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How and When to Teach Adverbs

Adverbs are tricky. Knowing the definition of this basic part of speech only gets us so far. Yes, we do need to know what we are talking about when we refer to adverbs. Some common language of instruction only makes sense. Even the writing process purists, never proponents of direct grammar instruction, have always agreed that teaching the definitions of adverbs and the other parts of speech is necessary. However, we also need to teach recognition (reading) and application (writing) and adverb are challenging for most students.

Teachers know that students have been taught adverbs in the past, but students rarely retain much of this instruction. Why? We simply need to focus more on student learning, rather than simply covering the subject. Following is an instructional approach guaranteed to interrupt this forgetting cycle. At the end of this article, I will share an instructional scope and sequence for adverbs with clear definitions and examples.

1. DIE AR

(I know. A pretty depressing mnemonic. Not necessarily a subconscious desire to kill off the Accelerated Reader® program… but then again…)

DEFINE Help students memorize the definitions of the key adverbial components. Rote memory is foundational to higher order thinking. Use memory tricks, repetition, raps, and songs. Check out the Parts of Speech Song. Students love this. Test and re-test to ensure mastery.

IDENTIFY Help students identify adverb components in practice examples and real text. Using quality, un-canned and authentic mentor text, such as famous literary quotations and short passages/poetry teaches two necessary components at the same time: identification practice and sentence modeling.

EDIT Help students practice error analysis for each adverb component by editing text that contains correct and incorrect usage. Seeing what is wrong does clarify what is right. But don’t limit your instruction, as in Daily Oral Language, to this step. Students need both mentor texts and writing practice to master adverbial components. Grammar taught in the context of reading and writing translates into long-term memory and application.

APPLY Help students use adverbs correctly in targeted practice sentences. Sentence frames are one solid instructional method to practice application. For example, for adverbs…

________________ (When?) the old man walked ________________ (How)? down the sidewalk and stopped ________________ (Where?) by the fire station. He looked ________________ tired (What Degree?).

Possible response: Earlier (Today) the old man walked slowly down the sidewalk and stopped here (there) by the fire station. He looked very tired.

REVISE Help students understand the importance and relevance of learning adverbs by revising their own authentic writing. Stress using what they have learned about adverb components to improve coherence, sentence variety, author voice, word choice, clarity, and style. Make sure to share the best revisions as mentor texts. Post them on your walls and refer to them often to reinforce definition, identification, and writing style.

2. Assessments

Diagnostic assessments of key grammatical features, such as adverbs, serves two purposes: First, the results inform what to teach and how much time to spend on direct instruction. It may be that one group or class tends to have mastery re: how adverbs, but weaknesses in adverbial clauses. A different group or class may have different strengths and weaknesses. Second, diagnostic assessments provide individual baselines upon which to build learning. The purpose of formative assessment is to identify relative strengths and weaknesses of both instruction and learning. Sharing this data with students is vital. Students need to know what they know and what they don’t know to motivate learning. Students also need to see the personal relevance of the instructional task. Check out an effective multiple-choice diagnostic grammar assessment under Free ELA/Reading Assessments.

Formative assessments need to be designed to measure actual mastery of the grammatical concept. So, a useful formative assessment of adverb components must be comprehensive and include all steps of the DIE AR process. Simply giving a unit test as a summative assessment only satisfies the teacher (and colleagues) that the teacher is covering the subject, i.e. teaching adverbs. Good teachers use data to affect instructional practice. Good teachers re-teach judiciously. Good teachers differentiate instruction according to assessment data.

3. Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction should focus on relative weaknesses. A good recording matrix for formative assessments specifically informs the teacher regarding component mastery and provides the data to inform instruction: how many students need remediation and what skills need (and don’t need) to be addressed. Individual, paired, and small group instruction with targeted independent practice makes sense. A workshop design in which the teacher distributes worksheets, monitors practice, and uses mini-conferences to assess mastery ensures effective remediation. Differentiated instruction doesn’t have to be a planning or management nightmare. The what of differentiated instruction is key, much more so than the how.

Adverbs Instructional Scope and Sequence    

Primary Elementary School

An adverb describes a verb. Find the verb or verbs in the sentence and ask How? If there is a word in the sentence answers that question, than it is an adverb.

Instructional Model

Teacher: Look at this sentence on the board while I read it out loud. Tom walked slowly. Let’s read it again together.

Teacher and Students: Tom walked slowly.

Teacher: Name the verb in this sentence.

Students: walked

Teacher: walked How?*

Students: slowly

Teacher: Yes, slowly is the adverb because it answers How?

*Notice that the teacher should not say “Tom walked How?” because adding on the rest of the sentence does not reinforce the specific strategy used to identify adverbs. Adding the rest of the sentence adds confusion.

Adverb Tips:

The adverb may be found before or after the word that it describes.

The adverb frequently ends in _ly.

Intermediate and Upper Elementary School

An adverb modifies (describes) a verb with how, when, or where.

Examples:

How? Tom walked slowly

When? because he had arrived early

Where? to the place where we were to meet.

Adverb Tips:

Avoid overusing the adverb, very; it usually does not add much meaning to a sentence.

As a matter of good writing style, place specific adverbs before general ones.

Example: It should be exactly where I described, next to the desk, or somewhere over there.

Explanation: The more specific adverbs exactly where and next are properly placed before the more general somewhere over there.

Middle School

An adverb modifies a verb with how, when, where, or what degree.

Examples:

How? Tom walked slowly

When? because he had arrived early

Where? at the place where

What Degree? he knew very well his entire future could be decided.

Adverbial phrases are groups of related words in a sentence with an adverb or adverbs that modify a verb in a connected independent clause. An independent clause is a noun and verb which expresses a complete thought. Usually separate an adverbial phrase from a connected independent clause with a comma. Adverbial clauses are dependent clauses that modify verbs. A dependent (subordinate) clause includes a subject and a verb that does not express a complete thought. An adverbial clause needs to be connected at the beginning or end of an independent clause to form a complex sentence. Place a comma between the dependent and independent clauses.

Example: Walking slowly, Tom enjoyed the scenery.

Adverb Tips:

An adverbial clause left on its own is a sentence fragment.

Signal words beginning adverb clauses include after, as, as if, as long as, as much as, as soon as, because, before, even if, how, if, in order that, once, since, so that, than, unless, until, when, whenever, where, wherever, and while.

As a matter of good writing style, place specific adverbs before general ones.

Example: It should be exactly where I described, next to the desk, or somewhere over there.

Explanation: The more specific adverbs exactly where and next are properly placed before the more general somewhere over there.

High School

An adverb modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb with how, when, where, or what degree.

Examples:

How? Tom walked very slowly

When? because he had arrived extremely early

Where? at the place just right where

What Degree? he already knew his entire future could be decided.

Adverb Tips:

Students often confuse adjectives with adverbs when the words serve as superlative modifiers.

Some long superlative modifiers are adjectives. Adjectives describe a proper noun, a common noun, or a pronoun with How Many? Which One? or What Kind?

Example: Of the many intelligent men in the group, Tom was the most intelligent.

Explanation: The superlative modifier most intelligent is an adjective because it modifies the  noun (a predicate nominative) Tom.

Some long superlative modifiers are adverbs. Adverbs describe an adjective, adverb, or verb with How? When? Where? or What Degree? Example: Of the three arguing angrily, Tom argued most angrily.

Explanation: The superlative modifier most angrily is an adverb because it modifies the verb argued.

*****

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