Teaching Effective Grammar Skills Has anyone discovered how to teach grammar skills effectively? My students have always performed very well on grammar tests; however, they can not seem to translate their good grammar skills to their writing. When I receive their writing assignments, it is as though no one has ever taught them grammar!?

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My workbook Traditional English Sentence Style tries to answer this question. I think it is a matter of reinforcing the sections a sentence divides into, and how those sections are arranged and put together. Then, I think it is very important to spend a lot of time analyzing sentences written by classic authors with really strong writing styles.

By reinforcing their awareness of sentence segments, we give students the ability to manipulate, and by the way to punctuate, those segments competently.

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I'm glad I saw this post.  In our district, we're not allowed (you read that right--we're not allowed!) to teach grammar.  We have no grammar text, and the only kind of grammar instruction we're premitted to do is incidental--based, for example, on common errors in a round of essays. 

I understand that research shows that isolated grammar instruction doesn't effectively help students become better writers.  However, what should be a simple lesson (something like comma usage) doesn't work if students don't know the terms involved. 

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I've taught Freshman writing for the last 5 years, and we've found that teaching grammar through writing seems to be effective.  They remember their mistakes and how to avoid them because they're seeing what they're doing wrong in their own work...not just a random sentence or multiple choice question.  The key to this, however, is to decide exactly what grammar skills you want to focus on.  Then, create daily grammar exercises...one slide PPTs...that the kids are require to do when they come into the room (have them keep a grammar notebook).  As a class, go through the exercise and have the kids correct their work in a different color than what they used to write originally.  Now...you should focus on one skill for an extended period of time...just approach it in different ways, and through different exercises.  Whatever writing assignment you're working on at this time, make sure the kids understand they'll be held accountable for that specific grammar skill in that writing assignment...work it into the scoring guide.  As the year goes on, the grammar skils students are being held responsible for become comprehensive.  This also helps with your grading of essays, for it allows you to focus on specific skills instead of wearing yourself and your students' papers out marking for everything.  You can mark everything...and comment on everything, but only hold them accountable for what you've covered.

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Teaching Effective Grammar Skills

Has anyone discovered how to teach grammar skills effectively? My students have always performed very well on grammar tests; however, they can not seem to translate their good grammar skills to their writing. When I receive their writing assignments, it is as though no one has ever taught them grammar!?

  One of the many courses I teach is SAT Critical Reading and grammar is a major focus.  I found a wonderful website (www.chompchomp.com) that helps with the commom grammatical mistakes.  You might want to check it out.  It is a bit "cheesy" but it helps.

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I follow closely my students' progress (or lack of it) through their personal compositions.  I keep a memory check of repeated mistakes, and each student has his or her profile. When I mark an error with an arrow from the words 'FIX THIS!' in capital letters, they know this means that this is their personal mistake I have seen time and again, as rebellious as crabgrass, and that I don't want to ever see it again. This usually helps them to make the resolve to "fix it" indeed. I suppose it's the idea of personal accountability that either scares or motivates them to clear it out of their writing.

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Teaching Effective Grammar Skills

Has anyone discovered how to teach grammar skills effectively? My students have always performed very well on grammar tests; however, they can not seem to translate their good grammar skills to their writing. When I receive their writing assignments, it is as though no one has ever taught them grammar!?

I believe they need practice, practice, practice until they have mastered a particular skill. One technique that I have used in the past is music. Several times a trimester I have the student write a song, or poem, or rap about a particular process or topic. It just needs to be grammatically and factually correct. Unfortunately we are experiencing some unique problems these days... they are texting and 'IM'ing!! At least once a week I get an assignment with abbreviated words just like if they were texting a friend...they just have to redo the assignment. Try doing the music lesson, the kids love doing it and they are always engaged!!

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Teaching Effective Grammar Skills

Has anyone discovered how to teach grammar skills effectively? My students have always performed very well on grammar tests; however, they can not seem to translate their good grammar skills to their writing. When I receive their writing assignments, it is as though no one has ever taught them grammar!?

