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Grammar | Teaching in the Social Context

Language Conventions Literacy Centers

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

If we consider the traditional four communicative contexts of English-language arts (listening, speaking, reading, and writing) and add on a fifth, the visual context, thanks to the interesting research of Kress and van Leeuwen, we find that language never takes place in isolation. Even when my wife talks to herself, she does have an audience (and I’m rarely included).

A few examples (with good instructional links and the related Common Core Standards) will remind us of how we teach the language interactively:

We teach students to actively listen to a speaker by asking relevant questions.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.6.1.C
“Pose and respond to specific questions with elaboration and detail by making comments that contribute to the topic, text, or issue under discussion.”

We teach students to speak to their audience, using specific techniques to interest our listeners.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.SL.4.4
“Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience in an organized manner, using appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details to support main ideas or themes; speak clearly at an understandable pace.”

We teach students to engage their audience in writing assignments.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.7.3.A
Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically.

We teach students to maintain a dialog with the author when reading.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RF.5.4.A
Read grade-level text with purpose and understanding.

We teach students to analyze media and consider the choices in terms of content, editing, and production made by, say, a filmmaker, videographer, or graphic artist.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.7.7
Compare and contrast a text to an audio, video, or multimedia version of the text, analyzing each medium’s portrayal of the subject (e.g., how the delivery of a speech affects the impact of the words).

So, why are teachers so reticent to abandon teaching grammar in isolation?

Now, most of you are thinking that I’m referring to teaching grammar in isolation via drill and kill worksheets, divorced from listening, speaking, writing, and reading. I’m not. As an aside, while I certainly try to apply my grammar, usage, and mechanics instruction to the instructional subject, I (like all teachers I work with at my school) find that some grammatical instruction is most efficiently accomplished in isolation. For example, when I teach sentence variety through modeled grammatical sentence openers in the context of revising process paper drafts, I always find that some re-teaching is necessary for some students. If half of my students still don’t know the definition of an adverb, its function, proper adverbial order, and some examples, they won’t be able to use a few of my grammatical sentence openers revisions to improve their process papers.  I see no reason not to bust out a down and dirty adverbs worksheet for those seventh grade students who need it.

What I mean by teaching grammar in isolation is didactic direct instruction (teacher talks to the class) or individual students complete a grammar worksheet and turn it in to the teacher to grade instruction.

Instead of those types of isolated learning experiences, I contend that grammar is best learned, interactively, in a social context.

Not to get to hung up on definitions, but let’s cite one:

“A grammar is the rules and constraints on what can be represented. A grammar is a social resource of a particular group” (Kress and van Leeuwen).

If grammar provides the tools (“the rules and constraints”) for communication, it makes sense that these tools would best be defined, identified, practiced, and applied in the context of collaborative communication (the “social resource of a particular group”). The classroom teacher certainly provides one important source of communication, but students themselves are often an untapped source of learning. Students can learn grammar from each other.

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

Literacy centers provide an ideal social context for cooperative learning about grammar: parts of speech, syntax and sentence structure, standard and non-standard usage, word choice, dialect, punctuation, capitalization, etc. Now, of course your students need the right tools. We can’t have the blind leading the blind.

How about a few interactive grammar lessons to test-drive with your students in a cooperative group or literacy center? Your download includes four grammar and mechanics lessons, the unit test (with answers), directions, and literacy center leadership roles.

Get the Four Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Lessons and Test FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Interactive Grammar

If I’m going to entice you to read this article by offering some how-to’s and free resources to teach grammar interactively, we had best get on the same page about what we both mean by grammar.

I like to think of grammar as a community’s language tools.

The tools of grammar are usually known as language conventions. A convention means “a general agreement about basic principles or procedures; also : a principle or procedure accepted as true or correct by convention the conventions of grammar” (Merriam-Webster). The Common Core authors use “Conventions of Language” for the first two Language Strand Standards:

L.1: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

L.2: Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.

Two other points will keep us on that same page:

  1. Teachers usually separate usage from grammar as in standard and non-standard usage, or word choice, or figures of speech, etc.
  2. Teachers usually separate mechanics from grammar and usage. By mechanics, teachers mean punctuation and capitalization. Some would also throw in spelling under this category.

Since our language conventions tools are always applied in a social context, it makes sense to teach and learn grammar how we use grammar: in the social context. Specifically, I find literacy centers to be ideal collaborative settings in which students will actually use their language skills to learn what the tool is and its purpose, be able to identify it, know how to use it, and use it a bit to see its value and, hopefully, remember it.

Academic Literacy Centers for Grammar and Mechanics

Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers

For grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8, I’ve developed twice-per-week, twenty-minute Language Conventions Academic Literacy Centers to teach the Common Core language conventions standards

Instructional Format for Interactive Learning: The How To’s

The Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center provides 56 lessons. Grades 4–8 alignment documents follow the lessons. Each Language Conventions lesson consists of four pages and takes 20 minutes to complete. Students work collaboratively to learn two tools per twenty-minute lesson: a mechanics skill and a grammar or usage concept, rule, or skill.

The first page is in Cornell Notes format and provides the content and skills in the Mechanics Notes and Grammar and Usage Notes sections. The Links and Response sections provide online resources for additional grade-level practice. Space is provided in this section for students to list key ideas, comment, make connections, and write questions. Additional space is provided at the bottom of the lesson for students to summarize the key mechanics and grammar content or skills.

