You’ve taught the grammar lesson.
Now what? The thing about teaching a grammar lesson is that we can’t just be “one and done”. We need to give our students that follow-up in order for them to really bridge that gap between “heard it” and “learned it”.
This post is actually a part two and follow up from this post, “How To Get (and Keep) Your Students’ Attention For a Grammar Lesson,” where I discuss three strategies that you can use with nearly any grammar lesson. These strategies are specifically focused on keeping student engagement and making the “work” of learning grammar something interesting and, dare I say, fun!
Why is grammar so hard to teach?
If you’ve read my previous post or have seen my video on my facebook, you know a little bit about this already. Grammar has often been a series of drills and “correct the error” sentences that are repetitive and uninteresting. It is no wonder many teachers even question the effectiveness of teaching grammar. I know I struggled as a young teacher with my grammar lessons. What parts should I teach? How should I teach it? Does it really matter? If it does, how do I get students to see that it matters?
Throughout my career, I learned from others and played around with my own ideas, and finally settled on a method that I liked and found effective. My grammar lessons were engaging, and fun, and turned into a variety of resources that I have made available today.
Today’s post will focus on what to do after you have taught the grammar lesson. What outstanding follow-up activities will you have on hand to solidify these lessons?
Grammar is like anything else.
If you teach a lesson, you should have a follow-up. Just like a writing concept or a literary term, our grammar lesson is really incomplete until we give our students the opportunity to make connections. Because a quick quiz and saying, “Now they know it” just isn’t research supported. It simply isn’t how the brain is made to work. Revisiting and refining connections becomes the cement for our students.
The first type of activity you need to know about is hands-on activities. That’s not super specific, I know. For many years I really didn’t think about hands-on activities because I taught secondary students. Isn’t hands-on stuff more…elementary? And, as a beginning teacher, I simply did not have the time to come up with ideas and prep those hands-on activities.
However, once I started giving a couple of hands-on options to my students, I found that they absolutely loved it. These are 14-18 year olds who are having fun and actually enjoying the lesson and sometimes all they were doing was moving slips of paper around the table. What I also later learned is that hands-on activities are cognitively fantastic.
The thing about hands-on learning is that movement activates the cerebellum. The cerebellum is responsible for attention, spatial perception, and memory. When movement is part of learning, students retain the information longer. As a high school teacher that was so fascinating to me. Not only was I surprised at the fun my students had, I was also seeing the value it added to the learning process. And not only is this beneficial to all learners, but it is especially beneficial to students with learning differences such as ADD and ADHD.
How can a grammar lesson be hands-on?
A couple super easy ways to make a grammar lesson hands-on is to simply print your mentor sentences. For example, I may review with my students sentence types. I’ll print on half sheets the mentor sentences that showcase simple, compound, and complex sentence types. Students will separate the cards into stacks for each type. This requires some thought as they look, think, and analyze the clauses used.
My students can work in partners or in groups. We might even work as a full class. My specific follow-up activity for sentence types has 35 cards, so each student can receive a sentence and the class can play “4 Corners” to divide themselves by sentence type. As they go to the corners they can compare their sentence to others and move as needed. The game is a constant shuffle as they read through and decide where to go, and it is not a high-stakes “performance” game. Everyone is learning together and it just takes 15 minutes of our class time to revisit the previous lesson. They also get to see more mentor sentences.
A similar option is to use smaller “handheld” cards, such as with active and passive voice mentor sentences. Again, the concept is for each student or pair to get a set of cards and separate into groups. By having cards all together, students can compare side-by-side and really get a feel for what it means to have an active voice and a passive voice. It becomes more obvious what it looks like.
One last example that doesn’t even specifically involve sentences. Say you’re reviewing adjectives and the power of their use. You can print picture prompts from places like Pexels and Unsplash and give each student 4-5 cards. From their pile, they can select their favorite 2 and begin making a list of all the adjectives they can think of for those images. Really anything that comes to mind is free game. You can even add a list of adverbs if they have exhausted their adjectives list. They may have to revisit notes which is also a great review.
The key to this activity is that they will then write using their list. This is a little bit more structured than a true free write. Still, those 5 minutes students take to write about their picture prompt, using a list of generated adjectives they’ve already created, will get them thinking about the concept of using strong adjectives and learning to apply them.
To summarize: let students move, touch, separate, sort, stack, walk, look, and explore. It is all learning.
Utilize Quick Writes
I did just mention quick writes, but let me elaborate a little bit more. We don’t want students simply to write informally as a way to follow up on a grammar lesson. We need a bit more structure. Letting students simply write as a stream of consciousness may be a great way to brainstorm ideas for a paper, but it isn’t a great tool for having students focus on grammar concepts.
What I like to do is give students one grammar concept to think about. I typically give out a paper that outlines the grammar concept at the top with a quick review of what it is, as well as a strong mentor sentence. Then, I give students two prompt options that have to do with that grammar concept. For example, I might have prompt asking students to write a scene that is full of tension. One that brings to mind the unknown, is intriguing and leaves the reader with anticipation. But then I challenge the students to write this prompt using only simple sentences. Each page also includes their writing space.
Another example I’ll share is with pronouns and antecedents. The try to use interesting or silly prompts for students, but I also lean into personal narratives because writing about yourself is often the easiest subject. I may have a prompt about students sharing a time they did something risky. They write a description of what they did and how it turned out. Then, students go back through their writing and circle the pronouns and identify antecedents. Most of the story and the writing process are fun, but then they go back and analyze their own writing for the grammar concept.
One last example. Most students have understood an adjective since 3rd grade. But I often find students don’t know how to use adjectives intentionally. Their prompt might be to explain how they would spend a sudden inheritance of $10,000, with a focus on adjectives. After writing I’ll have them highlight their adjectives or one really great sentence they like. I want them to think about where they’ve used the adjectives, and how they can put them in different places of the sentence and get a different effect. It begins making connections from the concept of adjectives to understanding how it affects their own writing style.
The beauty of these prompts is they can be simple or complex. Really, you can match them up to any grammar lesson that needs a follow-up. These are still quick, but students do have to put a bit of thought into what they are writing. When we connect the concept to writing our students will make better use of our grammar lessons.
Coordinate Targeted Revision
We want students to think about the evolution of their writing style. A targeted revision or “style-minded revision” is perfect to do after students have had a few essays under their belt. Say you are reviewing the concept of action verbs and linking verbs. Students can pull out a previous essay, choose one paragraph, and underline active verbs and circle linking verbs. You can then give students a series of tasks to play with the words they’ve already written. What if you swap action verbs for some of those linking verbs? What does that do to the sentence? How does it change the thought?
Maybe instead you have students highlight in different colors the sentence types that they use. Do they lay heavy on one type of sentence? How can they add variety to some of their sentences so that have a better variety? Is the fluency stronger by making these changes to sentence type?
The point is, we give them the “target” to revise and we let them play. They are given the opportunity to use the language of grammar and apply it to their writing. It is a low-key follow-up because they already wrote these sentences. They are simply taking time to analyze their writing and think about the craft.
Know any other great follow-ups for grammar lessons?
Do you have a favorite from this list that you can’t wait to try? There are so many resources in our vault that are just waiting for you to bring to your classroom. If you have other assessments, games, ideas, or just like to see what others do, be sure to comment here. We love to see what fellow teachers are bringing to their classes.
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