Rethinking Grammar Instruction

Author: Joanna Merrithey - May 5, 2021

Grammar studies at all grade levels can lead to better writers and communicators in formal and informal settings.

 It’s not uncommon anymore to come across some questionable or incorrect grammar on a social media post or in a text. Either people are too busy to be bothered with grammar or just don’t know how to apply grammar correctly in their writing. 

Effective writing is essential, whether for your career or for everyday communication, and with that undoubtedly comes correct grammar and usage. It’s not that people don’t know grammar. Grammar is taught in schools but often in a very traditional sense that relies on memorization and a synthetic approach—teaching the parts of speech, modeling how to use them to build sentences, and their application. 

The challenge lies in making these grammatical skills come naturally when writing formally or just for fun. The solution may be in the way we approach teaching grammar in schools.

Recently, CSA Education worked on a new grammar program that emphasized the study of grammar. The approach was analytical—observing, questioning, and exploring how sentences are built. When students are shown how to analyze grammar and develop an understanding of how grammar works, they can use it to express precise meaning in their own writing. When students see how authors use grammar for specific purposes, they can apply grammar to their own texts. 

Research has shown that students learn to apply grammar in their own writing when grammar is taught in the following ways.

Explore and Observe

Students explore and ask questions about sentences in authentic mentor texts. They analyze how sentences are built by observing such things as what the sentences say, the word order, the way the sentences relate to each other, and what the punctuation tells readers. This way, students can begin to synthesize how authors use grammar to make meaning. 

Rather than telling students to use more vivid adjectives, show them examples from mentor texts. Point to the adjectives used in a text and ask students to share what they notice about the words. Have them tell why they think the author chose a certain adjective over another one. Discuss how a sentence has a different meaning when the adjective is changed or taken out. 

This kind of analytical thinking can lead to “aha!” moments of students making their own connections that will lead to better retention of grammatical skills.

Experiment with Language Choices

Encourage students to play around and experiment with their writing. They can reorder parts of a sentence or try passive voice to see what happens to a sentence and the meaning it projects. Remind students that things can be undone, but it’s good to try and see if certain choices lead to surprising outcomes in their writing. It is inevitable that students will get stuck. This is a great opportunity to discuss what students are trying to accomplish with their writing and lead them to think of different grammatical approaches. 

Apply

Provide students with many opportunities to apply what they’ve learned in their own work. It can be in writer’s notebooks or shared writing or final published pieces. Other creative places to try and apply grammatical concepts could pop up naturally as well.

The great thing about studies in grammar is that they can happen at any grade, including at the college level. The skills get more complex, and the texts get richer with more variety of examples. Through studies, students can build the skills needed to communicate more effectively and produce clear and compelling sentences and documents in casual settings and onto to their workplace.

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