I struggled with teaching grammar for many a weary year before discovering a way that made sense to me. I tried everything from "fix the error" bell-ringers to borrowed lessons from the teacher next door crammed in right before state exams. None of these methods clicked for me or my students. Every time I attempted a grammar lesson, I felt a bit like this:
Ok, maybe that's an exaggeration. And that anger wasn't because of my students or directed toward my students. But it was a frustration that I felt sometimes as a teacher. It stemmed from being required to teach something that I felt like I had never truly been taught myself. Even once I grasped the grammar concepts I needed to teach, I still didn't know HOW to teach them. So, at best, maybe I felt like this:
Then, one summer at a conference, a speaker introduced me to the concept of the mentor sentence. By showcasing a well-crafted sentence from a published work, you could showcase grammar concepts. This was the first time I saw how grammar, writing, and literature could be connected in a beautiful, purposeful way.
I looked at how others were using mentor sentences, but again, none of those specific strategies resonated with me and what I was experiencing in the classroom. I felt like the strategies I found were overcomplicated or too rigid (do this on Monday, do this on Tuesday, etc.). So, I created my own style of using the mentor sentence to teach grammar concepts, and lo and behold, it worked. It worked for me, and it worked for my students.
I ditched grammar worksheets forever.
I gave up the compulsion to cover dozens of grammar rules.
I started teaching what grammar is through looking at amazing literature. And it became fun for me. It made sense to my students. And, over time, I watched them become better writers.
My philosophy is made up of three main parts: modeling, scaffolding, and lots of practice, but in addition to these three components I bring in warm-up games, hands-on activities, references to pop culture, and video clips to optimize engagement in every step of the lesson.
For students to become better writers they must be given many examples of well-crafted writing. I've spent dozens of hours digging through books to find sentences that highlight a specific grammar concept and compiled them in these lessons. Students must see several sentences that reveal the same concept to see the value of it.
We all know that scaffolding is a critical part of a good lesson, but a lot of times we skimp on this aspect in grammar lessons. This may be part of the reason why a student can pass a grammar quiz, but then turns in an essay fraught with comma splices.
I scaffold these lessons by breaking the concept down in at least four ways.
- One: Students will see the concept modeled in published works
- Two: They will be given part of a sentence and asked to complete the sentence using the concept that is being focused on in the lesson.
- Three: Students will be given a prompt (or a few) and asked to write their own sentence using the main concept from the lesson.
- Four: Students will be asked to evaluate their own work, and consider sharing something they're proud of.
In some lessons, I scaffold more than what is listed above, but I'll go into that in a blog post later. By scaffolding in this way, I give students structure so that they are only required to focus on the main concept I am teaching. For instance, by giving them a picture prompt, I'm not asking them to come up with a subject for their sentence. That way they can use all their brainpower to focus on the concept I'm teaching them, not what to write about in their sentence.
Students must grasp the reality that becoming a better writer is a skill that can be developed. People are not born good writers, just as someone is not born an NBA athlete. It requires a lot of practice, and we must give them that space in our classroom.
In each of these lessons there is space to create, and space to practice and evaluate.
What Actually Works:
You do not need to have a "fix the error" bell ringer every day. These often don't translate into students seeing errors in their own writing.
You don't need to teach 65 grammar lessons to your ninth graders. You don't need to "cover" all of the things. By focusing on a handful of key concepts, you can teach your students exactly what they need to know to become fluent writers who punctuate their sentences correctly and take risks in their writing.
Want to give it a try? Download a free lesson here, and use it in your classroom ASAP, or check out this page where I really break it all down for you and show you exactly what the whole thing looks like!