In each school I’ve taught in, I developed the reputation of Grammar Nerd. This is probably because loving grammar is quite rare, even among English teachers and writers. So it’s no surprise that our school admin asked me to join a grammar committee, whose mission was to more effectively incorporate grammar learning into our school’s curriculums.
After surveying our ELA teachers, it became apparent that our work needed to start with teacher support, not just moving grammar standards into our units.
We discovered that most teachers were having trouble teaching grammar, and three types stood out the most. See if any part of these descriptions resonates with you.
Grammar Nerd, Grammar Grump, and Grammar Shy!
- The Grammar Nerds. Loving grammar is a great start, but loving the content doesn’t always translate to student engagement and learning. Many teachers were struggling to get students to buy into the idea that parts of speech, phrases, clauses, and sentence types can be fun.
- The Grammar Grumps. These were teachers who hated the subject of grammar, and their boredom with the topic infected their students, too. They didn’t want to feel this way, but to these teachers, grammar was just a chore to slog through. And who likes doing chores?
- The Grammar Shy: We found that many teachers were shying away from teaching grammar outside of worksheets because they lacked confidence in their own understanding of grammatical concepts. They didn’t want to put themselves in a situation where their lack of knowledge might show, and so they either avoided teaching it, or they stuck to the safety of worksheets and quizzes.
Okay, so it’s clear that most of us have experienced a grammar-teaching struggle in one form or another.
So what can you do?
After all, not all students are going to absorb grammar knowledge and writing skills simply by reading good literature (though this is a very important component). Most need some additional instruction and engagement, so they understand the concepts, and they remember them.
And of course, you have to be engaged, too! If you’re not enjoying the lesson, your students won’t, either.
Read below for some practical steps, including some fun ideas for activities!
4 Tips for Helping Students Practice Grammar Concepts
1. Review and Teach the Concepts with Brief, Direct Instruction
First, give yourself a little review if you are covering a topic that you aren’t 100% confident in. At EB Academics, we often include a student handout for mini lessons to review before activities. If you are teaching with one of these, read it over yourself before the lesson. Ask yourself what questions students may ask, and look up the answers beforehand. If activities come with an answer key, review these answers and make sure they make sense to you.
If you are not using a pre-made resource, then create your own student guide with quick info on the concepts that students will be using in their activity. The guide will not only be helpful to your students; the act of creating it will also give you a chance to review the concepts yourself.
Finally, give a mini lesson using your guide. Keep it brief — you don’t want to overwhelm students or lose their interest before the fun begins! Remind students that this small lesson will help them crush the next activity!
2. Play a Game
Who doesn’t love games? We certainly don’t know anyone who doesn’t! Games are a great way to get students so engaged with the content that they actually remember it.
At this point you might be thinking, “But don’t games take a long time to make and set up?” Well, yes and no. When it comes to creating games, we recommend taking a game that you love yourself, and adding a grammar spin to it.
Card games, board games, carnival games, bingo . . . anything’s possible!
You can also find games that are already made, like our recently released Groovy Grammar: Sentence Types Edition game. In this game, students spin a spinner, which shows them a sentence type (simple, compound, complex, or compound-complex). They then use their recently acquired sentence knowledge to move their piece to a space that uses that type of sentence. The first player to reach the end wins!
We’re not going to lie to you. You will need to spend some time setting things up. You’ll need to cut, laminate, and sort the materials.
However, remember you only need to do this once; if you store everything carefully, you can just take the game out the next time you want to use it! Plus, classroom management will likely be a breeze on game days because students will be so invested in the activity. So putting in the work is truly worth it — believe us.
3. Wrap Up Learning with a Simple Assessment
Games are an effective, fun tool for learning. However, although you gain some information on student learning while walking around and observing students at play, group games aren’t going to tell you everything you need to know about how well students understand a concept.
We highly recommend a brief, simple assessment after a game. For example, we often use “Show What You Know” tickets, which have a few questions that students can quickly respond to at the end of class. They work like exit or entrance tickets and do a nice job of giving you some data on student learning.
If you use a game like Groovy Grammar: Sentence Types then this will be included for you, but you can also make your own.
4. Spiral Students’ Learning
Okay. You’ve given the mini lesson, played a game or two, and assessed students’ learning with a brief assessment.
You’re done, right? Well, no . . . after all, why are we teaching these grammar concepts? To help students understand writing and to write well themselves!
Spiral their learning by coming back to these grammar concepts in later units.
An easy way to do this is by incorporating their grammar knowledge into their writing lessons. For example, if you are teaching sentence types, in an upcoming writing project you could require that students use a variety of sentence types in a story or essay. Or you could do a sentence analysis of a text you are reading in your next unit, asking students to identify the sentence types on a page and explain their effects on the writing. Or, of course, you could do another activity!
We hope you are able to take the time to use new grammar games and activities in your classroom. The extra fun and engagement will benefit you as much as your students!