I’ve taught middle school grammar before. Here are a few tricks I developed to make lessons meaningful.
I taught middle school… six years ago? My administration provided a straightforward directive: meet the Common Core Standards.
Ok. I’ve worked with standards before. I knew I could teach the material and meet the standards, but of course I wanted to move beyond that. I don’t want students to hate lessons, and students should understand the application to their lives. Here is how I made middle school grammar lessons work.
Make the lessons yours.
I spoke at a conference a few weeks ago, and a teacher told me that she has students uses green (for “go”) with verbs. She has other color-coding methods, and she’s found great success with this.
Other teachers use mentor sentences for middle school grammar lessons. Some use grammar manipulatives.
Look for what your students learn from. Find what resonates with a class. Discovering what “clicks” might take experimentation. More than likely, a combination of direct instruction, hands-on activities, and fun exercises will be the ticket.
Explain the why.
Grammar exists on standardized tests. College professors aren’t especially cruel, but the expectation for college is that students will be able to write and communicate effectively. A knowledge of language helps students achieve these goals. When teachers approach literacy and writing in a variety of ways, they are setting students up for success.
My high school students have college entrance tests looming, and they typically understand the questions are grammatical… and that those tests reflect what their future college professors will expect them to know.
College does not dominate middle schoolers’ thoughts, but opportunities exist for connecting grammar to students’ lives. Typically: pronouns… pronouns everywhere. Students often use “it” and “this” with no antecedents. Correct pronoun use will improve and clarify their writing. Find examples such as pronoun use to show students that grammar knowledge improves other lessons.
Provide direct instruction.
Of course a grammar worksheet or workbook should not be the only grammar instruction. Direct instruction, however, provides the basics and can be useful. Don’t dismiss this tool.
What teachers do after the direct instruction, matters.
For instance on pages 194-195 of The English Grammar Workbook for Grades 6, 7, and 8, I have a lesson on connotation and denotation. Students should understand the meanings of these words, but after they do, have fun! Start with the sample sentences (pictured below) and invent other sentences. Tell students to play with words in the dictionary. Ask them to:
- Make a sentence that no one in our culture would use because of the connotation.
- Create an ornery sentence and a helpful sentence.
- Use vocabulary from a recent lesson to build a list of positive and negative connotations for each word.
Those activities are merely one example of how to build off direct instruction! Provide multiple ways for students to experiment with their language after direct instruction.
Remind students that thinking about and understanding the depths of their language is powerful. Illustrate how grammar relates to vocabulary, writing, and literature. Other lessons will be easier because of their foundation with grammar. When working with middle school grammar lessons, moving beyond basics will engage students.