ELA Content Includes Grammar

‘ELA Content Includes Grammar’ is part three of a ten-part series covering grammar in middle school and high school English classes. Read part one and part two.

All components of ELA fit together, and ELA content should include grammar.

English teachers teach vocabulary within literature, and then they expect students to carry their new knowledge into their own writing.

English teachers apply literary devices with literature, and then they expect students to carry their new knowledge into their own writing.

Somehow, teaching grammar is separate in too many classes; teachers don’t ask students to write four types of sentences in their papers or analyze why a writer uses a variety of verbal phrases. Perhaps teachers aren’t comfortable with grammar, perhaps grammar seems boring.

Incorporating grammar into all ELA content though? Doing so solves many problems created when grammar is taught in isolation or for only the first ten minutes of class.

I have some overall ways to include grammar in all of your English content, and then I will walk you through a sample lesson. Take what you need and make these ideas your own!

How can an English teacher fit all ELA content into lessons? Meet standards and fit writing, language, and reading together. #HighSchoolELA #EnglishTeacher

Student writing.

Common areas of concerns with student writing include weak verbs, punctuation (general use and effectiveness), descriptive nouns, pronoun-antecedent agreement, specific modifiers, and on. Writing requires a basic knowledge of grammar, and understanding your language helps to advance past basic or average writing.

People will sometimes argue this about writing, and state that the more students write, the better their writing will be. True, practice improves technique. I don’t understand the fear of using technical terms specific to ELA, which is grammar. Math and science classes certainly use domain specific words, and the common core requires that teachers use domain words from ELA content.

Students will use particular words for their fields of study and career later in life with their particular fields. Using “phrases” and “clauses” and other vocabulary associated with grammar provides them practice.

The idea that teaching grammar doesn’t help teach writing is silly. That holds true only if the teacher fails to carry over grammar lessons to writing. Even pages that boast attention-grabbing titles eventually say that grammar instruction through writing is beneficial.

I do praise students with grammatical language in their writing. I also use specific areas concerning weak areas.

How? Pull sentences from students’ writing and improve them as a class by implementing current grammar concepts. Plus, don’t simply correct a student’s paper. Ask students to complete the difficult work of correcting their grammar errors. For instance, if a parallelism error arises, ask the students to do the tough work of figuring out how to make the elements parallel. Don’t simply mark in the correction.

Reading: literature and nonfiction.

Beautiful, highly edited and crafted sentences are at our fingertips. When we analyze the colors, figurative language, and vocabulary from stories, include the grammatical aspects. Look:

It was in the clove of seasons, summer was dead but autumn had not yet been born, that the ibis lit in the bleeding tree. (From “The Scarlet Ibis.”)

Why would James Hurst use “bleeding” here? It is a participle, and it gives an aurora of action – he didn’t say “bloody.” Could this participle relate back to the cross happening in seasons—not quite autumn, a time of death?

Use the literature and nonfiction in front of you to teach grammar, and add mini-lessons when necessary, to clarify.

You can ask students to explain the effect of a verb mood or verb. Then, students should defend their answers.

Who is best equipped?

The teacher knows the content and their students the best. The professional needs access to a variety of tools for differentiating for all learners. Once a teacher has confidence crossing grammar into all areas of an English curriculum, students will gain confidence in grammar as well.

The teacher has a knowledge of writing, literature, and grammar. All students will need different areas addressed as they proceed in writing and reading. Sometimes a grammar activity will benefit the entire class, but more times than not, certain students will review pronoun-antecedent agreement while others focus on complete sentences. If all ELA content needs differentiated, then the grammar portion is no different.

What can I do today?

My suggestion is to start small if you worry about incorporating grammar into your ELA content. If you’ve never taught grammar before today, you can’t seamlessly incorporate grammar into all ELA content. Below is a sample lesson with my thought process for making it. Take what will work for you, modify it for your particular situation, and give it a try.

Start with standards. I teach with the Common Core Standards. I keep a hard copy on my desk so I can reference them when I lesson plan. I also make notations as I work through the semester. Sometimes I write in the margins what students might need to review before they are ready to work on more complex standards. The more I interact with the standards, the more I experiment and fit all components of an ELA class together.

How can an English teacher fit all ELA content into lessons? Meet standards and fit writing, language, and reading together. #HighSchoolELA #EnglishTeacher

Sample lesson.

For this example, I’ll pretend I am prepping for a basic freshmen course. The standard, “Analyze how complex characters (e.g., those with multiple or conflicting motivations) develop over the course of a text, interact with other characters, and advance the plot or develop the theme” takes many attempts for students to master.

“The Scarlet Ibis” by James Hurst is typically in freshmen books, and it will help me meet that standard. I also want to hit some writing and language standards, and this story will be the perfect vehicle to do that. I do want to incorporate informational and speaking standards, but for this lesson (probably 2-3 days), I’m going to work on literature, writing, and language.

Students are typically interested in this story, and I want to activate prior knowledge; therefore, I’m going to ask students to write about a time in their lives where they felt pestered by someone or something. What were their emotions? Were they overwhelmed? Did they behave in a way that perhaps they should not have?

After students write for the anticipatory set, I will ask them to find three sentences and underline the subject once and the verb twice. As a review, I will give students the definitions for “subjects” and “verbs.” I’ll then ask students to share their strongest verbs. Hopefully, students WOW me with verbs like exhausted, overwhelmed, submerge, proclaim, observe, and honor. If students struggle to give verbs that are not linking or basic verbs, we’ll discuss power verbs. How can their subjects provide images of what they did? What verbs will best convey their messages?

In this way, we are working with language (vocabulary and grammar) and writing. We are working toward producing “clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.” So far, we will be about 20 minutes into the lesson.

I will connect the idea of human motivations shaping our lives, and discuss how students see that in their writing. What were the results of their behavior? Did they grow from that experience? Since students are complex characters, directly connect that idea to Brother in “The Scarlet Ibis.” He too moves the story forward through his complexity and with his multiple motivations.

Then, I’ll let students read. Dependent on how long we talk and work on subjects, verbs, and our writing, we might only read the story. Otherwise, we will introduce vocabulary words from the story in context.

After we practice vocabulary (at the end of the first day or the start of the second), we will work with partners or in small groups to explore the story. After I’m confident students understand the story, we’ll circle back to the vocabulary. We might create a word wall or practice vocabulary with writing.

We might also retrieve our first writing and create transitions together as a class into a new body paragraph about the story. (We could even implement some of the vocabulary words in the writing assignment!) Then students can reflect how Brother’s motivations with Doodle moved the story forward.

That lesson plan will take about 2-3 days, dependent on the explanations of writing and grammar concepts required. Students might read the story quickly or take a bit longer; every class is different. But! In about three days, I will have hit literature, writing, and language standards.

Could you find yourself implementing and weaving grammar, writing, and literature into your ELA content? Please share your ideas in the comments because I love discovering new ideas.

Those are my ways to incorporate grammar (or language study) in all ELA content. In my fourth post, I cover ways of differentiating grammar within the classroom. Read 10 Alternatives to the Grammar Worksheet.

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