Students often associate grammar with a complicated set of rules and terms instead of an avenue for clear and powerful writing.
Unfortunately, this misconception often stems from traditional ways of teaching grammar. (Think of sentence diagrams and red ink.) You can create better conditions in your classroom.
Make grammar relevant and useful to your students with these research-supported practices.
1. Teach grammar with authentic writing.
To make grammar instruction stick, connect it to students’ writing. Introduce new concepts as students reach the editing stage of writing projects. That way, they apply the concepts in an authentic context. For example, if students are writing narratives, teach and practice how to punctuate dialogue. Then have students correctly punctuate the dialogue in their own writing.
2. Focus on usage over terminology.
Research has repeatedly shown that teaching grammar as an isolated set of terms and rules to memorize is ineffective and can actually deter students from writing. You can build grammatical awareness and improve writing by helping students recognize, practice, and use grammar for authentic purposes.
3. Teach and assess one skill at a time.
Do not inundate students with a set of rules and practices. Instead, give students time to learn, practice, and apply one concept at a time. When assessing writing correctness, focus mainly on the one or two concepts you introduced during the project.
4. Scaffold learning through practice and application.
Start small: Have students practice skills on individual sentences. Finish big: Have them apply the same skills to whole pieces of writing, preferably their own. Do not skip this final step.
5. Engage with high-interest mentor texts.
Have students read with an eye for specific grammar conventions. Reading in this way helps students internalize grammar and develop good editing habits. For example, have students focus on an author’s use of dashes. Discuss how the dashes affect the way the piece is read. Ask students what choices the writer made and why.
6. Model concepts.
Visual learners benefit from seeing grammar, punctuation, and usage in action. Model an example for your class or show a video of a sentence being manipulated. By visualizing the movement of sentence parts and punctuation, students will see grammar as dynamic and purposeful.
7. Emphasize sentence combining.
Sentence-combining exercises lead to improved writing. When students practice sentence combining, they build knowledge of phrases, clauses, conjunctions, and linking punctuation. At the same time, their sentences become more fluent and sophisticated.
8. Reinforce and reflect on concepts.
Students need repeated support and practice to build grammatical awareness. Progress is incremental and requires a literacy-rich classroom with plenty of opportunities for reading, writing, and discussion.
9. Don’t mark every error.
Marking every grammatical error does a student little good (and diverts your attention from the content of the writing). Instead, focus on the one or two skills you practiced for a particular project. If you notice a recurring error, make the first correction and explain why you made the change. Underline or highlight the second example and ask the student to correct it in a similar way. This type of feedback works best at later stages in the writing process before students submit final drafts.
10. Expect bumps in the road.
As students attempt new grammatical structures and strategies, they may introduce new errors in their writing. That’s okay. Treat these moments as a sign of progress.
Bonus: Embrace your knowledge gaps.
Don’t think any less of yourself if a student asks a grammar question that you can’t answer. Use it as a teaching moment, and consult a trusted writer’s handbook or resource for an answer. That’s what writers of all skill levels do when grammar stumps them.