The Lament (and Plea) of a High School Grammar Teacher

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When I was in high school, I diagrammed exactly ZERO sentences. In fact, I didn’t even know what diagramming was until college, when I took a Linguistics class well after declaring secondary language arts as my major. I remember doing grammar worksheets in elementary school, junior high, and high school. I remember learning tricks like FANBOYS (which maybe isn’t even a thing anymore???) and being confused by when to use commas. I also know that until I became an English teacher and researched it on my own, the semicolon was an enigma. (Now it’s my favorite.)

I also remember learning more about grammar in French class than in English class. I, without a doubt, learned more about how to apply grammar to my writing as a school newspaper staffer than I ever did in any English class. Newspaper staff is where I learned how to use a style guide too. Even though it was the AP Style Guide, it still set the foundation for using MLA and APA in college in the sense that it was a place to go when I wasn’t sure about something.

I’ve also sort of been blessed with excellent grammar genetics. I’m a good speller and have a good gut for the rules. Reading was a big deal in my household growing up too, so I’m certain I picked up on the rules of Standard English Grammar because of how much reading I did as a child and young adult. (Thanks for setting that foundation for me, Mom.)

During my language arts methods classes in college, we didn’t learn any techniques for teaching grammar explicitly. We were told that students should learn grammar through their own writing and that we should address grammar issues prescriptively. In other words, when we noticed an ailment, we should offer the student a cure at that time, rather than taking preventative measures, because discrete grammar instruction was supposedly ineffective.

So, it should come as no surprise that I really don’t know the best way to teach grammar. There. I admitted it.

I have some ideas, but I’ve been using the prescriptive method for nearly 15 years now and I’m not convinced it’s the right way to go about it. However, drill and kill doesn’t sit quite right with me either.

It is also less than unexpected that when I seek advice on best practices for teaching grammar from other teachers via social media that I get a whole bunch of cricket chirps in response. I have also done some poking around on the web and there are some good lessons out there … creative, engaging, helpful … but they are few and far between, and random. There isn’t that much stuff out there to help teachers teach grammar (in an engaging way). For example, when you type in “Romeo and Juliet Lesson Plans” in a search engine, something in the neighborhood of six magjillion lesson plans come up and a good number of them are effective. Not so with a search of “high school grammar lesson plans.”

Hear my cry, internet!

How do you approach grammar in your high school English classrooms?

I tried something new in the grammar department today and the lesson will continue tomorrow. (It may bleed into next week for all I know) … and I will document the experiment here.

What I really want to create is a bank of awesomely engaging lessons that teach something that is not usually categorized as “awesome” or “engaging” (in the eyes of most students anyway). If you have an awesomely engaging grammar lesson for high school students, will you share? Please?

Also, if you would, please share this post and respond in the comments below. (Please don’t share this with any crickets though.)

3 thoughts on The Lament (and Plea) of a High School Grammar Teacher

  1. Hmmm. Grammar instruction is my nemesis. However, we have been talking about this in our building a lot. I think the key providing an excerpt or a sentence once a week from an engaging text and then talking about the rules and punctuation used in that text, then working on using the same rules as your mentor text in a writing of their own. I have also seen teachers take a paragraph from the current class novel or story and retype it without any punctuation. Then they have the students punctuate it, and then compare to the original and talk about the rules. In my class, I like to think more reading and more writing will just magically do the trick though…so I am definitely not a grammar expert! Good luck!

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  2. I teach grammar in different ways. But, my favorite aspect is actually tree diagramming. I will use their own sentences as examples, mixed in with sentences from the book, “Doing Grammar,” by Max Morenberg.
    It makes grammar more like a puzzle, while enforcing the basic rules of the language. I do tweak the system because the book gets intense. I have used this with 8th graders, 10th graders, and seniors taking early entry college class. Would love to expand on what I do if you are interested.

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