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  #11  
Old 01-24-2013, 08:14 AM
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Furthuron Furthuron is offline
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Middle School English teacher
I have always found grammar and vocabulary to be important, but they are just not a huge focus at our school since we teach to the reading and writing benchmarks ONLY, and there is (surprisingly) no grammar segment (yes, even in the essay writing). We are re-vamping for next year, but right now that's how it is. Anyway, I am all for integrating it into my curriculum.

Does anyone have good ways to teach grammar in bits and pieces so it transfers to writing? I used to do warm-ups when I taught high school, and this was very helpful, but now we are asked to do AR reading as our warm-up instead. We have workbooks, and we do these from time to time, but they don't transfer to writing.

Any ideas would be appreciated. Surprisingly, my students' grammar isn't as bad as I thought it would be in 7th grade (my freshmen and juniors were worse!), but it definitely needs some work. The struggle is how to fit it in when we're already teaching only 1/3 of the expected pacing guide as it is.
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  #12  
Old 01-24-2013, 11:33 AM
TeacherGroupie TeacherGroupie is offline
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Um. By its very nature a reading examination necessarily tests vocabulary, whether or not it advertises the fact. Much more to the point, a strong vocabulary is vital to reading comprehension, and the California standards are pretty clear on this point.

I will submit that a properly written exam of reading or writing also implicitly tests grammar: middle schoolers are expected to begin to be able to explain their rationales for selecting a particular multiple choice answer or for choosing a particular phrase or sentence structure, and grammar underlies and informs those choices.
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  #13  
Old 01-25-2013, 01:17 PM
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Furthuron Furthuron is offline
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Originally Posted by TeacherGroupie View Post
Um. By its very nature a reading examination necessarily tests vocabulary, whether or not it advertises the fact. Much more to the point, a strong vocabulary is vital to reading comprehension, and the California standards are pretty clear on this point.

I will submit that a properly written exam of reading or writing also implicitly tests grammar: middle schoolers are expected to begin to be able to explain their rationales for selecting a particular multiple choice answer or for choosing a particular phrase or sentence structure, and grammar underlies and informs those choices.
I just mean it isn't (explicitly) part of the reading benchmark or part of how we grade (as a department) our writing benchmark. Granted, if a kid can't write well enough to be understood, they would score low, but I had many students with very low grammar abilities getting near-perfect scores on our last writing benchmark because of how the rubric is written.

I didn't say it was a great system; I just said it's how my district is doing things this year (for whatever reason). If I had it my way, I would be doing different things from the pacing guide, but I have my hands tied.

I'm not trying to fight over whether or not grammar is important or whether or not I notice it when I'm grading my students' papers. I'm saying I want to figure out how to make my students better writers in a district that controls everything we do and has pacing guides that don't effectively meet the California standards. I'm trying to make the best of a difficult situation and be an effective teacher despite some of the constraints.
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  #14  
Old 01-25-2013, 08:42 PM
MrsDizzyD84 MrsDizzyD84 is offline
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I was educated in CA public schools not so long ago. My Language Arts teachers also "taught" grammar through reading and vocabulary. To this day, I struggle with proper grammar, punctuation, and syntax, but I can analyze a reading within an inch of its life. I also write an excellent essay. Once I got to college I had to teach myself grammar. I consistently got points off of essays for too many grammatical errors (even in graduate school). I still lean heavily on Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference.

I don't think it is wise to totally forgo grammar and vocabulary in favor of reading and writing. Students need it all.
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  #15  
Old 01-26-2013, 06:04 AM
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chebrutta chebrutta is offline
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Originally Posted by Caesar753 View Post
I view grammar as one of the most under-taught topics in schools today, and it frustrates me. I spend a good chunk of my time in my foreign language classroom teaching basic English grammar that I believe students should already know. When I say "basic", I mean basic. They come to me in high school not knowing how to identify nouns, subjects, direct objects, verbs....They certainly don't know how to construct a correct conditional statement, how to use the same tense throughout a piece of writing, or how to write a complete sentence. These are egregious errors that really will hold some students back, because, honestly, these sorts of mistakes make people look uneducated.

Please don't skimp on the grammar. Please.
Teaching grammar is like pulling teeth with rusty pliers. This year is soooo difficult with grammar. I even paired up with the Spanish teacher and we tried reinforcing each other in class. Nothing doing. They can tell me that a noun is a person place, or thing, but they can't identify one in a sentence. And they are still convinced that pronouns are really nouns, and we just made up another word to confuse them.

But I am having tiny successes using "If, then" statements, such as, "If a noun is a person, place, or thing, what are the two nouns in the following sentence?"

