Hands-on grammar lessons: students holding and engaging with their language? Yes, please.
Students LOVE manipulating, playing, and holding their language with grammar manipulatives. When I talk about hands-on grammar lessons, I’m normally referencing grammar manipulatives. Basically, these pieces are paper, blocks, or sticky notes that students manipulate with directions. You can make the manipulatives whatever your students need: conjunctions, phrases, types of punctuation, clauses, anything.
The best part about hands-on language arts activities: Once students engage with the activity, they start building on the concepts themselves.
Grammar manipulatives make for highly engaging grammar lessons.
However, the more I experiment with hands-on grammar activities, the more I realize that with a few modification, even a grammar worksheet can become hands-on. Sometimes, I will take a worksheet (with pre-made sentences), enlarge the print, copy, and cut apart the sentences. We can sort those sentences, use them as sentence starters, cut them apart and add them to other sentences. . . basically, have fun with language.
Overall, the more I allow students to help me build hands-on grammar activities, the more meaningful the process. (I think what I’m say is, relax and let the students play with the pieces!)
Since I have worked on hands-on language arts activities for some years, I wrote down what helped me in designing these lessons. Here are TEN fast tips to make sure your students will beg you for more grammar fun:
1. Print and sort. Organize once, play many times. (Card stock helps too.) I’ve collected cases over the years, so my containers are mismatched. Plus, the first time I cut the grammar pieces (independent clauses, gerund phrases, verbs), I was sitting for hours. You don’t want to waste all your hard work. Cut, organize, and label your physical pieces that students will handle. The same works for directions; I typically laminate the directions students will follow while playing.
2. Be silly! Students will remember punctuation and sentence rules when they hold and manipulate their language. Funny subjects, verbs, and phrases increase memory. My favorite “silliness” is to use odd animals with goofy verbs.
3. Color. Code. Before I present the hands-on language arts activities, I consider what color scheme will work. For instance, I use yellow for dependent clauses and green for independent clauses with directions. Decide what makes sense for you and your students! When students have a voice in designing the tools, the practice means more to them, so don’t be afraid to ask for input.
4. Try blocks. Sticky notes, card stock, and even regular paper will work. Still, students love building with blocks. I grab blocks from garage sales or on clearance. Building sentences (writing and grammar!) with blocks provides that metaphor, that visual that students can build their own writing.
Before you start…
5. Provide direct instruction first. If students don’t have background, they won’t understand the purpose of playing with slips of paper. Sure, they will be able to build sentences. The purpose is for students to understand a comma works with two independent clauses and a coordinating conjunction. Students must understand those terms to follow your directions. Give a short lesson, practice a few examples, and then have students work on the manipulatives.
6. Plan to reach every student. Hand on grammar lessons provides the teacher with opportunities for differentiation and scaffolding. Ask students to build a simple sentence, and then a compound sentence. Add a participial phrase to modify a subject. What type of conjunction is used? Could the sentence become a complex sentence by adding a subordinating conjunction? Prep what you will ask if you are nervous.
7. Start a writing project. If students are struggling to start a writing project, create some quick manipulatives. (I would probably use post-it notes in this situation) that deal with the topic. Ask students to brainstorm a few sentences that they can then implement into their writing. Use the opportunity to connect grammar to writing.
As you work…
8. Provide feedback. Inevitably, students will create a misplaced modifier, a dangling participle, or a comma splice. Use those errors as learning opportunities. Correct the punctuation or phrase and show the best writing opportunity.
9. Take pictures. When a student creates a funny or perfect sentence, snap a memory. Soon you’ll have an assortment of authentic examples. Incorporate those pictures into your presentations of grammar concepts. These pictures really liven (and provide authentic examples) grammar presentations.
10. Build community. Encourage students to interact and learn from each other. I often ask students to take pictures and look at their friends’ sentences. You can even build short paragraphs together, albeit very silly ones.
Grammar can be exciting and you can be a grammar rockstar! Incorporate hands-on grammar lessons as extension activities, review, or station work. Students absolutely know more grammar than they will admit, and once you have a stock of grammar manipulatives, the possibilities will be endless.