Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Teaching Grammar in Context

My 4th and 5th grade teams requested teaching grammar in context as our topic for this month's common planning time. We have been taking a look at the practice exams for the upcoming Forward Exam (Wisconsin's version of testing for the CCSS), and the staff noticed a lot of grammar questions. I am so glad they brought this idea to common planning because it was a great time to discuss how to teach grammar in context, not in isolation.

My favorite resource for this topic is Jeff Anderson's Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop. 
Some quotes:
“Pattern based development rather than rule-based correction.”
“Teaching DOL is as effective as ‘Yelling at the overhead.’”
“Love the errors and all they reveal.” (Look for patterns in students’ thinking)

We had some great discussion as we looked at the language standards for each grade level, reflected on which ones students may need some addition instruction on, and then began to plan lessons using Jeff Anderson's examples. It became very clear that our students needed a 2 week "bootcamp" revolving around grammar. This is going to be centered around their writing and through the use of mentor texts.

Here are some more of my favorite ideas from Jeff's book...

  • Rather than putting a poorly written sentence up for students to correct, put up a well-written sentence and ask them, “What did you notice?” “What else?”, “What else?” Continue until you have exhausted the realm of possibilities  within the class. Take one of their noticings and use it to teach a mini-lesson that you have preplanned anyways.

  • To teach the test taking skill of noticing errors in incorrect sentences, take that good sentence and change one thing to make it incorrect. First make sure the students have a good understanding of why and how it is correct. Talk about what was changed and why it is no longer correct. Ask - “How does this affect the meaning of the sentence?”

  • A good sentence: “His room smelled of cooked grease, Lysol, and age.” -Maya Angelou. A sentence like this nature can be used over several days and for many minilessons.

  • Have the children create a sentence about their own rooms similar to Maya Angelou's. Notice the features of the sentence to include - place, scent item, proper noun, abstraction.

  • Children need to understand what is correct before they can realize what is incorrect. You never know something is missing if you’ve never had it in the first place.

This was a great discussion and use of our common planning time this month!

Do any of you have a resource you use to teach grammar in context?


  1. Jeff Anderson's stuff is great. His ideas are such a great contrast to the ways grammar is assessed on standardized test.

    1. Barb, I agree. It can be tough to convince teachers to teach grammar in context when the assessment is not tailored as such. However, the test is just one item. What do we really want for our students? I hope it is an appreciation and a love of language, words and phrases that will then transcend their vocabulary, both written and orally!

  2. This text by Jeff Anderson is such a great resource. Reading your blog also reminded me of an article I read recently from The Reading Teacher, entitled, The Histories and Mysteries of Grammar Instruction. The article gives a brief history of grammar and a new lens in the way we can teach grammar within context. Great post!

    1. Thanks, Casey! I must have missed that article in The Reading Teacher. I get it electronically and I can forget to check it. I think I need to go back to the print version.