‘Connecting Grammar and Writing’ is part five of a ten-part series covering grammar in middle school and high school English classes. Start with part one and follow the links to the other articles in the series.
Let’s pretend your students understand or have a general grasp of the grammar you’ve taught them. They understand punctuation rules. They can identify phrases, clauses, and types of sentences. Students possess a basic knowledge of language and the terminology. You’ve made an effective foundation and shown students that grammar is more than errors in their writing. They might not perfectly understand all grammar, but they have a general grasp. Teaching grammar-writing together is next on your to-do list.
In this series, we’ve covered variations of teaching those grammar basics. After you’ve taught those, then what? Most ELA teachers work on teaching grammar through writing.
An important aspect to grammar instruction is that the identification of grammar components cannot be the end of grammar lessons. Teachers must carry grammar into other aspects of the ELA curriculum; one way is by connecting grammar and writing. To help, I created multiple downloads (a conferencing sheet and a graphic organizer) that you can use immediately in your classroom. All of the free downloads in this post can be accessed through my library. (These are perfect for middle school grammar and writing as well as high school lessons.)
You probably connect grammar to writing if you teach grammar in context. Most grammar programs use writing to teach grammar, either through errors or with mentor sentences. Showing grammatical concepts (both strong and weak) in student writing is an important part of any ELA course. Here are some ideas for doing just that.
Acknowledge your work.
Give yourself and your students credit: Even if you are doubtful of grammar lessons, you probably connect grammar to writing. I’ve overheard ELA teachers say they don’t teach grammar, and I’m skeptical. True, grammar terminology may not be in every classroom, but grammar? When students write, they are using their grammatical knowledge to write, edit, and revise their papers.
Something I reiterate with my students is that they know more grammar than they may believe. They understand most punctuation (commas and semicolons, a bit shaky) and capitalization rules. They might not know the specifics of a sentence, but they often identify a troublesome sentence. When a paper is boring, they will search out a solution, often by adding modifiers. That’s grammar.
Students also understand that they can improve their writing. They will identify that a sentence sounds funny, or that part of their papers are boring. When they tell me such things, we circle back around to grammar.
When a sentences is incomplete, you might talk to students about subjects and verbs. If a student struggles to articulate a message, you might hint that verbs should be powerful. All of that is grammatical work.
Part of connecting grammar and writing involves showing students what they know. Acknowledge the work you and your students already do: You have grammatical knowledge.
Ask about grammar during conferences.
Conferencing during writing provides countless opportunities for discussion. Look for both strong areas and areas for improvement.
As you talk with students one-on-one, use domain-specific vocabulary. If a sentence is incomplete, is it missing the verb or the subject? When commas are missing, identify the specific area. Does the student often introduce dependent clauses without a comma? Here are more ideas:
Where could students improve?
Use the proper terminology with students. If a sentence has a misplaced modifier, show students that, and show students information for correcting the error. Other ways to implement grammatical terminology:
- Are students sure that the sentence is a complete sentence, and not a fragment or dependent clause?
- Have students varied sentence structure? (Different types of sentences—are some short and some long?)
- Is a variety of punctuation used, some for emphasis? Would incorporating a semicolon or a colon provide a new effect on the message?
Try to provide targeted practice for troublesome grammar problems rather than teaching all grammatical errors to all students. After you conference, give students practice that is specific to their struggles.
Also! Some of the positive feedback you provide, students should be about their strong grammatical skills.
What are student strong grammatically?
- Great sentence structure and variety.
- Your modifiers add great imagery.
- Strong tone!
Connecting grammar and writing works with students because they already have a natural tendency to communicate, to write well. Grammar aids in communicating, in writing. Our job is to show students both where they succeed and struggle.
If you aren’t sure where to start with positively connecting grammar and writing, be sure to download my conferencing sheet.
Students ask (as they should) why they have to learn grammar. Owning an understanding of grammar helps writing.
For high school students, the common core dictates that students use language to improve their writing, specifically by using phrases, clauses, types of sentences, punctuation, and verbals. When teachers empower students with this grammatical knowledge, students will transfer it to their writing. Sometimes it happens naturally, and sometimes teachers must show students how. Modeling with student work allows you to reach those standards.
As students write their papers, take a moment to model grammar in action. Take incomplete sentences and rewrite them several ways, perhaps with a compound or compound-complex sentences.
Students might discover the troublesome areas of their writing, but can they improve them? I often find that students can recognize a troublesome area, but they aren’t exactly sure where to pinpoint the problem. Model how you correct errors. Students might not own that internal dialogue for correcting grammatical errors. Walk them through the process.
Sometimes students hear “grammar’ and they think “mistakes.” Don’t make that the situation in your classroom. Understanding language and owning a knowledge of grammar should help students. They should feel empowered with their knowledge. One way to accomplish this is by modeling grammar terms in positive ways.
First, model an improvement. Take a completely acceptable area (such as a student’s paragraph) and ask students to improve it as a class. Show students how combining sentences and adding or subtracting phrases changes and improves the meaning. Elevate the conversation by asking students to evaluate the effectiveness of the changed writing.
Second, ask students to submit their favorite sentence to you. What can we learn from these power sentences? Do students have strong verbs or strong syntax? Praise the ways they have used language. Use domain-specific vocabulary in a positive way. Showcase strong writing from students, and analyze the reasons the sentences work so well.
Third, move the direct grammar instruction to application; whatever direct instruction you provide, immediately put it into writing. For instance when I teach sentence structure, I teach the ways sentence structure can impact messages, shape meaning, and add transitions. Working with simple, compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences provides the perfect opportunity to model grammar and writing in positive ways. Another example is teaching the appositive phrases. Immediately after direct instruction, students and I write an appositive phrase. Stress that now students own a new tool for their writing.
I also add those elements to my writing expectations. Then students can experiment with different tools after we’ve modeled the exercise together.
Make grammar a tool.
The largest shift in teaching grammar in my classroom came when I shifted approach. I presented grammar as a tool rather than a problem to be solved. When students see grammar as a concept that will help them rather than a problem to fear, lessons are better. Students apply grammar to their writing. Finally, the anxiety around making mistakes dissipates.
I created a graphic organizer to improve student writing through grammar. This tool empowers students because they choose the grammatical area, and then students can improve. You can use that graphic organizer in several ways to connect grammar and writing throughout the year.
Once we get students incorporating their grammatical knowledge to their writing, you will see your grammar lessons pay off.
Connecting grammar and writing shows students why they study sentence structure, why they learn the different components of a sentence, and why they learn rules. Using domain-specific vocabulary away from errors and direct instruction makes grammar real. Modeling and providing internal dialogue will bring the pieces together. You can find success with teaching grammar through writing!
In the sixth part of this series, I explain how I connect grammar and literature.
Are you teaching grammar through writing, and finding you would like more support? Join Grammar Gurus where teachers talk middle school grammar and writing and high school grammar solutions!