How to Build a Grammar Lesson: This post aims to help you from start to finish.
My first book, The English Grammar Workbook, was published in 2018. While writing it, I figured that teachers would have questions about implementing grammar lessons: How do I make lessons exciting? What alternatives to traditional exercises can I use in my classroom? How do I as a teacher draw a better connection to reading and writing?
Those were the questions I expected. But those weren’t the questions I got. Overall, the No. 1 question from teachers was, “How do I build a grammar lesson plan?”
This makes sense. I’ve written extensively about how grammar has recently returned to classrooms—and how this leaves teachers in an unfair position. When I began teaching a dozen years ago, I sat (frightened and very unsure) with my students and muddled through grammar lessons. I made errors and failed. I left work crying. I wanted to quit.
Now, I confidently teach grammar and even enjoy it. I sprinkle fun grammar activities throughout my curriculum, naturally. I want to share these ideas with you, so you can successfully implement grammar and positively impact your students.
When I was working with a team of linguists and editors from my book, I knew that I had to share what I learned about grammar instruction, especially how other countries teach grammar. I want every English teacher to know what I learned so that each ELA teacher can confidently teach grammar and build a grammar lesson of which he or she is proud.
These are my steps to build a grammar lesson plan.
1. Start by prepping yourself.
Know what you know and embrace what you don’t know. Don’t get down on yourself about this. Before you teach a story, you likely look at the vocabulary and research the author and time period. You probably read the story a few times and take notes.
Go through the same motions with a grammar lesson plan:
- Use the answer key to practice the concept.
- Research the idea and read about teaching it.
- Anticipate where students might struggle.
For instance, when I teach types of sentences, I can anticipate that students will need to review relative pronouns and subordinating conjunctions. I might scaffold that into the plan.
If you are unsure of where to start, it is appropriate to give a pretest. Design one and look at the results. Once you’ve decided on what to teach and reviewed it, you’re ready to design your lesson.
2. Provide an anticipatory set.
Activate prior knowledge and, hopefully, provide a transition. Here are some possible introductions for a grammar lesson:
- Ask students to label examples of the concept. I once saw an English teacher hand students a “Hello, My Name Is” sticky tag as they entered the class. She instructed them to identify a real noun in the classroom and adhere the name tag to it (e.g., board, chair, desk, person).
- Brainstorm a list of concepts. If you are teaching simple sentences, ask students to list two simple sentences on a note card. Review the simple sentences, and then start combining them into compound sentences.
- Show students they already write using the concept. Ask students to pull a sentence from a piece of writing or invent one for them. Use these free worksheets to start.
Just as you would with a literature lesson, give a transition: You do understand nouns! A pronoun takes the place of a noun. Today, we will talk about pronouns.
3. Give direct instruction—but connect to concepts.
Not every part of a grammar lesson should be direct instruction; however, I know that many teachers fear that a grammar lesson will only be direct instruction. Don’t allow that fear to stop direct instruction.
Create a presentation with facts, lists, and examples. Be sure to include the why behind learning such material. For example:
Q: Why do we need to learn types of pronouns?
A: When writing and then proofreading, writers must anticipate that readers will need clear pronouns and antecedents.
Students need concrete definitions in order to internalize concepts. So, ask students to write the definitions and commit them to memory. Then, show the concepts used in real sentences.
4. Build up the examples you’ll show.
During the first year or so you deliver grammar lessons, giving examples for grammar may seem nerve-racking. Come prepared with examples. Write them on a note card or put them on a presentation. Then, start adding to the examples slowly.
Have an entire example ready, but leave out the subjects or proper nouns. Ask students to add to them. Look:
___ and ___ love ice cream.
This sentence formation is: compound subject, verb, direct object. Ask students to provide two subjects (two names) to teach nouns or subjects.
As you become more comfortable with student-generated lessons, you can allow students to add more parts of the sentence without planning.
Provide students with 10 problems to practice with partners. Circulate the classroom so you can identify misconceptions and reiterate parts of the lesson.
From this basic student practice, you might need to redefine terms. You might need to stop and create an anchor chart with lists or important details.
If students overall seem ready to continue, provide an assignment.
6. Give students a manageable assignment.
Ask your students to complete an assignment. Twenty sentences or multiple paragraphs is not necessary; give students five or 10 sentences.
Decide if you want to record the grades or not. The first time with a new concept, I typically do not record the grades. I use the assignment as a gauge for the next day’s lesson. Recording the grade is a teacher’s choice.
7. Evaluate the results.
First, don’t expect perfection. Unless you work at a school where teaching grammar is the norm, you might not have high results the first few times with a grammar lesson. Learning grammar is a complex way of thinking, and while that is great for students’ brains, it requires that instructors be patient with their students.
Be patient with yourself, as well. If the results of your first few grammar lessons are poor, provide other ways to study the material. The next class period, return the lessons and cover the concepts. You might reteach a few areas, and you might ask students to create anchor charts. You might ask students to write using the concept, and you might ask them to find samples of the grammar concept in their reading.
Embracing grammar as an essential part of language arts
Teaching grammar might seem intimidating. If you have never taught grammar, that is natural. The next time you find yourself thinking, how do I build a grammar lesson?, follow the basic structure you would with any other lesson. Scaffold. Review. Provide multiple learning opportunities.
When I build a grammar lesson plan, I plan for 20 minutes. The following class period, we often review the idea, apply it to our writing, or analyze a piece of literature or nonfiction with our grammar concept.
I treat grammar like I do public speaking, reading, or writing… as an essential part of my language arts classroom. Soon your students will too.