A Practical Approach to Grammar

This is part one of a ten-part series covering a practical approach to grammar in the middle school and high school classrooms.

When I talk about grammar lessons or digital grammar, I try to be honest with teachers. I have not always found success with grammar lessons! After speaking at conferences and with teachers, I understand that grammar still troubles educators.

I get it! Teaching ELA has numerous moving pieces. Grammar is only one piece. If you don’t care for grammar instruction and your students shy away from it, it would make sense that you would not eagerly start grammar lessons. Below, I’ve covered some mind shift changes that enhance my lessons and added some free downloads.

Why grammar?

I’ve written before about creating vocabulary and grammar lesson plans. Most of my work (outside teaching my lovely students) focuses on grammar instruction, specifically a practical approach to grammar lesson plans.

The reason why is simple: I once hated grammar instruction of any form. As a student, grammar was my worst subject. I attempted to complete worksheets, became frustrated, finished them haphazardly, and hurriedly returned to the book I was reading—never realizing that what I was supposed to study directly connected to the book in my hand.

Until I went to college (majoring in English), I never understood grammar, and I certainly never connected it to oral and written language. I finally grasped the power of language when I taught grammar. Suddenly, I loved it.

I want my students, other students to love (or at least appreciate) grammar too.

Why grammar—now?

The Common Core Standards (which many states uses—not every state, I know) require grammar or language instruction. Elementary students should study the parts of speech, middle school students should study types of sentences, and high school students should apply this knowledge to their reading and writing.

To which all the ELA teachers say, yeah right. Students may be taught grammar as the standards dictate, but along the way, middle school and high school teachers will need a practical approach to grammar, an age appropriate approach.

Regardless of feelings about the Common Core standards, most ELA teachers know that grammar and language instruction has a powerful place in ELA classes. Grammar, once forgotten in my classrooms, has made a comeback.

Grammar needn't be (and shouldn't be!) taught in a vacuum. A practical approach to grammar - for ELA teachers writing grammar lesson plans.

The problem?

So we have these two ideas: Teachers know grammar is important (and standards say we should teach it), and students don’t always know what they should.

How can we English teachers build a community of grammarians, or at least students who don’t groan when you mention a grammatical term?

I don’t have all the answers, but I spend an abnormal amount of time thinking about grammar instruction and how to improve it for my students. I remember the worksheets from my 1990’s instruction and imagine better ways or at least additional ways. In this series covering grammar instruction, I’m going to write about my ideas, implementations that have worked in my classrooms, and my thoughts on keeping grammar instruction in ELA courses.

A new approach.

What if we English teachers looked at grammar instruction differently?

When I teach grammar, I provide direct instruction just as I do when I introduce new concepts to students. Then, we find the grammar concepts in literature and speeches. We use the grammar ideas in our writing. We experiment. I teach grammar like I do other parts of class: I use a variety of approaches and review the concepts.

I also utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to improve my grammar lessons. So often, teachers tell me that grammar is mundane, that it involves an assortment of worksheets and circling words. Grammar activities can advance way beyond those tasks, and they should. Again, if we approach grammar like we approach literary analysis, we will be inching those activities beyond knowledge and comprehension.

If you’d like inspiration, you can download this lesson planning guide for free. Find inspiration by implementing grammar into other parts of class:

Finally grammar and language are so much more than what is wrong with this paper. Students shouldn’t groan when you cover grammar lessons because they feel that something is immediately wrong with their writing. A red pen does not equal grammar. A huge change in my thought process happened when I stopped talking about grammar as a problem and instead presented it as a tool for communicating.

When students realize that grammar can be a tool for better persuasion and speaking, their buy-in will increase. By looking at grammar as more than a problem, we ELA teachers can frame grammar as an opportunity.

Understanding the depths of the English language can and should be an adventure. Understanding grammar should be a strong tool for writing. Making that distinction and approaching grammar lessons with grammar as a tool rather than grammar as a possibility for errors can make the difference in your lessons.

In part two, I look at different approaches for teaching grammar, and what you can do tomorrow to seamlessly include grammar in class tomorrow.

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