The second page duplicates the lesson text of the first page, but adds examples for the students to copy in the spaces provided on the first page. The Links and Resources sections provide online resources for extended learning (acceleration) and additional practice (remediation).

The third page provides students with practice for both the mechanics and grammar content and skills. Students individually apply the lessons with identification, error analysis, sentence revisions, and sentence combining in the writing context.

The fourth page consists of the practice answers. Students self-correct as a group to learn from their mistakes.

The program provides biweekly unit tests in which students must define, identify, and apply the tools they have learned. Students use their lessons on the test. Teachers may elect to have students take the test individually or as a group.

The FREE Resources

How about a few interactive grammar lessons to test-drive with your students? Your download includes four grammar and mechanics lessons, the unit test (with answers), directions, and literacy center leadership roles.

Get the Four Language Conventions Academic Literacy Center Lessons and Test FREE Resource:

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How to Teach Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words 2

Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words                                                       

Common Core Language Standard 1

We speak differently in different social situations. Hopefully, you talk to your mom and teacher differently than the way you talk to your friends. Most of us text differently than the way we write an essay. After all, beginning an essay with “BTW some so reb ldrs thot they really would win the civil war LOL” will probably not impress your history teacher. Students definitely need to learn the fine art of “code switching.” To code switch means to consider your audience and adjust what you say or write and how you do so. Using non-standard English in the wrong setting, such as in the classroom, is important to recognize and avoid.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words. Remember that Non-standard English often differs from Standard English because of regional or cultural dialects. Often we are used to hearing and saying words or expressions that are not Standard English. Now let’s read the mechanics lesson and study the examples. 

Following are commonly misused words:

  • Additions: We should say anyway, not anyways. We should say toward, not towards.
  • Deletions: We should say used to, not use to. We should say nothing, not nothin’. something, not somethin’, and anything, not anythin’. Example: I used to play guitar.
  • Misused Phrases: We should say I couldn’t care less, not I could care less. We should say once in a while, not once and a while. We should say any more, not no more. We should say could have, not could of. And no would of, should of, might of.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice:  I could care less if you put somethin’ towards the balance of the loan. That amount doesn’t matter much anyways.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers:  I couldn’t care less if you put something toward the balance of the loan. That amount doesn’t matter much anyway.

Now let’s apply what we have learned. 

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a commonly misused phrase.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

Grammar/Mechanics, Spelling/Vocabulary, Writing , , , , , , , , ,

Non-standard English Misused Words

Non-standard English  Misused Words                                                         

Common Core Language Standard 1

Sometimes we hear an incorrect word or phrase so often that it sounds correct. Learning to pay attention to those commonly misused words and phrases will help you use them correctly in your speaking and writing.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on Non-standard English Commonly Misused Words. Remember that Non-standard English often differs from Standard English because of regional or cultural dialects. Often we are used to hearing and saying words that are not Standard English. 

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

Following are commonly misused words:

  • Farther refers to a physical distance. Example: How much farther is the next restaurant? Further refers to a degree or more time. Example: Further your knowledge by reading.
  • Beside means “next to.” Examples: She sits beside me. Besides means “except” or “furthermore.” Example: No one is having fun besides him. I am tired, besides I am sick.
  • Less deals with an amount, but can’t be counted. Example: I want less food. Fewer deals with an amount you can count. Example: I want fewer apples, not more.
  • Disinterested describes a person who is neutral, fair, and impartial. Example: The disinterested referee made the call. Uninterested describes a person who is not interested. Example: The uninterested girl paid no attention to the flirtatious boy.
  • Allowed means permitted. Example: Parking is allowed on this street. Aloud means heard by others. Example: He spoke aloud to the class.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice: I’m really disinterested about the season. I am watching less games than ever. Plus, the stadium is further than I want to go and tailgating isn’t aloud. And I have to sit beside a stranger.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Mechanics Practice Answers: I’m really disinterested about the season. I am watching fewer games than ever. Plus, the stadium is farther than I want to go and tailgating isn’t allowed. And I have to sit beside a stranger.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application:  Write your own sentence using a non-standard English Commonly Misused Words. Then write a second sentence correcting that non-standard English.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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Non-standard English Additions

Non-standard English Additions                                                        

Common Core Language Standard 1

Some people can’t leave “well enough alone.” In other words, they have to add on more than what is needed. People do this in their speaking and writing as well.

Today’s grammar and usage lesson is on Non-standard English Additions. Non-standard English often differs from Standard English because of regional or cultural dialects. 

Now let’s read the grammar and usage lesson and study the examples.

Avoid using non-standard use additions. Don’t add the of or on prepositions when unnecessary. Examples: Get off of my couch. Don’t blame on me for that.

When writing in Standard English, do not use double negatives. Example: Don’t use no notes on the test.

Now circle or highlight what is right and revise what is wrong according to grammar and usage lesson.

Practice: All of a sudden, she changed her mind. She said she did it on accident. She never did nothing like that before now.

Pennington Publishing's Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) Grades 4-8 Programs

Let’s check the Practice Answers.

Grammar and Usage Practice Answers: Suddenly, she changed her mind. She said she did it accidentally. She never did anything like that before now.

Now let’s apply what we have learned.

Writing Application: Write your own sentence using a non-standard English addition. Then write a second sentence correcting that non-standard English.

This writing opener is part of a comprehensive language conventions lesson from the Grammar, Usage, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand)  Grades 4‒8 programs. Complete descriptions, instructional scopes and sequences, introductory video, previews, and two-week test drives of the grade-level teacher guides and student workbooks are available here.

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