Research-Based Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets
Not all worksheets are created alike. Worksheets need not “drill and kill” students to boredom or busy-work. Good teachers can spot a good worksheet when they see one.
Research-based worksheets serve any number of important instructional objectives:
- Worksheets can target practice in a specific skill or help students learn a new concept.
- Worksheets can serve as excellent independent practice.
- Teachers can use worksheets to individualize instruction according to the results of diagnostic assessments.
- Worksheets can also provide purposeful work while the teacher works one-on-one with a student or with a small group of students.
The educational research provides insight as to what makes a grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheet an effective instructional strategy for knowledge and/or skills acquisition.
In a January 2016 article, the American Psychological Association published a helpful article titled “Practice for Knowledge Acquisition (Not Drill and Kill)” in which researchers distinguish between deliberate practice and “drill and kill” rote memorization: “Deliberate practice involves attention, rehearsal and repetition and leads to new knowledge or skills that can later be developed into more complex knowledge and skills… (Campitelli & Gobet, 2011).”
“… several conditions that must be in place in order for practice activities to be most effective in moving students closer to skillful performance (Anderson, 2008; Campitelli & Gobet, 2011; Ericsson, Krampe, & Clemens, 1993). Each of these conditions can be met with carefully designed instruction.”
As publisher of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs and the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Interactive Notebook, our company has applied the following research suggestions to create research-based grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets. Following will state the research suggestions listed as “Dos” in the above article and the specific worksheet applications of the research will follow with the worksheets from the programs listed above. A sample Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheet is provided thereafter.
- Teachers should design practice tasks with students existing knowledge in mind. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets are assigned according to the results of the Diagnostic Grammar and Usage Assessment and the Diagnostic Mechanics Assessment. These whole class assessments perfectly correspond with the targeted worksheets so that students complete only those concepts and skills which students have not yet mastered. The teacher monitors progress on a data matrix. The publisher’s worksheet do not teach concepts or skills in isolation. Each is properly contextualized to build upon prior knowledge. Each is taught in the context of writing. When students succeed at practice problems, the benefits of practice are maximized. But when students become frustrated with unrealistic or poorly designed practice problems, they often lose motivation, will not receive the full benefits of the practice they have done, and will be less motivated to attempt future practice problems. Students are motivated to practice by mastering each unmastered concept or skill, marked with an “/” on the data matrix. Once a student has mastered a worksheet, points are assigned and the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix.
- Provide clear instructions on performance expectations and criteria. Guide students through sample practice problems by using prompts that help them reflect on problem-solving strategies. Break complex problems into their constituent elements, and have students practice on these smaller elements before asking them to solve complex problems independently. Directions are concisely and clearly written so that students can complete the worksheets independently. Each worksheet has been field tested in grades 4-8 classrooms and revised to ensure student success. Definitions of key academic language (and grammar lingo) are provided.
- Provide students with fully completed sample problems as well as partially completed sample problems before asking them to apply new problem-solving strategies on their own. The Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets provide samples (examples) of each instructional application of the focus concept or skill.
- Students should have repeated opportunities to practice a task through practicing other tasks like it. Students complete a practice section that is not too long, and not too short. The practice sections have been carefully designed to be comprehensive, yet not repetitious. Every instructional component of the focus concept or skill has at least one deliberate practice opportunity.
- Students receive the greatest benefits from practice when teachers provide them with timely and descriptive feedback. Students complete the practice section and self-correct and self-edit from the Answers Booklet to gain immediate feedback and learn from their own mistakes.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for students to practice applying problem-solving skills before you test them on their ability to use those skills. Next, students complete a short formative assessment (a brief written application of the concept or skill) at the bottom of each worksheet and bring up the completed worksheet to the teacher for a mini-conference. The teacher evaluates the formative assessment to determine mastery and quickly checks the practice section to make sure that the student has completed and self-corrected. If mastered, the teacher (or student) changes the unmastered “/” into a mastered “X” on the data matrix. If unmastered, the teacher briefly re-teaches and the student completes the formative assessment once more.
- Distribute practice over extended periods of time. Students work at their own pace, completing the Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Worksheets. The teacher provides points for each mastered worksheet.
The author of this article, Mark Pennington, has written the assessment-based grades 4-8 Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) programs to teach the Common Core Language Strand Standards. Each full-year program provides 56 interactive grammar, usage, and mechanics worksheets and includes sentence diagrams, error analysis, mentor texts, writing applications, and sentence dictation formative assessments with accompanying worksheets (L.1, 2). Plus, each grade-level program has weekly spelling pattern tests and accompanying spelling sort worksheets (L.2), 56 language application opener worksheets (L.3), and 56 vocabulary worksheets with multiple-meaning words, Greek and Latin word parts, figures of speech, word relationships with context clue practice, connotations, and four square academic language practice (L.4, 5, and 6). Comprehensive biweekly unit tests measure recognition, understanding, and application of all language components.
The program also has the resources to meet the needs of diverse learners. Diagnostic grammar, usage, mechanics, and spelling assessments provide the data to enable teachers to individualize instruction with targeted worksheets. Each remedial worksheet (over 200 per program) includes independent practice and a brief formative assessment. Students CATCH Up on previous unmastered Standards while they KEEP UP with current grade-level Standards. Check out the YouTube introductory video of the author’s program.