The best way for students to learn grammar is by doing massive amounts of reading. Stephen Krashen and others have provided ample research indicating that direct grammar instruction, while it may produce better results on grammar tests, does not have a track record of success in improving reading comprehension. Grammar is in and of itself a fascinating and worthy subject of study, but teaching it in a direct fashion is a laborious and ineffective method for improving reading. The work of Vygotsky and others indicates that learning takes place when new material is married to background knowledge. This learning takes place in a "zone of proximal development" or ZPD. Krashen and many others have also indicated that learning is accelerated when there is low affective filter. Direct grammar instruction does not meet this standard. As an English teacher, I find that modeling, sentence imitation, and massive amounts of reading will result in better grammar.

 

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We use what are called "Focus Correction Areas". For example, have students write in response to a prompt (can be formal or informal). Then choose 3 and only 3 areas to focus on--one or two can be grammar. For example, perhaps your FCA's for an assignment might be comma usage, subject/verb agreement and strong topic sentences. Have the students then GO BACK TO THEIR OWN WRITING and work on just those things; grade them on just those things as well.

They need to learn grammar in the context of their own writing--ALSO GIVE THEM LOTS OF AMAZING EXAMPLES!!

Also, pick out sentences with beautiful grammar, structure and punctuation and have them do a mimic.

For example: The dog, wet and smelly, rolled on my carpet; however, I loved him, so I forgave him.

Now THEY write one using the exact format:

For example My sister, obnoxious and annoying, barged into my room; however, she was bringing me cookies, so I wasn't mad for long.

 

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Sorry, I responded quickly without proofreading. Excuse my own grammar errors. Oops!

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Having read most of these posts, I also agree that grammar MUST be incorporated into writing, but reading should also play a role. i am a secondary teacher and this is what I recommend:

Integrate and embed!

 

For example, for a unit on descriptive writing, you can focus on how concrete nouns and adjectives play a role in description. First, have them write a descriptive sentence and then ask them to identify words that describe. When they see that they haven't included sesnory language, teach an isolated lesson on nouns and adjectives, how they acts. Then, have them revise their sentence using concrete and proper nouns, and adjectives. Then, a reading exercise where they indentify descriptive langauge, then back to their own writing and then a lesson on verbs,etc...Teach each part of speech and how it acts and why it's important. For example, conjunctions could be next for sentence combining and sentence variety. Then have them read two texts to compare sentence length, then go back to descriptive writing and combine sentences, etc. Hope that wasn't too lengthy.

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Don and Jenny Killgallon's Sentence Composing workbooks are also great resources.  Students are asked to model particularly effective sentences from texts that are commonly taught in English class (To Kill a Mockingbird, Of Mice and Men, "Shooting an Elephant").  There are different versions of the text for different grade levels (middle school and high school). I think grammar instruction is important because it gives us a (teachers and students) a common language to talk about writing, and the structure of this book allows students to imitate models of effective writing without getting overwhelmed by intricate rules.  The modeling strategy works well because it is structured, but at the same time allows for creativity.  When students practice writing sentences it is easier for them to transfer their new skills to writing paragraphs and essays.

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My favorite way of teaching grammar is using Ann Longknife and K.D. Sullivan's The Art of Styling Sentences.  This short handbook explores 20 basic sentences patterns.  Each pattern includes generic examples as well as examples taken from professional writing. The sentences are clearly impactful, and students love to imitate them.  After teaching these sentence patterns, I find students imitating them in their writing, using semicolons, colons, parallel structures, elliptical constructions, etc.  These lessons work nicely as weekly mini-lessons.

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I do enjoy the posts relating to grammar that contain atrocious grammar. There is a spell check option right here!

As an educator, I must agree with teaching the skill of writing as opposed to teaching grammar. I did learn some GUM in school, but as a life-long reader and writer, identification and correction of mistakes is much more intutitive than a process.