But inevitably I still have to go through the sentence with every word, asking "Is it a person? A place? A thing?" until they find them. For some reason, it's not clicking in their heads that they can do that themselves.

Hijack over.
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  #16  
Old 01-26-2013, 12:25 PM
TeacherGroupie TeacherGroupie is offline
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Brace yourself for a grammar riff...

You're having trouble partly because "a person, place, or thing" tells what a noun is (and not very well: from where I sit, "truth", "beauty", "madness", and "a ghost" don't fit neatly into any of those categories). But a linguist working on an unanalyzed language doesn't ask her language consultant to list the nouns. She elicits words that are likely to refer to nouns - the words for 'pencil', 'apple', and the like - and words that refer to doing or being, puts a noun and a verb together in a very simple sentence, tries the sentence out on her consultant... and, if the consultant approves the sentence, she then substitutes other nouns one by one into the sentence to see if it's still good, because there can be surprises.

In other words, what makes a noun a noun is not that it refers to "a person, place, or thing": it's that it behaves like a noun in a sentence.

Try this: Put a simple sentence up on the board and underline one word in it. You could start with the subject noun, but don't call it a noun yet. Have students supply other words that could substitute for it; students will tend to suggest "thing" words, so you might want to propose "place" words ("classroom") and abstract words ("idea") and discuss them, and you may want to suggest other words that aren't nouns (again, without saying what they are) so the class can discuss and reject them. and have the class discuss why they don't work. When you all have developed a decently large list, then ask the class what all those words have in common, and otherwise guide them to identifying the words as nouns. Repeat the exercise - if you can do so with the same sentence, that's ducky - for verb, adjective, and adverb.

One of the best tools I've seen for reinforcing content words - nouns, adjectives, adverbs, verbs - is MadLibs: one removes the content words from a short text, asks for random content words of the same parts of speech in the same order, then reads back the resulting passage. If one knows the parts of speech, the result can be hilarious ("The cactus made an irritated seat"); if one doesn't, the result simply sounds stupid ("The really made a fetches seat"??)

As for pronouns: first, there aren't very many of them (Fortunately.) They form what's known as a closed class in languages - it's hard to add new ones. Second, while they stand for nouns (or, to be precise, noun phrases), they behave slightly but significantly differently: unlike nouns in English, pronouns have distinct forms for subject vs. object ("I" vs. "me", "he" vs. "him", "they" vs. "them"). Normal nouns don't do that (any more: they did in Old English and Middle English). Third, and the key thing that will help your students distinguish pronouns from nouns: their reference is not fixed, which is to say that a class of 14 boys and 13 girls may have just one Alexander in it - so "Alexander" has one referent in the classroom - but "he" has 14 possible referents in the room and "she" has 13 (not counting the teacher of course), and "I" has 27 possible referents - and exactly who "I" and "he" refer to will vary depending on who's speaking. Try telling your students you want them to do something, but without using pronouns: "Brucie, Mrs. Chebrutta would like Brucie to turn Brucie's chair around and then sit on Brucie's chair. Mrs. Chebrutta would like Stanley to pick up Stanley's chair and put Stanley's chair back down." And so onWith luck, they'll look at you like you're crazy. Then you can discuss what's weird about those sentences, how they should have been said, and how the referent of "you" changes: in one sentence, it's Brucie, in the other it's Stanley. Furthermore, the referent of "I" is Mrs. Chebrutta when you speak, but it's Brucie when Brucie speaks, and so on.

(And you may tell them for me that Southern American English is more advanced than Standard American English in innovating a distinct pronoun for second person plural: "y'all". Someday perhaps Standard English will catch up.)
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  #17  
Old 03-15-2013, 02:33 PM
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Furthuron Furthuron is offline
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Middle School English teacher
Well, I'm happy to announce that since our 4th Quarter pacing guide is much less rigorous, I will get to teach grammar! I'm doing this as my focus project for BTSA, so I'm curious to see how it turns out as my goal is to get the kids to transfer it to their writing. Thanks for all the great ideas!
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  #18  
Old 03-15-2013, 09:43 PM
EdEd EdEd is online now
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TeacherGroupie, as usual I find your linguistic/grammar post extremely interesting. Thanks for posting...
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  #19  
Old 05-28-2013, 04:28 PM
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Furthuron Furthuron is offline
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Update: The grammar unit was a partial success, and my reflection on it has given me some great ideas to try throughout the year next year. We've also discussed it a lot as a department, and we're all going to focus more on grammar and its connection to writing next year. Thanks to all for their ideas!
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