How to Make Grammar Fun!
Grammar instruction is coming back into focus (in some places it never left) since it’s taken hold in the Language section of the Common Core State Standards. We’ve all seen, experienced, or even taught grammar lessons in isolation that students have had success with. Yet, when it comes to transferring those skills to writing, we don’t see the same results. Why is this so? My guess is that for students, grammar instruction can seem somewhat disconnected from the way we speak. Often, grammar instruction focuses on formal/academic language use which can differ greatly from the everyday language we use for speaking and communicating with familiar audiences.
Focusing not only on what to say, but also how to say it, can be daunting for students. The only way I’ve found that helps students transfer isolated grammar (and conventions) into writer’s workshop is through repeated opportunities for practice. I should say, successful practice. Students need to use grammar correctly multiple times (too many times to count) before we can expect them to use it correctly in their writing. And even then we usually have to remind them to do so. It’s enough to turn your hair gray! But if we’ve given students many guided opportunities to show they can use grammar correctly, and we’ve provided helpful tools in their writer’s notebooks and on anchor charts, then we can start to hold them accountable for using it successfully in their writing. We can offer a gentle, or sometimes blatant reminder (“You know how to form a compound sentence. Go do it!”), send them on their way, and expect an improved edit and revision for our next writing conference.
I had the privilege of teaching a grammar lesson with 6th graders in a colleague’s classroom and to make it an engaging experience I created a collaborative game complete with visuals and plenty of shouting. 🙂 I used PowerPoint to make a game I call “Wowza!” that’s just cheezy enough for 6th graders to embrace. We played in table group teams for points and bragging rights using the FANBOYS conjunctions. FANBOYS is an acronym for the following coordinating conjunctions: For, And, Nor, But, Or, Yet, So. These conjunctions connect two ideas of equal syntactic importance. Take a look at the following sentences to see how we can combine them successfully:
- Mario wanted to walk to work.
- It was raining so he couldn’t.
If we combine these two ideas with a coordinating conjunction it reads like this:
- Mario wanted to walk to work, but it was raining so he couldn’t.
They key to coordinating conjunctions is to understand the meaning behind each one in order to know which one to use in different situations. This is where our students need guided practice opportunities the most.
To play Wowza! students were awarded points when they held up their card with the correct FANBOYS conjunction, and I awarded a point for each correct response (But and Yet can be used interchangeably). The kids did a great job with the game, and the mistakes they made were helpful for designing follow up lessons. The next step is to have students write their own sentences to add to the game. With their peers as their audience, and the need for the sentences to be absolutely correct, it should prove to be a worthwhile activity with big payoffs. I was really pleased to see students checking their FANBOYS writer’s notebooks page to double check their answers and justify them to group members. They were able to settle many disagreements by using this resource. Any time I can get students to use the tools I provide is a big win in my book!
Get your copy of the Wowza! game and writer’s notebook resources, and make grammar fun!