Teaching Grammar

Grammar is a thorny issue in English/language arts.  Many teachers, including myself, were probably taught grammar in some isolation from composition.  I remember well the old Warriner’s grammar books.  Those books have been out of print for some time, but I know many English teachers who kept their old classroom sets.  At my school, we actually still use the Warriner’s books in 9th and 10th grade — well, I think we do.  My department head said something about ordering grammar books, and I wasn’t sure if she meant no more Warriner’s or in addition to Warriner’s.  At any rate, as you can imagine, the books are extremely hard to come by, and as our enrollment increases and students lose or damage books, we will ultimately be forced to abandon the books (unless we already have, that is).

Why do English teachers love Warriner’s so much?  It has the best grammar exercises.  A movement in teaching English has moved away from teaching grammar in isolation.  As with many educational movements, that has meant throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  English teachers could be taught to figure out how to teach grammar in context using the grammar text as a tool, especially as the SAT still includes a writing section that is totally based upon the student’s ability to recognize errors, but many books on composition are not structured in a way that makes this easy.  They do a rather clumsy job of integrating grammar into composition instruction.

Many schools and indeed some state standards have done away with objectives that explicitly address grammar, and those that remain are somewhat general.  My state of Georgia, for instance, has one standard that addresses grammar instruction:

GA ELA9C1: The student demonstrates understanding and control of the rules of the English language, realizing that usage involves the appropriate application of conventions and grammar in both written and spoken formats.

Likewise, NCTE has one standard that addresses grammar, and does so even more obliquely than Georgia’s standard:

NCTE 4: Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g. conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and different purposes.

My students have traditionally had difficulty with grammar, but I think UbD might help with that somewhat.  While I agree that it helps students to learn grammar in context of reading and composition, I don’t think supporting exercises hurt in terms of reinforcement.  In any case, the 9th grade English course at my school is “Grammar, Composition, and Literature”; it is so titled because the emphasis in the course is placed on those three areas in the order of their appearance in the title.  I don’t always find that teaching grammar is fun, but it is part of our curriculum, and after having planned two units using UbD, I can see how I can make it seem more important and relevant to my students.

You can check out the two units (both on mechanical issues) that I have created so far:

Feel free to leave your comments in the Discussion area.  You don’t have to be a member of UbD Educators wiki to contribute to discussion, but you do have to be a member to edit and create pages.

[tags]ubd, grammar, english, language arts, composition, commas, apostrophes[/tags]

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One thought on “Teaching Grammar

  1. Is a reference book such as Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage useful high schoolers, especially ninth and tenth graders? I graduated with an English degree, but still had gaps in my understanding of grammar. Garner helped me correct those errors. I wonder if I would have had them in the first place if I had access to a good reference text when I was younger.

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