How To Teach Grammar is part two in a ten-part series covering a practical approach to teaching grammar in the middle school and high school classrooms. Read part one.
No, I am not going to tell you how to teach grammar, per se. Looking at the history of grammar instruction and feelings about current grammar instruction is a starting point, though. Like anything in education, the reflection of what has worked and what has failed is important. This is my experience, and I would enjoy learning other teachers’ experiences with grammar.
Grammar is more than rules and lists, but it certainly can be taught that way. (It shouldn’t). Here is a walk in history of some past and current manners of teaching grammar.
Unfortunately, I have done this before. Definition, memorize, practice, repeat. I didn’t enjoy teaching it, and I know my students were miserable. How to teach grammar? Please don’t drill your students.
The online teaching community buzzes with those who diagram sentences. Some teachers truly swear by this method. I have never taught grammar this way.
The worksheet, the workbook.
I personally think that “worksheet” and “workbook” are not bad words. They are simply instructional materials that when used with best practices, can help. In fact, some students prefer the straightforward approach. Pairing students allows students to speak to each other in a one-on-one setting, hopefully encouraging a productive dialogue. Grammar worksheets and workbooks become problematic when no higher thinking is involved and students complete a page, turn it in, get a grade, and never think about it again.
Sometimes students sing songs for me – most often “conjunction junction, what’s your function.” Again, these can benefit students if grammar lessons are taken to the next level. (Plus, my students never can finish the song – they never know what the function is!)
More methods of teaching grammar? Probably, but we can stop there.
The commonalities of these?
These methods seem to rest on the lower parts of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Lots of rote memorization (memorizing prepositions or types of pronouns), with a bit of application, and a little analysis or evaluation – unless specifically included in a worksheet or workbook, no synthesis.
The method of learning the basics of grammar – which should be done – shouldn’t be the complete study of grammar, or even make up the bulk of instructional time.
We as teachers know this. So – why is so much of grammar at the bottom of Bloom’s?
Teaching What We Know!
Much of what and how teachers teach is what they have seen modeled – as teachers and students. Have the majority of us experienced analytical grammar? I never did, even in college. For my college grammar class, my book read like an electronics manual. It was boring, when language can be anything but boring.
I would argue that learning the basics of grammar matters less than how and if teachers carry out analysis, application – and hopefully, evaluation and synthesis. How to teach grammar? Teach the basics with best practices, but remember to carry language instruction into the higher realms.
In the third blog post in the series, I discuss how we as English teachers can reach that higher bar and hopefully, in the process, teach grammar effectively.