The 3 Most Important Things for Teaching Grammar

The 3 Most Important Things for Teaching Grammar

It’s such a struggle to try to fit in all of the standards that we need to teach. When you add standards from years before to review, it seems nearly impossible to cover it all. Have you ever been teaching parts of speech…in March…to your 7th graders? Or maybe you’re over there in 8th grade still trying to get them to put a capital letter at the beginning of a sentence and a period at the end. What about common nouns? Your students have no idea. Pronouns…what’s that? The sad part is, you’ve been working on these concepts with them daily, all year, during your bell work. It’s gotten you nowhere. Today, we’re going to share the 3 most important things you need for teaching grammar.

Do You Really Hate Grammar?

It’s not that you hate grammar itself. It’s the fact that you have to teach it to a group of hormone-fueled, fidgety, and easily distracted pre-teens. But, what makes grammar instruction such a pain? First of all, there’s the terminology. Adverb. Preposition. Gerund. Verbal.  To a middle schooler, these might as well be words from an alien language. And what about the differences between “affect” and “effect” or “who” and “whom.”

Then there are the rules. The development of the English language was heavily influenced by other languages. This is a beautiful thing, but it’s also why English grammar is full of seemingly arbitrary rules that make little sense to students. When do we use “that” vs. “which”? “Who” vs. whom”? “Less” vs. “fewer”? And don’t get us started on all the irregular words.

You don't have to hate teaching grammar.

But the biggest challenge of teaching grammar in middle school is getting the students to care. Face it– most 12-14-year-olds would rather be playing Fortnite or scrolling through TikTok than learning about the nuances of subject-verb agreement.

Let’s not forget about the grading. You know all too well the struggle of having to read through dozens of essays written by middle schoolers who haven’t yet mastered the art of correct grammar, let alone proper punctuation or capitalization. It’s enough to make any teacher want to bang their head against a wall.

The 3 Pillars of Grammar Framework

In our 25+ years combined experience of teaching ELA in the classroom and our years working with thousands of middle school teachers, we’ve had some major breakthroughs in grammar instruction because we implemented 3 pillars that we eventually combined into the EB Grammar Framework that our EB Grammar Program is based off of.

When you focus on these 3 pillars, it will ensure your grammar instruction is effective and the concepts actually stick with students beyond an end- of-unit test! 

Learn these 3 pillars of teaching grammar!

You see, it’s when you combine all 3 pillars that students become confident, skilled writers and communicators who naturally apply grammar rules into their writing. Plus grammar actually becomes fun and not just an extra task you have to squeeze into your already packed 52-minute class period. 

When these 3 pillars are used together, students will start naturally and consistently forming complete sentences and remembering their comma before a coordinating conjunction in a compound sentence. Sounds awesome, right? 

The 3 Pillars of the EB Grammar Framework

  • -Direct Instruction
  • -FUN Hands-On Practice
  • -Application to Writing

The key to getting students to learn and apply the rules of grammar (and accompanying rules of punctuation) is to combine these three pillars! It’s like a unicorn, a leprechaun, and a dragon teaming up to form an epic grammar squad.Let’s face it. Focusing solely on one pillar isn’t going to cut it. Only standing in front of your class and lecturing on grammar rules can be dry and boring, and students may not see the point of learning them! While direct instruction is important for understanding the rules of grammar, grammar learning must also address multiple areas, such as listening, speaking, reading, and writing. 

#1 Direct Instruction

Direct instruction of grammar, on its own, may not provide enough opportunities for students to practice with this knowledge. Students may have difficulty applying grammar rules in context or may struggle to understand the nuances of language usage. Frankly, direct instruction of grammar is not enough to help students develop a deeper understanding of how grammar works in practice.

Here are some important tips for teaching grammar.

#2 Hands on Practice

Enter, grammar games! These activities add some much needed spice to your lessons. They’re fun, engaging, and guaranteed to get your students hooked on a topic that’s otherwise more boring than watching grass grow. For example, learning about verbals is a lot more fun when you’re playing a fast-paced game of Knockout against your classmates instead of just filling in the blanks on another grammar worksheet!  But, hold up a minute! Playing games all day, every day isn’t gonna cut it either. Students need more than just a fun activity to really grasp those grammar concepts.While games can help students practice using grammar in context, they still need some good ol’ fashioned direct instruction like we mentioned earlier. I mean, come on, we can’t expect them to apply grammar rules like pros without first teaching them the basics.

And let’s not forget about our beginners out there. Grammar games might be a little too intense for them at first. They need a little extra hand-holding to get them up to speed. Are you starting to see how direct instruction and grammar games must work together to help students best learn grammar? But then what about actually applying these concepts in their writing?

#3 Application in Writing

Now, if you’re thinking about just throwing some grammar lessons into the mix while your students are working on a big essay, be warned. For beginning writers, that’s like trying to juggle flaming bowling pins while riding a unicycle. It’s simply not realistic to have students write a rough draft of an essay on Wednesday, receive a grammar lesson on types of sentences on Thursday,  and then expect students to apply it to their final essay by Friday.

Grammar should always be applied to writing.

How are students supposed to make sure that they are correctly using commas in a compound-complex sentence if they are still struggling to find relevant evidence from the text and add strong justification? It’s just too much for their brains to handle. Instead, it’s the combination of the three pillars, the direct instruction, then the games, and finally the specific application to their writing that will ensure your grammar instruction is effective and the concepts actually stick with students! The application must follow the direct instruction and the games, which are often played multiple times so that students can more easily weave a particular grammar concept into their writing!

When you combine all three pillars–the direct instruction, the engaging games, and the application to writing…that’s when you’re going to start experiencing breakthroughs in your grammar instruction. Students actually getting the concepts beyond just an isolated lesson, you actually feeling confident and excited to teach grammar, a consistent and reliable framework and not a piece-mealed curriculum of of lessons from teachers pay teachers, a grammar book you bought on Amazon, and some old handouts from the back of your file cabinet. But, what do these three pillars actually look like in action? Next week’s blog post will break down each pillar in detail, so you can see what this would look like in your own classroom, so you and your students can start experiencing grammar breakthroughs as well.

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Then, pick the date you’re going to teach it in your classroom, and sit back while you watch as your students show up to your classroom pumped about what the day holds…and gush about your class to their parents on the car ride home!

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