In college I had to take, for my major, a class on linguistics, in which all we did for an hour and thirty minutes, twice a week, was diagram sentences. The teacher, in her dry and quiet monotone voice, helped us to understand the correct part of speech for every word, in every sentence she had written on the chalkboard. Yes, that’s correct, I was in a class with a chalk board. On top of being the most boring class I was forced to take in college, it also came with the sound of chalk screeching across a board. It was a horrible, perfect storm of sorts that made me hate grammar. While I never really liked learning about grammar in middle school, this college course firmly solidified my stance on the subject. Grammar is useless and boring. There are very few jobs on Earth that require a knowledge of grammar and parts of speech, and so, I thought, why do I need to know this stuff? College definitely turned me off to grammar.
What I didn’t realize at the time, though, is that it wasn’t that grammar is an unnecessary topic to know, it’s that my teachers never found a relevant and engaging way to teach the subject to me and my classmates. Grammar is, let’s be honest here, a somewhat boring topic. Who really wants to define the major parts of speech and identify them in sentences? No one, ever. So, when teaching grammar, educators need to employ fun tactics to make the material interesting and novel, which my teachers were never able to do. Teaching grammar at face value is like trying to sell a boat to villagers living in the middle of a desert, pointless.
Over the years, I have come to appreciate and love grammar. Without grammar, we wouldn’t have exciting sentences filled with loving and beautiful words. Without grammar, no one could curse. Living in a world without proper grammar would be like only communicating with people via texting. Have you ever texted a teenager? Not only is their spelling atrocious, but they use abbreviations and shorthand for everything. There is no possible way that everything I say makes my son laugh out loud, yet he starts almost every text to me that way. Texting language makes me crazy. Why can’t you take the time to write out the words? With autofill and autocorrect, it doesn’t even take that long to type out complete words and sentences. I would never want to live in a world where the only form of communication is texting. I just can’t take emojis anymore. What’s the difference between a smiley face and a bigger smiley face? Don’t they both mean happy? Why can’t people just type happy? I feel as though as a society we are reverting back to our cave-drawing ancestors. I say, let’s bring back proper grammar.
I’m off my soap box now, don’t worry. Sorry, I can get a little carried away by things, and texting is one of those things that set me off. Anyway, where was I again? Oh yeah, grammar. It’s super important for students to understand the parts of speech and how to properly utilize them in their writing so that they don’t turn into texting zombie-cave-people. The problem is, the methods with which teachers instruct or cover grammar. Students need to be interested in the material, and so presentation is everything.
After doing some research this past summer on the importance of teaching grammar to students in a fun and engaging way, I wanted to make sure that I provide my students with a strong foundation of grammar knowledge so that when they get into the eighth grade and spend much time completing numerous grammar worksheets, they will feel prepared and ready for the challenges in front of them. Prior to Thanksgiving Break, our grammar study began with a short, five minute, review of nouns, verbs, and adjectives. We then spent seven minutes, once a week, playing a fun and engaging Word Slap game, in which two students stood in front of a whiteboard with the three major parts of speech listed, holding fly swatters, and slapped the appropriate part of speech for the word shouted out by one of their peers. We played this game thrice times in class over three weeks. Following the turkey day break, I had the students complete a check-in assessment regarding the three major parts of speech reviewed prior to break and three new grammar terms that some of the students may have learned previously at their former schools. I wanted to be sure that I was structuring my instruction in a meaningful and relevant way based on what my students know. While some students had been exposed to the new terms, no student had a firm grasp of adverb, preposition, or conjunction.
Following last week’s ungraded pre-test, I completed the first of three mini-lessons on the three new parts of speech. Last week we started with adverbs. I introduced these new vocabulary terms as members of the grammar gang that I had met over Thanksgiving Break. I told a short story about my interactions with Mr. Adverb and how he talked slowly and moved carefully. I then asked student volunteers to define the term adverb. They provided a basic definition, which I then built upon to be sure the boys understood what this part of speech was really all about. I then had the students, working with their table partner, create a story using only five complete sentences and five adverbs. They had to underline the five adverbs. I then had students share their stories and adverbs with the class. I had the boys help their peers fix any adverbs problems. This short but effective mini-lesson seemed to work because today when I reviewed adverbs, every student was able to explain what an adverb is and provide examples. I was very impressed.
Following this review of adverbs, I then introduced the next member of our grammar gang, Ms. Preposition. She is a superhero who loves to fly high around things. I then I asked a volunteer to define the term preposition. One student provided a brief explanation of the term that I elaborated on so that the boys could all make sense of this often confused part of speech. I then asked the students, “What can Ms. Preposition do to the clouds as she flies high in the sky saving the world?” I called on students to provide preposition examples. The boys did a fine job providing creative and specific examples. Once I felt as though every student had a firm comprehension of the newest member of our grammar gang, I had the students begin the short partner task, in which they had to make a list of every adverb they could think of using a chair as the noun. They worked with their partner to generate a list of adverbs. One student wrote the list while the other student practiced doing things to the chair such as going over it, under it, below it, and etc. It was very entertaining watching them move around the chair and discuss different prepositions. One student said, “Mr. Holt, my partner says you can go through a chair. Tell him that’s wrong.” I asked the partner to explain why he said that it was possible to go through the chair. He was unable to support his original claim with a demonstration. Then I asked him if it was possible to put his arm through the top hole in the chair, and sure enough it was. His partner seemed very surprised when he realized that it was possible to put one’s hand through the chair. The boys seemed to have a lot of fun with this short activity. I gave them three minutes to work. The group that had the longest, correct list of adverbs received a special treat. This activity seemed to really make learning prepositions fun and meaningful for the boys.
Thanks to this unique method of teaching grammar, not only do my students now think of the parts of speech as superheroes, but they also realize how much fun learning about the somewhat boring and complex subject of grammar can be. Grammar shouldn’t be taught over a long period of time or through the use of mundane worksheets. Grammar should be taught through fun, hands on activities that get the students working together and moving. I don’t want my students to dislike grammar the way I did in college and school. Grammar should be fun for our students, and it’s our job as educators to make it that way.