I Don’t Understand Grammar: Teaching Grammar

If you're teaching grammar, but you feel like you don't understand grammar, help is here. This grammar teacher can guide you through the basics of creating grammar lesson plans. English grammar teacher materials can be engaging and purposeful.

“I Don’t Understand Grammar” is part nine in a ten-part series devoted to English grammar teaching. You may want to start with part one.

Sometimes, ELA teachers tell me a secret.

The secret is the same, with small variations. It is always whispered apologetically and reluctantly:

“I don’t understand grammar.”

It’s honest, and it’s ok: to teach English grammar is difficult. I am empathetic toward these teachers because I have not always understood grammar—the study of language and syntax.

teaching grammar

How can I improve my understanding of grammar?

Improving your understanding of grammar takes practice and exposure to the language. Lots of time.

Read grammar books or take online courses to learn the rules. As a teacher, you should have books and tools to familiarize yourself with grammar rules.

I’m an English teacher. . .

This honest post targets English grammar teaching and English teachers who say, “I don’t understand grammar.”

For years, I have considered writing this post, rewritten it, and put it off to the side. Typing this, I still fear that some teachers will be negative about this “secret” or cruel to teachers who are honest. If you’re teaching grammar but are not confident in your lessons, let’s chat!

Let’s be straightforward about why some ELA teachers don’t teach grammar: They themselves do not understand grammar, let alone English grammar teaching.

Please read the entire post before commenting, and please provide constructive, kind ideas.

would you like free English activities?

The problem came from somewhere.

For whatever reason, many ELA teachers today did not learn grammar as students. Yes, we “turned out fine.” Yes, grammar isn’t everything.

I want better for my students though, and we must have detailed information to meet standards. Some of our students will be linguists and others will earn degrees in international business. Lawyers. Advertising executives. Writers. Tons of careers call for a knowledge of grammar, and all student should own an understanding of the English language for communicating as digital citizens.

The Common Core, state standards, and NCTE encourage language be taught within context. Teaching language is important. Language is grammar!

So… these two facts create a problem.

  1. Present day, parents and administrators expect ELA teachers to teach grammar, often housed under language standards.
  2. Most teachers didn’t learn grammar as younger students. Some teachers didn’t learn grammar as college students.

These expectations combined with a lack of background create a problem when we are expected to teach grammar.

download this free comma activity

My story as a student.

I have sympathy for this situation because this was my situation.

I attended school in the 1980s and 1990s, not doing much “grammar.” I remember a few worksheets over grammar mistakes. We didn’t study compound sentences, irregular verbs, or present tense—at least not in an advanced setting.

Then in college, I took an entire course on grammar and learned very little. The book read like an electronics manual. The professor made snide comments that English majors should already know this material. (Side note: We didn’t! With a few exceptions, my college classmates and I studied together, huddled over our books, questioning “proper grammar.”) I memorized terms, different grammar rules, and left the class, happy for it to be over.

My story as a teacher.

For my first teaching job, my department taught English writing and grammar together—terms, grammar knowledge, writing connections, and all. I cannot tell you how fortunate I was.

First, I had an English department full of colleagues who not only knew grammar in an encompassing and broad way, but they also shared their knowledge with me! Never did they shrug me off when I asked a question. Never did they roll their eyes that I was asking questions.

Second, the school gave me a curriculum. The books and activities were outdated, but I had content to teach!

Third, I knew what I didn’t want. (At the time, I did not consider this a positive part to my grammar story, but it really is.) Remember that electronics manual from college? My students would never feel that way about grammar—that grammar was unimportant and disconnected from their lives.

I’m sharing my story not to embarrass myself, but to help other English teachers. In many ways, I had a positive experience learning grammar. I didn’t hate it growing up, and I taught at a school with resources. Aside from the negative experience in college, grammar was never my enemy.

Not all teachers are so lucky.

meet language standards

A brief overview.

So, you want to understand grammar.

First, look at what you must teach (look at the standards for your level), and work backwards. For instance, if you teach sixth grade, you will be covering spelling and pronouns. Take a backwards glance at K-5. You’ll see that your students (in theory) should understand parts of speech, basic sentence structure, and verb tense. Review those concepts.

If you are looking for a longer-term solution, consider how you want to frame your lessons. Here are ideas that help me.

Any other topic.

When I approach grammar lessons, I treat the topic just as I would literature, writing, or public speaking. In other words, my classes do not “drill and kill” with worksheets because we never do that with any topic.

Instead, we practice a part of speech with interactive pieces: sticky notes on nouns and prepositional phrases on boxes. We practice independent clauses, dependent clauses, and commas with hands-on pieces. If we struggle with main verb use, we act out verbs together.

Be ready to experiment with your grammar lessons, just as you do with any other area.

Domain-specific vocabulary.

Part of what makes a style guide or standardized test practice extra difficult is the lack of domain-specific vocabulary that students own. Be sure to define terms for students and yourself.

For example, understanding active and passive voice helps students with speaking, listening, and writing. Define those terms just as you would define “setting” or “motif.”

Also, don’t think that you’re talking down to students. The best example is the semicolon. Young writers confuse the apostrophe, colon, and comma with the semicolon. Write out the pieces of punctuation as you study their uses.


Plenty of errors exist. My method is not to focus my messaging on the error, but rather, to focus on improving communication.

