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Grammar Research and Balanced Instruction

"Word Crimes (Revisited)" Video

“Word Crimes (Revisited)”

Okay. I may have crossed over to the dark side of The Force. For years, I smirked at the grammar fanatics who taught and had students practice the explicit grammatical components of the sentence. I insisted, along with my National Writing Project friends, that any grammar instruction outside of the authentic writing context was at best useless, and at its worst counter-productive. But now the Common Core State Standards have shifted my thinking. The separate Language Strand makes sense to me.

This balanced approach best makes sense of the grammar research. An approach that involves direct grammatical instruction in partnership with plenty of connected reading (sentence modeling) and writing (sentence manipulation). It’s working well with my students.

Here’s a quick summary of the two prominent theories of language acquisition and why I’ve “crossed over” to a balanced approach with grammar instruction.

My university professors taught me that all humans are born with an instinctive language acquisition device (LAD). Noam Chomsky’s “little black box,” tucked away in some corner of our brains, gives us the essential grammar rules and language organization that helps us master our native language. Cool. So all we teachers need to do is provide a literate environment, extensive modeling, and plenty of oral language practice for our students to effortlessly learn to speak and write “conventional” and “correct” English. Since the LAD is a universal grammar, the same instructional methods would work for English-language learners. Simple. Grammar that is caught is better than grammar that is taught.

Much better than the older B.F. Skinner approach that humans acquire language through the environmental interplay of stimulus and response, reward and punishment. With this behavioral model, teaching “conventional” and “correct” English would require learning good language habits. That would mean lots of direct grammar instruction, drill and kill exercises, and extensive teacher feedback (think boxes of red pens for error correction). Lots of work. Have to learn what a predicate adjective is… Grammar that is taught is better than grammar that is caught.

An eclectic approach to language acquisition theory that has gained traction in recent years has encouraged me to meld the above theories in my instructional practice. This interactionist approach posits the idea that “language develops as a result of the complex interplay between the uniquely human characteristics of the child and the environment in which the child develops” (Lightbown and Spada, 1999). In other words, a sort of umbrella approach encompassing Chomsky’s LAD and Skinner’s behaviorism. Now, this makes both instructional and practical sense to me.

In my class, I teach one mechanics and one grammar rule/skill. Students tell “what’s right” and “what’s wrong” in an interactive discussion, while they jot down the rules/skills with examples. They analyze how the grammar rule/skill is applied in a model literary sentence and in a student model sentence that I select and display (reading connection). Students complete a simple sentence diagram to see the function of the grammar within the sentence. Students read and analyze a mentor text, which uses the grammar, usage, or mechanics instructional focus. Then students apply what they’ve learned in their own short writing sample. I give dictation sentences that require students to apply the rules/skills and/or manipulate the sentence structure as a formative assessment. Students self-edit and self-correct from my display (writing connection). I often review the grammatical component with a humorous cartoon that focuses on the grammatical skill/rule. It’s working. This instruction takes 25 minutes per session and I teach this strategy twice per week. Much better than D.O.L. or D.L.R. because I have a planned, standards-based instructional scope and sequence. I’m not just “reviewing” what previous teachers purportedly have “taught.”

Oh, I also use a whole-class diagnostic grammar and mechanics assessment and differentiate instruction according to the diagnostic data through targeted worksheets. Shhh! Don’t tell my Writing Project purist friends. But, the extra practice along with my quick writers conferences to review each worksheet’s formative assessment is helping students to finally master (a split infinitive) what teachers have “taught” year after year. And it’s transferring to their writing. I give the students about 15 minutes, twice per week, to work on their worksheets and complete their writers conferences. Students see their own progress on the skills they need.


Teaching Grammar and Mechanics for Grades 4-High School

Teaching Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and High School Programs

I’m Mark Pennington, author of the full-year interactive grammar notebooks,  grammar literacy centers, and the traditional grade-level 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and high school Teaching Grammar and Mechanics programs. Teaching Grammar and Mechanics includes 56 (64 for high school) interactive language conventions lessons,  designed for twice-per-week direct instruction in the grade-level grammar, usage, and mechanics standards. The scripted lessons (perfect for the grammatically-challenged teacher) are formatted for classroom display. Standards review, definitions and examples, practice and error analysis, simple sentence diagrams, mentor texts with writing applications, and formative assessments are woven into every 25-minute lesson. The program also includes the Diagnostic Grammar, Usage, and Mechanics Assessments with corresponding worksheets to help students catch up, while they keep up with grade-level, standards-aligned instruction.

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary

Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary Grades 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 Programs

Or why not get the value-priced Grammar, Mechanics, Spelling, and Vocabulary (Teaching the Language Strand) grades 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 BUNDLES? These grade-level programs include both teacher’s guide and student workbooks and are designed to help you teach all the Common Core Anchor Standards for Language. In addition to the Teaching Grammar and Mechanics program, each BUNDLE provides 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 the grammar, mechanics, and vocabulary 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.

Check out the brief introductory video and enter DISCOUNT CODE 3716 at check-out for 10% off this value-priced program. We do sell print versions of the teacher’s guide and student workbooks. Contact mark@penningtonpublishing.com for pricing. Read what teachers are saying about this comprehensive program:

The most comprehensive and easy to teach grammar, mechanics, spelling, and vocabulary program. I’m teaching all of the grade-level standards and remediating previous grade-level standards. The no-prep and minimal correction design of this program really respects a teacher’s time. At last, I’m teaching an integrated program–not a hodge-podge collection of DOL grammar, spelling and vocabulary lists, and assorted worksheets. I see measurable progress with both my grade-level and intervention students. BTW… I love the scripted lessons!

─Julie Villenueve

Get the Grammar and Mechanics Grades 4-8 Instructional Scope and Sequence FREE Resource:

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