Why Teaching Grammar Matters

For most of my teaching career, I struggled with the role of grammar in my instruction. I didn't know where to fit it in or how to teach it. And if I'm being honest, I didn't think it mattered that much. 

To me, these were the things that mattered: my relationships with my students, my students' abilities to think critically about complex issues, and leading my students to love learning, reading, and thinking. 

It wasn't until around my 8th year of teaching that I found a way to teach grammar that really worked. That's when I began to see how valuable it really is, and now, several years later, I have only grown stronger in my conviction that grammar needs to find a place in the secondary ELA classroom. I'd argue, a more prominent place than what typically exists in most high school classrooms. 

So, here's the truth bomb: if your students can't write well, they could be denied access to certain meaningful places. 

You don't have to like that. But it's the truth. 

What am I talking about? Where will they be denied access? Three thoughts immediately come to mind: college, career, and general advancement in society. 

I'll give you a few examples. 

1.) Grammar matters in terms of college. 

On college entrance essays, students are scored not just on their content, but on their craft, which means their command of language, which means their understanding of grammar. 

I'm going to give you another hard pill to swallow: students who don't have access to tutors, need to know their grammar even more. Let me give you a specific example. Recently I tutored a very sweet high school senior. I was tutoring her mainly on her common application essay. She had some strong points in her writing, but she struggled with the ol' run on sentence. It reared its ugly head repeatedly in her writing. But she was fortunate. She had a tutor to help her in the 11th hour with this stuff, so that she could be ready to submit a strong essay. 

But what about a student who doesn't have access to a tutor when he's a senior? A student who must look at his own writing and find the comma splices, run on sentences, fragments, dangling modifiers, and all the other things that could make a college admission officer cringe? This student still has to submit a common app essay if he wants to go to a university. So, where does that leave him? Do you see where I'm going with this? It matters that he has received good, consistent, meaningful grammar instruction in the classroom before he is a senior. 

Once accepted into college it matters even more. Whatever field a student chooses to study, he will be required to write at least a dozen essays, if not far more, and his college professors will not want to slow down and teach him what a clause is and why it must be punctuated in a certain way. 

2.) Grammar matters in nearly every work place. 

A person's ability to write is going to matter to varying degrees depending on the industry she is in. But one thing is common, especially now: emails are ubiquitous. In nearly any profession, a person will write many many emails in a given day. 

If a person can not communicate clearly, her career will not be what it might have been.  

My husband is a director at a fortune 500 company. He gets a lot of emails. And he shudders every time he sees a comma splice. He wonders why this person has a comma splice in an email. "Why wasn't this guy paying attention in 10th grade?" he wonders. "What other details might he not be paying attention to?" Sure, said person has a job at a company, and he is doing ok. But do you see what I mean--this person's boss shudders at his emails. 

Instead imagine if this employee could confidently shoot off an email, anytime, confident that he could construct several sentences in a row with nary a comma splice. He'd be more confident, and his boss would be more confident in him. 

3.) Grammar matters on social media. 

Where are people getting their information these days? Social media. Like it or not, it has captivated most of us in some form to some degree. So whether it's Twitter or Instagram, people are reading other people's ideas, daily, even hourly. I read recently that what keeps people on Instagram now is not the pictures, it's the captions. People are reading captions, and longer captions get more responses. 

I could go down a long windy trail here, but I'm going to sum it up by saying: there is power and influence in a tweet or an Instagram post, and if a person can construct a sentence correctly, he will be more respected, and his ideas will influence more people. 

It might be tempting to make the case that grammar doesn't matter as much now as it used to: we have spell check--we have computers that do all this stuff for us. But they don't! They miss things. 

It might be tempting as an English teacher to say, "NO! I want to focus on my students' ability to think critically and to be advocates for the marginalized in a messed up society." To which I would respond, "YES! Absolutely. You can do both." 

Give them the tools to be strong writers with an excellent command of language, and they will have more access in our society and more power to influence change. 


Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published