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? I wish I had the answer. My guess, though, is that grammar instruction (and conventions for that matter) 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 chances 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.
You can see a lesson on coordinating conjunctions and compound sentences I did recently in a 6th grade here. I recently followed up with a game I created to help students practice the same skill in a fun and engaging way. I used PowerPoint to make a game I call “Wowza!”. (It’s just cheezy enough for 6th graders to embrace). We played in table group teams for points and bragging rights. Students were awarded points when they held up their card with the correct FANBOYS conjunction, and I awarded two points if they correctly help up the “but” and “yet” cards a the same time (they can be used interchangeably).
The kids did a great job with the game, and the mistakes they made were helpful to us when we design follow up lessons. Our plan 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 also 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 way I can get students to use the tools I provide is a big win in my book! Check out the game, cards, and FANBOYS sheet below. And make grammar fun!