‘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. They might not perfectly understand all grammar, but they have a general grasp.
In this series, we’ve covered variations of teaching those grammar basics. After you’ve taught those, then what?
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.
Teachers already connect grammar and writing.
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. 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 you conference with students, ask about grammar.
Where could students improve?
- 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.
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.
As students write their papers, take a moment to model grammar in action. Take a troublesome area and rewrite it several ways, perhaps with a compound or compound-complex sentences.
When I teach sentence structure, I teach the ways sentence structure can impact messages, shape meaning, and add transitions.
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 using grammar terms in positive ways.
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.
I created five worksheets to improve student writing. They ask students to find troublesome or weak sentences and improve them in different ways. These language worksheets are free, and you can use them in several ways to connect grammar and writing. The worksheets include definitions, along with prompts to start students thinking about incorporating their grammatical knowledge to their writing.
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.
In the sixth part of this series, I explain how I connect grammar and literature.