5 Easy Ways to Weave Grammar Instruction into Your English Classroom
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Grammar is a fundamental component of English instruction. It teaches students to communicate clearly and intelligently, making their meaning clear to their readers.
But between district and state requirements, curriculum guides, and all-important standardized tests, there simply isn’t much time for grammar instruction anymore. Unfortunately, in the age of text messages and 140-character Tweets, students need grammar instruction more than ever before.
Lengthy grammar units may not be possible, but English teachers can still sprinkle grammar instruction throughout their lessons. Here are 5 effective ways to build grammar instruction into your English classroom:
1. Grammar Bell Work
Bell work, also called bell ringers, is any brief activity or assignment used to start a lesson. While teachers take attendance and handle other administrative duties, students settle into the class period by completing a short task.
Bell work is one easy way to build grammar instruction into your classroom. Start the period with 3-5 questions related to:
- Choosing the correct form of there/their/they’re (or other commonly confused words)
- Filling in blanks with the correct verb form
- Matching pronouns and antecedents
- Correcting incorrect comma usage
- Properly capitalizing titles
- Adding correct punctuation to a sentence that has none
- Identifying misplaced modifiers
The possibilities for grammar bell work are endless. After students complete the bell work, take a few minutes to review and discuss the correct answers. If students struggle, you may want to revisit the topic soon. You can even spend multiple days or a week’s worth of bell work focusing on one aspect of grammar if you feel your students need it.
These five-minute bell work activities won’t take much of your class period, but they’ll gradually add up and boost your students’ grammar knowledge.
2. Grammar Mini-Lessons
You can also teach grammar mini-lessons (short lessons with a very narrow focus).
Let’s say your students recently completed a grammar bell work assignment or submitted essays, and you noticed that they struggle with run-on sentences. Spend 5-10 minutes providing direct instruction on this topic.
It’s best if you can also incorporate an interactive element. For instance, have students answer questions by using mini-whiteboards or hand gestures (hold up one finger for “they’re,” two fingers for “their,” or three fingers for “there”). Alternatively, you can have students answer a few questions on index cards at the end of the lesson and collect them.
Grammar mini-lessons don’t need to be taught often, but they’re a useful tool when you notice that many students are making the same type of grammatical error.
3. Focused Grammatical Feedback
When you grade student essays, it’s virtually impossible to correct or note every error. Instead, you can provide focused grammatical feedback.
Choose 1-3 types of grammatical errors to focus on, such as comma usage and subject-verb agreement. Provide feedback to your students only on these error types. You can tell your students in advance, “For this assignment, pay special attention to your comma usage and subject-verb agreement.” You can change your focus each time you grade essays, revisiting topics as needed.
Providing focused grammatical feedback not only saves time, but it’s also much more effective for students. A paper that’s covered in red marks can be overwhelming and discouraging. But feedback that focuses on a few specific elements helps students learn.
4. Guided Proofreading
Even providing focused grammatical feedback can be time-consuming. Another alternative is guiding your students to proofread their own errors.
As you read a batch of student essays, make a note of the most common errors. You can do this by class period or for your students as a whole. You don’t need to mark any of the errors on the students’ papers.
Next, put together a quick slide or list of the errors you noticed most frequently. Give the essays back to your students, and spend a few minutes discussing the common errors you listed.
Finally, have students go through their own papers and highlight or circle any occurrence of the errors you mentioned. Ask students to answer a couple of reflection questions, such as, “Which of the common errors did you find on your own paper?” and, “What can you do next time to avoid these errors?”
5. Online Resources
If you’re pressed for time, you can also use the plethora of resources already available on the Internet. There are several excellent websites dedicated to helping students improve their grammar.
For example, try using the personalized learning resource Khan Academy, which can be used for short, high-interest grammar exercises.
You can also have your students upload their essays to WriteLab. They’ll receive immediate feedback in several areas, including grammar. For each grammatical error highlighted, WriteLab also includes a brief, easy to understand explanation. If students need more information or clarification, they can also visit WriteLab’s Guide. It features an extensive overview of grammar, complete with helpful examples and explanations.
Depending on your school’s policy about online homework, you may also be able to have students visit these websites from home. For example, you could assign a couple of lessons on Khan Academy or instruct students to submit their rough draft to WriteLab first and then make necessary corrections.
Conclusion on Grammar Instruction
English teachers don’t have much time to teach grammar these days, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored.
Strategies like grammar bell work, grammar mini-lessons, focused grammatical feedback, guided proofreading, and online resources can help you easily build grammar instruction into your lessons, all without consuming valuable time.
It’s most effective if you use these strategies together. For example, if you assign bell work on subject-verb agreement and notice it’s a struggle for your students, you may want to teach a mini-lesson on this topic. The next time your students write an essay, provide focused feedback on subject-verb agreement or have your students do a guided proofread on this element.
You can also assign a Khan Academy lesson about subject-verb agreement, or tell students to upload their essays to WriteLab and focus on this type of error in particular. Then assign subject-verb agreement questions for bell work again to reevaluate your students.
Try using these strategies, and you’ll be surprised how quickly your students’ grammar improves!
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