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How to Teach Grammar to Primary Students

For those of you primary teachers wondering how to teach the rigorous grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary Standards… you are not alone. As the author of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) (grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary) program, I get the “What would you recommend for teaching these Standards to primary students? question quite often. Debbie’s post below is in response to my article, “Why Daily Oral Language (D.O.L.) Doesn’t Work.”

Hi Mark,

I hope you will respond to this via email.
What do you suggest for teaching grammar skills in 1st grade? I am moving from 3rd/4th, where I was lucky enough to read your article years ago and dumped DOL at that time. With success. I am moving to 1st grade next year and am not sure what effective grammar teaching/learning looks like at that level.
Thank you for any feedback. I have a principal who supports getting rid of DOL even though only a few of us have done that. I think he would be happy to see something more effective replace it in primary grades.

Thanks again,

Debbie

Beginning now in kindergarten, the Common Core Language Strand Standards start getting extremely rigorous and very quickly. Middle school and upper elementary teachers are constantly shocked when they discover that what they once introduced as a new Standard at their respective grade levels is now introduced in, say, first grade. For  example, check out this first grade Language Standard (1d):

Use personal, possessive, and indefinite pronouns (e.g., I, me, my; they, them, their; anyone, everything).

Having taught English extensively at both the middle and high school levels (as well as serving as an elementary reading specialist), I will assure you that secondary teachers still “introduce” instruction in these three pronoun usages.

One approach I would recommend is simple sentence diagramming. Learning the functions of the parts of speech in the context of sentence structure by seeing their visual representations and manipulating the word choices and sentence structure makes a lot of sense. Check out “Does Sentence Diagramming Make Sense?” and “How to Teach Sentence Diagramming” to understand the whys and hows of this traditional approach to grammar.

But for those of you thinking that some primary students would not have the fine motor skills to draw traditional sentence diagrams… I would wholeheartedly agree. Tom Diagram2However, if teachers draw or tape the lines, sentence diagramming makes a whole lot of sense. Use blue tape on tables or on individual whiteboards to draw the sentence diagram.

For example, you could use simple fill in the blank sentence diagrams and pre-printed cards to manipulate on the big whiteboard (for the teacher) and on tables or individual whiteboards for students.  Use blue tape for the horizontal and vertical lines or printed sheets of paper if kids are advanced enough to write out the words with pencil or dry erase markers.

Check out this instructional approach to learning the functions of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and simple adverbs and how these parts of speech serve as sentence subjects, predicates, objects, and modifiers:

Tom eats.

Tom eats cake.

Tom eats yummy cake.

Tom often eats yummy cake.

Tom ate.

Tom ate cake.

Tom ate yummy cake.

Tom often ate yummy cake.

Tom will eat.

Tom will eat cake.

Tom will eat yummy cake.

Tom often will eat yummy cake.Tom Diagram

Lots of word-building possibilities with this instructional approach as well:

She sips.

She sips milk.

She sips her milk.

She sips her cold milk.

She loudly sips her cold milk.

He slurps, drinks (sight word), gulps, chugs, tastes.

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste their juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, taste their tasty, yucky, big, little (sight word), icy juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

Boys, Girls, They (sight word), Men, Women (sight word) slurp, drink (sight word), gulp, chug, quietly, happily, sadly, slowly, quickly taste their tasty, yucky, big, little (sight word), icy juice, tea, Coke, smoothies, water (sight word).

This instructional approach is also great for sentence building (think “add on an adjective or adverb”), vocabulary development (think “add on a prefix or suffix”), reading (think outlaw words, vowel sounds, r-controlled, and consonant blends, and spelling (think plurals and inflections). Plus, students are learning all of these skills  in the writing context.

Business size game cards of the following would be perfect for this instructional activity (See below 🙂)

  • 43 animal sound-spelling vowel, vowel team, and consonant cards
  • 45 consonant blend cards
  • 60 alphabet cards (including upper and lower case with font variations)
  • 90 rimes cards with example words
  • 108 sight-spelling “outlaw” word cards
  • 60 high frequency Greek and Latin prefix and suffix cards with definitions and example words
  • 60 vowel and vowel team spelling cards
  • 90 consonant and consonant blend spelling cards
  • 30 commonly confused homonyms with context clue sentences
  • 60 most-often misspelled challenge word cards

The author of this article, Mark Pennington, sells these game card sets as one component of his Teaching Reading Strategies reading intervention program. Mark is also the author of the grades 4-8 Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grammar, usage, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary programs.

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