammar throughout the elementary, middle, and high-school grades. These programs follow the gradual release of responsibility model—providing concise direct instruction of grammar concepts, practice with guidance, and application to writing and reading.

Elementary Grammar Instruction

Sadlier’s Grammar Workshop, Tools for Writing is designed for students in Grades 3–5. The research-based program provides simple lesson plans built on a 3-step instructional routine (Learn, Practice, and Write) that provides direct instruction and models the rules of grammar, usage, and mechanics and then lets students practice and apply in the context of reading and writing. An included handbook directly supports students in the writing process and integrates grammar, usage, and mechanics in the process. For engaging practice, interactive online resources reinforce concepts. The program includes specialized lesson suggestions to support English learners and differentiate instruction.

Learn More

Middle and High School Grammar Instruction

Sadlier’s research-based Grammar for Writing for Grades 6–12 teaches the conventions of standard English and takes students through the complete writing process as they write arguments, informative/explanatory texts, and narratives. The program is based on the principle that the primary purpose of grammar instruction is to improve student writing. The program follows the three-step process of instruction, practice, application. The program also helps to prepare students for state assessments with practice in standardized-test format.

Learn More

Sadlier’s Online Solutions

Sadlier’s grammar programs provide interactive online resources to supplement learning for students and strengthen their understanding of concepts. Resources include engaging interactive games with self-evaluation for independent learning, quizzes and practice for assessments with feedback, and more. While these resources support teachers and students implementing Sadlier’s grammar programs, Sadlier’s searchable resource center offers free grammar resources to support all grammar instruction.