How Do You Teach Grammar In High School?

How Do You Teach Grammar In High School?

When I was in high school, my favorite teacher was Mrs. Campbell. She was my math teacher for 3 years in a row. Let me be clear: I abhorred math. But I loved Mrs. Campbell. 

What's interesting is that she would tell us that her worst subject in high school was math. And yet, she became a math teacher--an amazing math teacher--I think she got teacher of the year every year I was in high school. 

She was not a great student in math, so she understood the struggles that students have with math. 

My story is a little like that when it comes to grammar. I did not have a strong grasp of grammar conventions for most of my life. I was mortified when I got my first college essay back looking like someone had bled all over it--the red circles and slashes a humiliating reminder that I knew far less than the students around me. 

I learned enough grammar to get by in college, but when I was required to actually TEACH grammar....well, to put it briefly, I didn't want to, I didn't know how to, so I generally avoided it. 

But around my 8th or 9th year of teaching I found a method that truly worked. It gave me a way to frame grammar lessons so that I could connect the literature my students and I loved to grammar conventions. 

So, how should you teach grammar? I'm going to lay out 5 concepts, and describe each briefly here. In the coming blog posts, I'll be going into detail on each concept and showing you examples from my own lessons that you can use, if you'd like. 

1.) You should use mentor sentences that showcase grammar concepts. 

Mentor sentences are my jam. They are fun to find, they are fun to use, and they give students a very clear picture of what they are required to do. 

You can use mentor sentences for any grammar concept at all: parts of speech, phrases, clauses, punctuation, style. You name it.

I'll go into detail later about what makes a good mentor sentence and how to find these sentences. 

2.) You should intentionally scaffold your grammar lessons.

Grammar lessons need to be scaffolded, probably more than you realize. Although most students have heard a lot of grammar terms before, they are pretty hazy on what they actually mean, much less how to use the concept in their own writing. 

So you have to break it down. And then break it down some more. And maybe, even a little more. Showing them a sentence with vivid verbs, and then asking them to write their own sentences with vivid verbs is not scaffolding. There are about 3 steps in between that you might have missed. 

3.) You should allow for ample practice.

It can be painful to allow your students to practice. Practice is messy. Practice doesn't always come with a grade attached. Practice means some students may get "off task." 

But intrinsically we all know students have to practice to gain mastery, and that's true for grammar instruction. Writing one sentence with an opening adjective will not do. Three sentences is a start. But what about three sentences with opening adjectives today, and then three sentences with delayed adjectives tomorrow, and then next week a sentence with a vivid verb and an opening adjective. That's practice. 

4.) You should teach in a way that is engaging for you and your students. 

I learned this the hard way. But with all hard lessons, it was a lesson that changed my life. If I could actually enjoy teaching grammar, so could my students. I actually looked forward to the days we'd spend most of the class period on grammar instruction and practice. 


I made it engaging for all of us. I used video clips; I used funny pictures; I came up with bizarre and ridiculous examples. 

The first time I spent two hours creating a grammar lesson on clauses, I thought  to myself "Missy, what are you doing?" But then I used that exact lesson for five years and loved it every time. The lesson worked so well that students would ask if we could do it again the next day. Btw, if you want the lesson, it's here

5.) You should teach a handful of grammar concepts, and add more if they're ready. 

I believe the main reason students are taught grammar from the time they're in first grade but don't ever really learn it, is that they are taught SO MANY grammar concepts. 

Focus on a few key concepts. If you have 9th or 10th graders: parts of speech, phrases and clauses. That is probably enough for the year if you actually spend time on all of those ideas, discuss punctuation, and revisit them. Because in discussing clauses, you'll discuss the run on sentence and coordinating conjunctions. In discussing phrases you'll consider the fragment. 

If you have juniors or seniors, you might still want to teach parts of speech, phrases and clauses, but maybe bring in stylistic elements like the em dash or the ellipses. 

My point is: you don't need 180 days of grammar. 

You need to teach less in a way that sticks. 

Stay tuned for the upcoming blog posts where I take a deep dive into each of these concepts. 


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