Last night I met up with Megan to see Mignon Fogarty, aka Grammar Girl, at the Decatur Library in an event sponsored by the Georgia Center for the Book. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, there were no more books left, so I was unable to get a signed copy of her new book, Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. The auditorium was packed, which prompted the question (several times) “Who knew grammar was so popular?”
If you are an English teacher and haven’t discovered Grammar Girl, you need to go check out her site and listen to some of her podcasts. She responds to questions submitted by her listeners, and she discusses one grammatical issue per episode. You can easily incorporate the podcast into your class — it’s usually only about five minutes long. Fogarty announced that she will now be doing the podcast twice a week rather than once, so you can even make it a part of your class as an opening activity for two days a week.
One thing I thought was interesting was that during the Q&A, a language arts teacher started to ask a question, but someone behind her in the audience exclaimed when she made a grammatical error in her speech — using a reflexive pronoun in the subjective case. She didn’t realize her error at first, and when she did, she was noticeably embarrassed and, I think, justifiably angry. We all make grammatical errors when we speak. If we had to stop and think as hard about correctness when we speak as much as we do when we write, we would never talk. I think pointing out people’s grammar errors when they speak is just plain rude. The woman didn’t ask her question, and there was this wave of discomfort that passed through the room. That kind of thing is why people don’t like English teachers, for I can almost guarantee it was an English teacher who did it. I am not saying we shouldn’t teach students to write using correct grammar, but if we make them feel scared to even open their mouths in our classrooms, how much are they going to learn from us?
Anyway, I really enjoyed Grammar Girl’s talk, but I really wish the Georgia Center for the Book had anticipated the crowd. It really stank that they ran out of books. For the curious — Megan let me thumb through her book, and it is basically transcripts of her podcasts. By the way, I disagree with Grammar Girl regarding the possessive of a singular noun ending in s. Grammar Girl likes the AP Style Guide’s recommendation that singular nouns ending s simply have an apostrophe: Kansas’ statute. I don’t understand why the s changes the rule, and I agree with Strunk and White that it should be Kansas’s statute. A fun activity for your students to explore regarding this issue can be found among my unit plans at the UbD Educators wiki: write a letter to Rep. Harrelson of Arkansas, who lobbied to have the official possessive of the state of Arkansas rendered Arkansas’s and tell him whether or not you think he was correct (giving him evidence based on consulting several grammar texts).