I do not circle errors on papers or make corrections. The students warn an overall GUM score on a writing assignment, and must find their own errors to increase the score. I encourage them to have a proofreader that is NOT Microsoft Word, but a living being.

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My high school students seem to love Mad Libs-they're easy to copy, eat up some time, and the kids get a kick out of them.  It's also fun to have them make their own and share them with each other.

Another idea is to have each student write a short sentence, no more than 3 or 4 words.  They will then pass the sentence to another person, who will then rewrite it and add, say, one adjective and one adverb.  Then, once again, pass it on and another will add a prepositional phrase and a subordinate clause, for example.  Pretty soon people can add sentences, paragraphs, etc., and the people love to get their "stories" back at the end.

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Thank-you for all of your ideas! You have all been very helpful in guiding me to become a better teacher; thus, you have aided many students in the area of grammar and writing.

Sincerely,

Lina

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Another way I reinforce grammar, and the parts of speech in particular, is through kinesthetic activities. This idea works especially well at the end of the year, when none of the kids wants to do work anyway. As one example, I'll use "preposition ball." My school has a sand volleyball court, and as the weather warms up and the kids want to be outside anyhow, I will arrange one day out of the week to take an "on-campus field experience" to the volleyball pit. There, the students are expected to name a preposition before hitting the ball back over the net to the opposing side. We start with the ball's action: over, under, around, through, etc., and then move into more complex prepositions. The activity results in reinforcement of basic skills, and the kids love it. Another method I use is "subject-predicate catch," but that's a whole other activity for a whole other post.

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Well, in my state, if I want to keep my job I have to teach grammar because I will be evaluated according to how well my students do on the end of course exam. I'm SO fortunate to live and work in Tennessee, which was one of only two states awarded Race to the Top funds. There's no such thing as tenure anymore in Tennessee. Any teacher can be fired any time test scores fail to make gains. And we're all going to be evaluated every year. Oh, I just love our new president---NOT!

We're all required to teach grammar--as we should be. The question becomes how to best teach grammar to help our students. When we focus our attention there, everything else falls into place.

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Well, in my state, if I want to keep my job I have to teach grammar because I will be evaluated according to how well my students do on the end of course exam. I'm SO fortunate to live and work in Tennessee, which was one of only two states awarded Race to the Top funds. There's no such thing as tenure anymore in Tennessee. Any teacher can be fired any time test scores fail to make gains. And we're all going to be evaluated every year. Oh, I just love our new president---NOT!

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I don't teach tradition grammar, never have.

Instead, I teach prose style analysis.  We compare paragraph passages in terms of POV, sentence type and structure, word choice, pronoun usage, and type of rhetorical appeal.

We use Aristotle and Walker Gibson exclusively.  No grammar book or DOL workbook.  We compare/contrast, count words, and try to emulate certain prototypical authors.

It's an AP Language-based lesson that works well at any grade-level.  It's more focused and certainly less prescriptive than traditional grammar.  I encourage everyone to give it a try.

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The only worksheets that I have found to be somewhat effective in making the transference to student writing have been ones that accompanied a literature text.  These were called "Grammar in Action," and they employed passages from the text which was under study.  For instance, if the students had read T.H. White's "Arthur Becomes King of Britain," sentences were extracted from this text for study of subordinate clauses.

A graduate school professor told his English majors, "Do not teach grammar.  Teach writing."  This method of teaching a type of "grammar in action" is effective many times.  While Nancy Atwell's book, In the Middle was originally designed for middle school writers, there is much that works for high school students, as well.  You may wish to check out the reviews on this wonderful instructional book.

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Grammar is often a matter of transference. Students may seem to have "mastered" it in a drill-and-kill worksheet, but may not be able to apply it to their own writing. Too often, grammar instruction is too polarized--it either happens solely through sentence diagramming and drill-and-kill worksheets or it doesn't happen at all. I completely agree that the ultimate goal must be for students to apply these grammatical rules and concepts in their own writing.

