Teaching grammar for the first time? Don’t give up too early!
Welcome to ELA Today, a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.
You’re teaching grammar – more than as a bandage to writing, more than circling nouns on a worksheet. You might wonder why you started this and if you should continue. Someone maybe told you to teach grammar – a friend, a blogger, an administrator. You are teaching grammar for the first time, and success is not what you’re seeing.
I’ve been there. If you are struggling with grammar lessons, try one of these approaches.
Give a pretest.
It would be glorious if older students could identify the subject and verb of a sentence. Sometimes, they are unable to do so.
On the flip side, students might quickly understand concepts. If you have a situation similar to mine, you will have numerous feeder schools into the high school. Different schools teach different topics, and you simply won’t know what grammar your students understand.
A pretest will give you guidance. If most students are familiar with parts of speech, a large review will probably work. You might be able to quickly review nouns and pronouns, but specify the specific types of pronouns. The pretest might show where you should start. Do most students need to review verbs? modifiers? The pretest will help you.
Try direct instruction.
Direct instruction seems to be out of style currently, and I agree that this should not be the only teaching method. However, with difficult concepts, direct instruction can clarify confusing ideas or definitions and provide concrete examples. Plus, some students dislike asking for help if they think their classmates understand the lesson. They don’t want to be the only one confused, so they simply don’t ask. Direct instruction allows clarification.
If you are teaching grammar for the first time, it might be helpful to look at someone else’s lesson plans. I’ve turned mine into presentations so you can watch and borrow from them.
Try varying activities.
Yep. After you provide direct instruction, practice the material in a variety of ways. A quick list – but not everything!! – for spicing up grammar instruction includes:
All those links? They are free grammar resources. Download and experiment with your students. Fun activities can change grammar instruction.
Connect grammar to the rest of class.
I stress to my students the concept that all of a language arts class fit together. Explaining that is a cornerstone of my instruction.
For instance, I never want my students to think that ethos, pathos, and logos are only concepts applied to speeches. I never want them to think that the literary devices only exist in literature. Similarly, I want students to recognize grammatical concepts in the rest of class.
Start small: simply notice a few nouns in the story you are reading. Branch out into different pronouns. Before your eyes, students will analyze active and passive voice and types of sentences. Some students really enjoy grammar.
Give it a rest.
Teaching grammar for the first time – my experience was disastrous. I taught “grammar” as a unit. The kids hated it, and I dreaded teaching it. I didn’t connect grammar to speeches, literature, or writing. I didn’t differentiate. Worksheets were the norm. I almost quit teaching grammar for the year.
Instead, I reflected and decided that grammar must contain more. I pulled sentences from literature that we were studying, analyzed them, and made them into activities. It became my passion to make grammar “more” and to help other teachers teaching grammar for the first time.
But – I stopped for a bit. I reflected on what did not work, and I gave it a rest. That might be what you need. Think of a different approach and return to grammar later.
Teaching a new concept won’t be perfect, but with tweaks and experimentation, you can succeed.
As always, there is more than one way to teach ELA. If you’re looking for an alternate perspective, Melissa at Reading and Writing Haven is sharing how she decides when it’s time to move on with grammar.