Grammar for high school theoretically should activate higher level thinking processes. Standards for high school students are complex.
Students should apply the concepts to their writing and analyze the grammatical components in literature and nonfiction. Students should manipulate the language and play with the rules in their writing and speaking. Grammar for high school should look like this.
We high school teachers don’t always get students who are ready for these higher processes concerning grammar. (Note: I am not blaming anyone, especially other teachers. I taught junior high students for a year, and teaching them grammar was, trying. The focus of this article is not to blame, but to address a common situation with which high school teachers deal.) I’ve broken this blog post into two parts: students who come to high school with little grammar knowledge, and high school students who come to high school with grammar knowledge.
My students know very little grammar.
The eight parts of speech, parts of a sentence, verbals, punctuation: many high school students cannot identify or do not understand these terms.
The Common Core Standards have students learning basic grammar concepts in grades K-8, and then using, applying, and demonstrating those concepts in reading, writing and speaking in 9-12.
By no means are the standards perfect, but the idea makes sense: students will understand the language when they are younger and be able to manipulate and apply ideas when they are older.
Education may lean toward the right idea, but how should grammar for high school look today? Teachers can’t say, “well, they’re supposed to understand this!” and mosey along to the next standard. We high school English teachers must teach grammar basics, and move students along toward the evaluation and synthesis of grammar in other parts of the curriculum.
One way to handle this is to provide students with older-looking materials. The subject matter may be typically taught in lower grades, but the materials should look age-appropriate. The material must be tied to other parts of class and hopefully students’ lives. I don’t give assignments across the board. I learn students’ strengths and areas for improvement, and then give targeted practice. Not every student needs to review nouns, and not every student needs to review conjunctions. I
A second way to handle grammar in high school is with the teacher’s attitude. Inevitably, students will ask about the content, knowing that they have studied these concepts before. What if we explained the reasons for reviewing? Give students our reasoning; provide them with the goal of learning these basics. A rational approach to reviewing younger material can help.
Finally, explaining to students how the concepts build on each other in language study help with grammar in high school. Consider to find the type of sentences, students must know an assortment of concepts. They must recognize subject and verb, identify different types of conjunctions, understand punctuation rules, and know the differences between phrases and clauses. Grammar requires a foundation before the curtains and wallpaper are hung.
Grammar for high school often includes the teaching of concepts, and the analysis of these concepts. It’s difficult because students are reluctant; either they find the material disconnected from their lives, or they feel that they should have learned it years ago. They may remember that it was taught years ago, and feel frustration that they haven’t grasped it. Whatever the reason, accommodating and being cognizant of the situation may help our students.
My students understand grammar.
If your students grasp some grammatical concepts, you might need a different approach. Start with standards. You’ll have less review, but more application, analysis, and synthesis with concepts.
For instance, the standards for high school deal with specifics such as adjective clauses and adverb clauses. After you teach those concepts and practice them, ask students to implement them in their writing. No matter what you are reading, ask students to write a response to the literature or nonfiction and to use a noun clause. Ask students to implement parallelism in a compound sentence. Take whatever concept you are studying, and ask students to show you their knowledge of it. (You can download a free sheet for critical thinking with grammar. Sign up at the end of this post.)
The process might seem forced at first, but after a few times of applying these concepts to writing, students will consider their knowledge a benefit. They will be glad they possess ways to manipulate their writing. Then, ask students to find a concept (a type of phrase or clause) in their writing. They probably have them! Praise students with their correct use because grammar lessons should be empowering and positive.
Finally, grammar for high school often involves test prep. Most teachers dislike standardized testing, but the test prep can be fun. Older students enjoy coloring, stations, and jigsawing practice. Address common grammar errors that students will face on those tests, and remember to return to discussing grammar and language as part of class. When students are comfortable talking about grammar, they are less frightened of standardized tests.
No matter how your students arrive in your classroom, you can teach grammar in meaningful ways.