Certainly, we need to be teaching students grammatical rules and concepts, but that should be done one rule at a time and when the need arises (in other words, when evidenced in student writing). I've found these rules and concepts best taught in short, mini-lessons. We then look back through literature that we have read, looking for examples of those rules and concepts in practice. Finally, we return to our writing portfolios looking for places in our own writing where we might revise and apply the rule or concept. It isn't a perfect protocol, but it seems to work and students seem to retain both the rule and the ability to apply the rule. 

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I really love diagramming sentences.  I realize this is considered stuffy and old fashioned, but I have an entire wall in my classroom which is magnetic.  We use magnetic words, and first write sentences.  I give them the patterns sometimes, and they come up with them at others (S-V; S-V-DO; etc).  Then, they switch groups and work on breaking the sentence apart into the diagram itself.  It is our Friday Fun, and it gets them out of their seats, gets them working with a hands-on activity, and gets them thinking about grammar. 

You could have them do this at their seats with newspapers and magazines.  Find a sentence, cut it out, and then break it apart to diagram on their desktops or tables.

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As most of the previous contributors have mentioned, "practice makes perfect" when it comes to learning grammar through writing.  The same concept applies with learning vocabulary -- learning the words alone is good for rote memorization, but learning vocabulary in context, either through reading or writing -- allows the students to actually LEARN the material.

 

     As anthonda49 mentioned, peer reviews are excellent ways for students to learn how to actually use grammar and to apply grammatical concepts to writing.  On your teacher-created peer review sheets, perhaps ask students to look for certain phrases or clauses, to count the number of helping verbs, etcetera.  Some teachers even choose to focus on one or two grammatical concepts at a time when creating rubrics for grading writing assignments.  When students receive consistent feedback -- from teachers and from their peers -- they usually respond positively.

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I've noticed the same thing with my former students. I would teach a grammar lesson, we'd practice it, quiz on it, and it looked like the students knew the topic well. Then, in their writing they promptly forgot about what they learned. In teaching the writing process, I use peer groups to conference and proofread. Usually I arrange the group  heterogeneously. There is frequently a student response sheet on which the peer points out any grammar errors that have been the focus in class. Of a group of four, at least one (or more) of the students can catch the majority of the errors and is a good enough student that their own writing is fairly correct.  I've even had some of my less talented English students catch their peers in a mistake. All this is done in the manner of cooperatively assisting each other to write their best.

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I agree with all earlier posts that state that the only way to learn to use grammar skills are to actually use them in writing.  Activities such as imitative writing (using mentor texts) and revision ask students to focus on grammar and rhetoric while writing.

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I like to teach sentence variety by giving them sample sentences that have a grammatical structure to them, and then asking them to copy the style:

For example: Participle Phrase

Paralyzed by fear, Johnny sat waiting for the teacher to catch him in his crime.

Then we discuss defining characteristics, and create some.

Laughing at her mistake, Subject... verb... and finish it.

Snapping a finger, Subject... verb... and finish it.

Then, move the participle phrases to another spot in a sentence. So, my purpose is sentence variety, but I am also teaching a grammatical concept using the term, defining the characteristics, and demonstrating how it functions as an adjective in a variety of ways.

 

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I agree with both posters. I think the way to teach grammar is to USE IT. A lot. I really like writing workshops where kids write, write, write, and then listen to mini-lessons that focus daily on little things they can do to improve their writing, grammar included. The other way, of course, is to read a lot. I do wonder what effect all the "shortcuts" in texting, etc. have on grammar. How can we expect students to write properly when the majority of their writing is through texting and as far from "proper" as you can get?

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I agree with the previous post. Something that I always try to do is to get them to write about something that is relevant to them personally. If they have a personal interest in a topic then they are willing to write about it so they may share it with others. By doing this they are practicing their writing skills without even knowing it.

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I think in order for students to be able to transfer the learning from drill and practice to their writing they must be given lots of opportunities to write. I would also say that it is very important to teach students to use the writing process, make them use a rough draft and revise the draft as often as they need to before taking a final grade on the project.

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