The sentence fragment, mood shift, and misplaced modifiers creep in. Quotation marks have tons of rules. Verb agreement is tricky. If you mark every error on a student’s paper, you will bog down yourself and your classes.

When a class turns in a paragraph, for example, copy and paste sentences that need improvement into a presentation. Cover the presentation with students and review rules.

And? Make a second presentation with proper use and strong writing. Show students everything they are doing right with language.

Like any writer, students get overwhelmed with a long list of corrections. Phrase grammar errors as opportunities for improvement, as chances to better communicate.

free verbals sort

More solutions.

As a teacher who enjoys teaching grammar, I want to help other teachers who may struggle with learning grammar. My blog contains endless resources and talking points for whatever lesson you teach. Simply search in the upper-right corner.

Many more solutions exist!

You can practice grammar worksheets and quizzes.

If your school has grammar materials, practice those tools until you understand grammar concepts. Find or buy grammar materials online.

Review correct examples and explanations of grammar rules. This will help solidify your understanding and provide you with reference points when teaching.

Additionally, consider incorporating technology into your learning. There are numerous online resources, apps, and interactive games that can make learning grammar more engaging and enjoyable for both you and your students.

You can create an honest dialogue with coworkers or other teachers.

Another solution is to engage in professional development opportunities focused on grammar instruction. Attend workshops, conferences, or webinars that offer guidance and strategies for teaching grammar effectively. Network with other teachers who excel in this area and learn from their experiences.

Some teachers love grammar. I happily will analyze a clause’s placement with you!

You can join a group.

My group on FB is Grammar Gurus, a private group on Facebook. Teachers there ask grammar questions! Teachers seek the basics of grammar, and they also strategize the best way to teach grammar concepts. All are welcome, and we would love to see you in our Facebook group!

test prep download

Positive talk: understand grammar.

Encourage a positive and supportive classroom environment where students feel comfortable asking about the building blocks of language. An authentic teacher is one who can tell a class, “I’m not sure, and I’ll get back to you.” Don’t fear getting support and returning to class with answers.

For all ELA teachers who think, “I don’t understand grammar but now I have to teach it”… I hope this post was helpful. All of the images in this post take you to my free library of tools. My library contains ten free grammar activities for you to implement immediately.

For teachers who found grammar easy and perhaps studied it from first grade on, I hope that you can contribute to our online colleagues understanding of grammar. Teaching grammar can be so much more than what is wrong with language or student writing!

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I wrote a book! Callisto Media hired me to write The English Grammar Workbook for Grades 6, 7, and 8, and my appreciation of grammar grew. I grew as a grammar teacher and writer from working with a team of editors and researchers. My Facebook group is still alive, and we would love to collaborate with you.

Ready for the final part of this grammar series? The Perfect Grammar Curriculum is next.

free preposition activity

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Please leave a kind, constructive comment to those ELA teachers looking for English grammar teaching methods!

Verb stations or grammar stations work well with multiple students.


  • Naty

    Thank you, now I dont feel alone

  • Mary

    I went to a Catholic school for seven years, so I was taught grammar. However, I have found teaching grammar to 8th graders challenging for several reasons. I have resources, but even if they do well with them I have found that the grammar that they have learned doesn’t seem to carry over when they are actually writing their essays. Neither does their spelling. Many of them are more apathetic than they were even five years ago and find it tedious. My curriculum doesn’t allow for a lot of time to teach it in the way it was incorporated as a child and they aren’t even being taught cursive these days! It’s all very frustrating to me.

  • Medrill

    I sympathise with you, Mary. I’ve been a teacher for 50 years now and I’m still teaching English to 4th and 5th graders. I’m struggling to make them learn the language itself let alone learn grammar. At school they practically learn every subject in Chinese except for a 2nd and a 3rd language one of which being English. Could it be any worse teaching them to learn English grammar? It’s my job so I just keep trying futile as it may be. I teach at a private tutorial, by the way.
    Yes, you are right, they don’t teach cursive anymore. That’s deplorable indeed because very often I’ve difficulty in making out what they have written.
    Plodding along…a fellow traveller.

    • Lauralee (author)

      My personal children are taught cursive. Because this is a controversial topic, the school showed the parents research about cursive writing. The idea was that when students “handle” their language, whether through reading, playing word games, writing it, studying vocabulary, whatever – their reading comprehension increases. It made me wonder if grammar is a piece of that puzzle as well.

      In The War on Grammar (really great book, btw), the author presents the idea that reading comprehension is tied to grammar study. He says that when students can identify the subject and the verb, they start to realize what a sentence is about.

      I think we (researchers, teachers) don’t understand how all of these pieces work together. For that reason – I’m with you. I still teach grammar. I really find that it empowers students.

      Thanks for commenting on my blog.

  • Nicolegray

    I love this. I’m a special education teacher and I have to teach students many ELA and Math concepts that I’m not always solid on myself! I went to search for the FB group, but found one that was more for teaching ESL. Is your group still active?

  • Vishal

    And it’s true. I am feeling the same way that I don’t know too much about grammar while teaching to my students.

    • Lauralee (author)


      Grammar is difficult. Many parts of language arts are simply tough. I don’t think there is any shame in teachers admitting they need help.

      I hope my ideas gave you some help. Have a great day, Lauralee

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