Image Grammar

I have been on the lookout for books, websites, and other materials to help me teach grammar. If you have some good ideas for resources, please leave them in the comments.

A couple of things I have been trying with my students seem to be working fairly well. I used the Sentence Opening Strategy activity shared by Carol Sanders on the EC Ning to teach sentence variety. My students were fairly reflective about their writing in this activity. I also pulled out my copy of Spelling and Grammar: The Daily Spark, along with Mignon Fogarty’s Grammar Devotional and have been posting grammar and writing puzzles on the SMARTBoard as a sort of journaling/opening activity while I take attendance and do other housekeeping. The students really like the grammar puzzles, and I found it sort of flexes their brains for writing.

Still, teaching grammar, and what I mean by that is correctness and variety (because everyone seems to disagree about what grammar is), is just hard. I want my students to be more fluent and fluid writers, and I want them to communicate clearly. Based on this goal, it would seem Harry Noden’s Image Grammar is an excellent choice.

I’ve read one chapter, and I like the way Noden organizes different writing techniques, such as using participles, as “brush strokes.” The accompanying CD has some good material, but in my opinion, the CD should probably be updated. The material on the CD is organized into HTML files, and they look a little archaic (think Geocities or Angelfire), but the material is solid. Noden also references a website that is no longer working—ah the joys of the Internet—as a source of images for writing prompts, but the Web does not lack examples of image sites that can be used to spark writing.

What I like best about the book so far is that Noden shows how to teach grammatical structures in a way that students will see their relevance to their own writing. I have had students who knew a great deal about grammatical structures out of context but could not apply these structures to make their own writing better. I have had students tell me that I taught them how to write well, but it’s an area in which I would like to improve.

5 thoughts on “Image Grammar”

  1. Thanks for the tips– I love the Ning more and more each day :).

    Also, something I have tried is having students think about grammar in the literature we are reading– trying to reinforce for them the connection between grammar, rhetoric and style. I have some documents I could send you as examples.

  2. Grammar can mean so many things…

    For usage questions (i.e. things people get uptight about) I recommend Merriam-Webster's Consise Dictionary of English Usage as a guide for teachers. It probably wouldn't be of much use to give to students, but I'd have a copy in the classroom — it's a level-headed book that gives information about who is likely to be bothered by a particular structure and how reasonable their annoyance is without any of the crazy illogic of most writing mavens. I think one of the worst things about grammar instruction is that so much of it comes down to a list of taboos with an illogic behind them, and there are so many such lists, that it seems every English teacher has their own such list for students to contend with.

    Regarding sentence variety, I'll share two tricks from my own teaching.

    1. I use a very simple "diagramming" technique in which every bit of punctuation creates a new line and every level of subordination is a tab stop over.

    This is relatively quick for students to grasp, and is helpful for both reading comprehension (I'm using it with Dickens right now) and writing.

    In reading, for example, you can show how the indented elements are read differently (usually more quickly and more softly).

    In writing, you can show how the indented portions can be eliminated while still retaining a grammatical sentence, whereas nothing else can be eliminated in that way.

    2. Three terms I came up with recently that I'd love to share: "Long wind-up", "Big middle", "Long tail" and "Staccato". These describe where writers stack up subordinate clauses and other modifiers. We do exercises where students transform one type of sentence into another. It helps students see sentences more flexibly, which helps with editing for sentence variety. I also think it helps with comprehension.

  3. Tom, I am interested in your response. Thanks for the tip on the usage reference. I am wondering if #1 & #2 are original to you or if I can find them in published sources.



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