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How to Teach English Grammar to Children
Whole Language Versus Phonics
With the implementation of the Common Core State Standards across much of the United States, teaching grammar has become even more of a focus for teachers in American classrooms.
Here in Canada, it is less clear-cut, but we all agree that grammar is important. How do we present parts of speech, punctuation and sentence structure it in a way that is both fun and effective?
Through the years, theorists have debated over the effectiveness of whole language versus phonics, but the best teachers use a combination of both. Here are some ideas for teaching English grammar to children that go beyond plunking down repetitive worksheets in front of them, and drilling it into their heads.
Grammar Across the Curriculum
Weave it into your curriculum
First of all, when teaching grammar to children, weave it into your curriculum. In other words, don't think of it as a separate subject, set apart from the rest of your day.
Instead, think of ways to apply grammatical principles within other things that you are teaching. Why should you do this? Weave it into the curriculum because that is how that is how grammar appears in real life. Grammar is woven into how we speak, read and listen. We don't notice grammar uniess it is bad.
Here are some ways to weave grammar into your curriculum:
- Do a regular "focus on grammar" using excerpts from the book or story you are reading as a class. You can start this process this orally, during class, and then reinforce it by writing sentences from the pieces on the board, or on a sheet. Ask students to find an assigned part of speech, such as proper noun, verb or pronoun, from the excerpts.
- Do some grammar in different subject areas. This will make it more interesting for the students and show them how learning fits together. It will also give you access to some interesting vocabulary which will spice up your grammar lessons.
Grammar Games Work
Use Grammar-Based Games and Activities
One of the best ways to learn things that are a bit dry, is to play games and get kids active. Here are some ideas for grammar games and activities:
- Do sentence diagramming in teams. Break your class up into teams of 3-6 students each. Give each group a set of 1- 5 sentences, broken down into individual words. The team's job is to put the sentences together as quickly as they can. To make it a little easier on them, you may wish to add a few extra words in. This is fun for the students because it's hands-on and it makes them think about how words go together. And be careful ... there may be more than one correct answer!
- For more difficult parts of speech, have a "part of the day." For example, maybe the "part of the day" is an adverb. Then, every time someone is caught using an adverb, or catches someone else using an adverb, they get a point, or a prize, depending on what kind of reward system you like to use in your classroom. The point of this exercise is to train kids to recognize parts of speech on their own.
- Do the teapot game. The "teapot" game substitutes the word teapot (or other code word) for another word. There are two people performing the improv. One of the improv partner leaves the room and the rest of the class, or the teacher tells the improv partner what word she is replacing with teapot. The other partner then comes back and the two have a conversation, with the first partner using using the code word in a conversation and the other partner trying to guess what the code word is. Doing this type of game reinforces the idea that words are used in context and we can often guess a word by the way it is used in a sentence.
- To teach punctuation, have students do a short improv, using all of the punctuation marks that they need, aloud. You can have them work in in pairs, all speaking at once, or have them take turns at the front of the class. Doing this exercise will make them think out their punctuation in a different way.
Have Kids Read Each Others' Work
Use Their Own Work
The next idea is use their own work to teach them. I like this idea because it comes directly from them. Here are some ways to use this method:
- Use student writing to demonstrate grammar points that you are trying to make. You can do this by copying sentences from student's essays and then using them for whole class teaching on the white board or overhead.
- Use student mistakes to demonstrate grammar errors, in a fun, non-judgmental way. Using examples of errors found in student essays, stories or other assignments, create some "find the error" sheets. Write the incorrect sentences on the board or overhead, and have students call out the mistakes. Tell them that almost everyone had some mess-up's and that's okay! And if you don't find many errors, it would also be fun to put some good sentences in, from their work, but add the errors in! Of course, let them know that you did this, so they don't wonder what happened.
- Use a writers workshop approach to have students correct and appreciate each other's written work. This works by placing students in groups of 2-6 students. Each student is given enough copies of their written piece to pass around to everyone. Then, students read each other's work and offer criticism and praise. For the grammar part, you may choose to have students check for certain grammatical points one at a time. As they become more adept at their grammar, they may do a global check of all the grammar at once.
Grammar Teaching Resource
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