With the availability of tools like Grammarly and ChatGPT, it may be tempting to spend less time teaching grammar. Wouldn't it be more efficient to let technology detect and correct grammar issues for students, and leave it at that?
Efficient? Maybe. Effective? Not so much.
The presence of grammar checkers and chat bot assistants does not diminish the need to learn grammar, just as calculators did not eliminate the need to learn math.
Calculators did alter the way math was taught, though. The same is true of teaching grammar in the age of AI. Instead of reducing grammar instruction, let’s reflect on why and how we teach grammar.
Why should we teach grammar?
Grammar is how language works. Students who learn grammar can do more than produce correct writing. They can find the most effective ways to communicate ideas to readers.
Instead of drilling terminology, we need to demonstrate to students how grammar can empower their self-expression.
Grammar apps fall short in building such rich awareness and knowledge. Yet so too do many traditional approaches to teaching grammar.
How should we teach grammar?
Make grammar relevant and useful to your students with these practices.
1. Teach grammar with authentic writing.
Teach concepts in the context of students’ writing. Introduce new concepts as students reach the editing stage of writing projects. That way, they apply the concepts in an authentic context.
2. Focus on usage over terminology.
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. Differentiate instruction.
If students see grammar only in the context of worksheets, they may consider it busy work rather than an avenue to impactful communication and self-expression. Instead, touch on grammar throughout your reading and writing instruction. For example, show how an author’s usage affects writing voice—choosing the word amalgamation instead of grouping. Then have students adjust their own usage to experiment with writing voice. Or point out how a single word can function as two different parts of speech: “present a present” or “plan your work and work your plan.” Then have students discover and use other “double-agent” words.
6. Engage with high-interest literature and mentor texts.
Have students read with an eye for specific grammar choices and 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.
7. 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.
8. Acknowledge the strengths and limitations of grammar checkers.
Grammar apps can help students quickly identify and correct grammatical errors, typos, and spelling mistakes. But the technology cannot understand the full context of a writing situation, and, as can result, might provide faulty feedback. Students must learn to critically analyze feedback and make informed choices about changes to their writing. They cannot do so without a rich, well-rounded understanding of grammar.