How To Teach Well-Placed Adjectives

I don’t teach grammar because I want my students to memorize a bunch of definitions. And it isn’t because it will show up in their standardized tests. In reality, I want my students to have an understanding of grammar concepts because I want them to become better writers.This is the skill that will last them beyond their years in my classroom. Today I’m focusing on teaching students the well-placed adjective. 

But high school students don’t need a lesson on adjectives…do they?

There are three grammar terms that almost everyone easily recognizes and remembers: noun, verb, and adjective. If I ask my students what an adjective is there is usually a majority who will tell me they are describing words. And that’s true. However, students rarely think purposeful ways to use adjectives that will make their writing stronger. 

The good news is that adjectives usually only require a bit of review. Your lesson can focus on studying mentor texts in order to help students see how adjectives can help create cool sentences. 

Begin with Identification 

The easiest place to start is with identification. My warm-up activities are mostly there to prompt engagement, but I also include the topic of the lesson. In this case, my “Would You Rather” scenarios include several adjectives. Students can then try to identify the adjectives, or I can review with them what they are using in the warm-up as an example. 

You should also include direct instruction with guided notes for students. This allows students to follow along and get any definitions or rules they may need to apply. We make notes such as how a word itself is not an adjective, it is about its place in the sentence. For example, “trumpet” is normally thought of as a noun, but you can also use it as an adjective. Consider having space for students to write examples as well. 

I’ll make a note here to say that these lessons should include adjective phrases. However, it may not be helpful to include them together. If I have advanced students I may go ahead and go over adjective phrases in the same lesson. Oftentimes I will focus on single-word adjectives and make sure students are confident in their identification and then leave adjective phrases for another time. This is simply because it is trickier. 

I have an entirely pre-made lesson that includes mentor texts, handouts, and other resources that you can find in the English Teacher Vault. You can grab my free parts-of-speech unit and get the full lesson on adjectives PLUS a lesson on verbs, adverbs, a review game, and a quiz! Get all that here!

parts of speech unit

Think Like a Writer

Once students are confident with identifying adjectives, have students begin “playing” with the mentor texts given. This means we think like writers. Why was the adjective used here? Is it a starter adjective or a delayed adjective? Does that change the meaning, mood, or rhythm of the sentence? Students can change the placement or number of adjectives and see what it does to the sentence. I like to guide them with these questions because it turns their focus to using adjectives in writing. That’s really the heart of the lesson.

cs lewis quote well placed adjective

Although my resources have many mentor texts, I also have students take out the class novel or their independent reading to look for their own examples. They can also analyze the writing as they identify the adjectives. How does the writer use adjectives? Are they used sparingly (hopefully they’ll notice that most published writers use adjectives only occasionally). How does the use of adjectives make the student, as the reader, feel about the text? 

Begin to Write

We can then move on to sentence frames. This is where students will start making their own decisions about adjective use. Sentence frames are set up so students do not have to come up with sentence topics – just the adjectives. They can share in small groups and we can discuss as a class the best options. (If you’d like to read more about grammar lesson engagement, including using sentence frames, I have another post here.)

Then move on to prompts. I often use videos and picture prompts to get the ball rolling. Tell students to focus on their use of adjectives. This is where they practice their mastery of the concept. Depending on your class culture, you might have students share their best example with a partner, or develop a class list on the board or on a poster for later reference. 

Students will benefit when they are taught how to use these grammar concepts beyond simple identification. In the grand scheme of things, it is their own writing that will accompany them into the future when they are done with standardized tests and our English essays. 

Curious about how to teach grammar in a way that engages your high school students? Join the English Teacher Vault to get instant access to our full foundational grammar curriculum and intermediate grammar curriculum. It’s every single lesson, handout, slideshow, and review game you need to teach grammar with confidence.

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