Many educators denounce isolated grammar instruction, placing it somewhere on par with corporal punishment. Truth be told, the only grammar I remember was drill and kill of diagramming sentences. Secret: It was isolated. After teaching ELA for a few years, I made the commitment to weaving grammar instruction into the curriculum. Unsure of where to start, I did my research and settled on Jeff Anderson’s Mechanically Inclined. Instead of reading the book cover to cover, I took the “build the plane while flying it” approach.
My first realization: Students’ grammar knowledge was SO beyond bare minimum that it was actually a sense of a relief. If I wasn’t teaching grammar up until this point, my room wasn’t the only four walls depriving students of their right to understand the structure of compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences.
In walks Jeff Anderson. The structure of the book allows teachers to pick and choose skills or move in a progressive manner as instructed by the layout of the resource. I follow his suggestion of “inviting” students to notice the correctness of sentences. Gone are the days of “correct the mistakes” worksheet. My class adopted a routine in a rather organic manner. It goes a little something like this:
On Tuesdays, we do grammar. Not Mondays or Wednesdays, Thursdays or Fridays. I know it’s a bit Type A, but it worked for me in my first year introducing grammar instruction.
Week 1: Students are invited to read the sentence projected on the board and jot down everything that is correct, while also trying to identify or guess the rule of the week. Next, we discuss the rule; students copy the rule and create a memo in their writer’s notebook. I give students about five minutes to create the memo and allow them to “decorate” the text in their notebook, stressing the importance of making it easily noticeable in their notebook.
Week 2 (On Tuesday, of course!): This next step takes place IN class during the first half of the year and OUT of class as homework (between week 1 and week 2) the second half of the year. Students are tasked with searching their independent reading book to find a sample sentence following the rule. Students share their mentor text at their table (or search for one if they are unprepared). Students label the sentence according the rule. Example: Underline and label the independent clause, circle and label the dependent clause.
Week 3: Students generate a sentence of their own exercising the focus rule. They jot down the sentence and again label the sentence parts. They have at least one person check their sentence. Up on the wall they go. The following week we begin a new rule.
Next year I plan to inject an assessment into the mix.
Reasons I like this:
-Students focus on ONE rule for two-three consecutive weeks.
-The instruction is authentic and assists with close reading of text because students are hunting for sentence types (simultaneously, they are evaluating writer’s craft).
-They ask questions. When they find something that breaks a rule or varies from the exact rule, they want to know why.
-I can easily select grammar rules or types of sentences to include in their next writing assignment.
-I use their writing to inform my decisions about future focus skills.
-When asked, students are pretty okay with this approach.