A Practical Approach to Grammar

ELA teachers: you need a practical approach to grammar lessons. Different approaches in teaching grammar exist, but do your language arts students retain grammar terms & grammar concepts? Can English students apply grammar to their writing? A practical guide to English grammar uses sensible grammar activities & engaging grammar lessons to make grammar stick with English language arts classes.

This is part one of a ten-part series covering a practical approach to grammar in the middle school and high school classrooms.

When I talk about grammar lessons or digital grammar, I try to be honest with teachers. I have not always found success with grammar lessons! After speaking at conferences and with teachers, I understand that developing solid methods to teach grammar still troubles educators. A one-size, simple, and  practical guide to English grammar does not exist. English teaches must decide on a practical approach to grammar for their community. 

I get it! Teaching ELA has numerous moving pieces. Grammar is only one piece. If you don’t care for grammar instruction and your students shy away from it, it would make sense that you would not eagerly start grammar lessons.

So, I cannot provide a set of methods to teach grammar, and POOF have your grammar lessons shine. What I do have is an honest discussion and reflection on my growth as an English teacher who has not always loved teaching grammar.

Below, I’ve covered some mind shift changes that enhance my lessons and added some free downloads to help you as you develop your own practical approach to grammar lessons.

What is your background?

I’ve written before about creating vocabulary and grammar lesson plans. Most of my work (outside teaching my lovely students) focuses on grammar instruction, specifically a practical approach to grammar lesson plans. Teachers want to meet language standards and inspire students to connect grammar to writing, use language with purpose, and understand spoken language. I spend time answering questions about methods to teach grammar well.

The reason why is simple: I once hated grammar instruction of any form. As a student, grammar was my worst subject. I attempted to complete worksheets, became frustrated, finished them haphazardly, and hurriedly returned to the book I was reading—never realizing that what I was supposed to study directly connected to the book in my hand.

Until I went to college (majoring in English), I never understood grammar, and I certainly never connected it to oral and written language. I finally grasped the power of language when I taught grammar. Suddenly, I loved it.

I want my students, other students to love (or at least appreciate) grammar too. A practical guide to English grammar should include the message that grammar connects to other parts of literature, informational texts, speeches, and on. 

That story is my honest background about learning and teaching grammar. I think that if you are wondering where to start with your practical approach to grammar, looking at your background and fear with the subject is a good place to start. Believe me, you don’t have to give your students the same grammar lessons you had.

Why grammar—now?

The Common Core Standards (which many states uses—not every state, I know) require grammar or language instruction. Elementary students should study the parts of speech, middle school students should study sentence structure, and high school students should apply this knowledge to their reading and writing while working on advanced structures like types of clauses. The language standards build.

To which all the ELA teachers say, yeah right—I’ll have to repeat this information! Students may be taught grammar as the standards dictate, but along the way, middle school and high school teachers will need a practical approach to grammar, an age appropriate approach.

Regardless of feelings about the Common Core standards, most ELA teachers know that grammar and language instruction has a powerful place in ELA classes. Grammar, once forgotten in my classrooms, has made a comeback.

So, after you authentically reflect on your background (and possible hangups) with grammar, look at the standards that your state uses. How do the language standards progress? Where are your students? What tools can help your students understand language as a tool? Think of your ultimate goals with grammar (hint: probably more than just “correcting” mistakes), and see where you can help your students.

The problems?

So we have several ideas: Teachers know grammar is important (and standards say we should teach it), and students don’t always know what they should. Using domain-specific language like “complex sentence” and “phrase” should not be foreign to ELA students, but it often is.

Additionally, not every English teacher has a practical approach to grammar. Teachers might not be comfortable implementing grammar activities that stray from a worksheet, and students dislike repetitive worksheets.

How can we English teachers build a community of grammarians, or at least students who don’t groan when you mention a grammatical term? Sometimes when English teachers consider their approach to grammar lessons, the amount of concerns bog them down before they even start. Don’t let the overwhelm scare you.

I don’t have all the answers, but I spend an abnormal amount of time thinking about grammar instruction and how to improve it for my students. I remember the worksheets from my 1990’s instruction and imagine better ways or at least additional ways. In this series covering grammar instruction, I’m going to write about my ideas, implementations that have worked in my classrooms, and my thoughts on keeping grammar instruction in ELA courses. In this ten-part series, I aim to provide you with practical ideas that will enhance your teaching methods for grammar.

A new approach to grammar lessons.

Right now, you can take baby-steps to improving your grammar lessons. Ask yourself: Where is one connection I can make with language and another aspect of class? Start small. I often start with a graphic organizer or one pager that identifies adjectives in literature. I do this because any book will work!

What if we English teachers looked at grammar instruction differently? So often, different approaches in teaching grammar result in disconnecting grammar from the rest of class. “Ten minute grammar” and other programs exist, but they take grammar away from the rest of class. A practical guide to English grammar should include finding passive voice in speeches, looking at parallel structure in informational texts, and discovering unique word construction in literature. Studying language should be implemented into lessons outside of “grammar” discussions. 

When I teach grammar, I provide direct instruction just as I do when I introduce new concepts to students. Then, we find the grammar concepts in literature and speeches. We use the grammar ideas in our writing. We experiment. I teach grammar like I do other parts of class: I use a variety of approaches and review the concepts.

I teach all components of English together, and then my grammar lessons are not the “dreaded” lessons!

I also utilize Bloom’s Taxonomy to improve my grammar lessons. So often, teachers tell me that grammar is mundane, that it involves an assortment of worksheets and circling words. Grammar activities can advance way beyond those tasks, and they should. Again, if we approach grammar like we approach literary analysis, we will be inching those activities beyond knowledge and comprehension.

If you’d like inspiration, you can download this lesson planning guide for free. Find inspiration by implementing grammar into other parts of class:

Finally, grammar and language are so much more than what is wrong with this paper. Students shouldn’t groan when you cover grammar lessons because they feel that something is immediately wrong with their writing. A red pen does not equal grammar. A huge change in my thought process happened when I stopped talking about grammar as a problem and instead presented it as a tool for communicating and understanding language.

I know this post contains tons of ideas. My hope is that by walking you through my experiences with grammar and encouraging you to reflect, you will then be able to move forward with a practical approach to grammar and ways to meet standards.

One last bit of hope: When students realize that grammar can be a tool for better persuasion and speaking, their buy-in will increase. By looking at grammar as more than a problem, we ELA teachers can frame grammar as an opportunity. Understanding the depths of the English language can and should be an adventure. Understanding grammar should be a strong tool for writing. Making that distinction and approaching grammar lessons with grammar as a tool rather than grammar as a possibility for errors can make the difference in your lessons.

In part two, I look at different approaches for teaching grammar, and what you can do tomorrow to seamlessly include grammar in class tomorrow.

 ELA teachers: you need a practical approach to grammar lessons. Different approaches in teaching grammar exist, but do your language arts students retain grammar terms & grammar concepts? Can English students apply grammar to their writing? A practical guide to English grammar uses sensible grammar activities & engaging grammar lessons to make grammar stick with English language arts classes.

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Grammar sorts a practical grammar activities