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8 Tips for Teaching Grammar without a Worksheet

8 Tips for Teaching Grammar without a Worksheet

Bernadette Simpson |

1. Grammar instruction is most naturally integrated during the revising, editing, and proofreading phases of the writing process. During writing conferences, use various strategies to teach the concept(s) or skill(s) that would enhance the piece that the student is working on right then. Don’t overwhelm them with too many errors; focus on the most the corrections that will do the most to improve their work. Mini lessons with small groups or individual students are effective in integrating grammar into writing instruction.

2. Terminology is useful for describing and explaining sentences, not for writing and reading them. Don’t stress yourself – or the students – by worrying whether they can label a word an “adjective” or an “adverb”. Concern yourself with making sure they can use them successfully in their writing. The terminology will follow, especially if you model and discuss sample sentences of various structures and styles.

3. Guide students through activities in sentence combining, sentence expanding, and sentence manipulating. Research shows these activities are more effective than freewriting in enhancing student writing. These activities can be completed as a class – orally or in writing – and during minilessons or conferences. Use samples from student work (but get permission first) or from books they are reading.

Model Sentence, from Skinnybones:

I jumped out of bed and ran over to the goldfish bowl.

Expanded Sentence:

I quickly jumped out of bed and clumsily ran over to the overflowing goldfish bowl.

This could be a time to integrate the terminology into your discussion. We added the word ‘overflowing’. Why? What does this word do? That’s right. It’s tells us more about the goldfish bowl. It gives us a better description. Adding adjectives, or describing words, is a one way to expand our sentences and make them more interesting. What other adjectives could we have used? What words can we use to help readers get a good picture in their heads. Etc. etc.

4. Give plenty of opportunities for students to write for real audiences and real purposes. Create a postal system within your classroom, grade level, or department. Allow time for students to write letters to each other and have them delivered. Write emails to international pen pals, books reviews for, entries for a class blog, letters to local companies, stories for younger readers, etc. Don’t let yourself, as the teacher, be the only audience your students have for their writing.

5. Read aloud to students and provide time for them to read. Give them access to a variety of literature – stories, newspapers, poems, textbooks, plays, informational text, jokes, comic strips. Try to choose some selections that are more advanced than the students would read by themselves. Research has shown that extensive reading helps students, especially English language learners, acquire grammatical structure.

6. Lead exercises in sentence imitation using model sentences from authentic literature. Let students explore and play with language, considering various ways of expressing an idea.

Model Sentence, from Esperanza Rising:

When she realized she was crying, Esperanza wiped her eyes with a shawl.

Possible Imitation Sentences:

When she realized it was raining, she covered her head with her book.

When he realized it was snowing, he ran to find his sled.

Again, this is a great time to use that tricky terminology in your discussion.

7. Let students become sentence collectors. As they read authentic texts at home and school, encourage them to collect sentences interesting to them in meaning, function, or structure. Display these throughout the classroom for reflection and discussion. Why did they like the sentence? What about the sentence made it interesting? How is it different from other sentences? Why did the author use this sentence? What different parts make up the whole sentence?

8. Study language, as a whole. By studying about how language works – how words enter our language, how they change, why people speak differently, when people speak differently, how meaning can change over time, how nonverbal communication works, etc. – students learn more about how people think and how we communicate, helping them be more conscious of their own language decisions and hopefully making them as passionate about language as their teachers are!

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