There are approximately 23 million blog posts and articles about how to make grammar instruction fun (maybe not…I don’t know…I don’t sit around and count these things), but still…there are a lot. In today’s post, I’d like to add to that massive bank, but hopefully provide some ideas that are not only practical, but also easy to implement and, best of all, not a waste of instructional time. I’m not saying that making grammar “fun” is a waste of time, and really, there are some excellent ideas and resources available to do that. However, in my experience, like math, grammar is learned in large part through repetition (which is not always fun).
Having said that, I keep my grammar instruction fairly simple. Despite the recent movement away from teaching grammar (which I fought tooth and nail), I feel like people are starting to realize that grammar is a necessary life skill. We need it! Plus, it’s emphasized in the Common Core Standards: phrases, clauses, punctuation, sentence types, parallelism, dangling modifiers…all of it.
Even though I’m a traditionalist, I have a few ideas that seem to work for engaging students in grammar content while still achieving the repetition and practice needed to master the concepts. Before I go into those, I’d just like to mention that preceding any of these activities, I conduct a minilesson about the skill in question. I do these on Mondays…and, consequently, have dubbed them “Monday Fun-days.” The rest of the week, I spend time reinforcing the skill I introduced on Monday, and whenever possible, I embed the grammar skills into my literature, vocabulary, and writing content. This approach is a method I’ve found successful, and even though my students pretend to groan about Monday Fun-days, I know they secretly enjoy them.
Without further ado, let’s cover some of these modern-traditional (that’s a thing, right?) ways to practice grammar:
Combine Grammar Instruction with Appealing New Vocabulary Words
One of the ways I have hooked students who don’t enjoy grammar (yes, there are students out there who do enjoy it) is to tie grammar instruction into other areas of ELA content. It makes sense. Grammar, writing, vocabulary, reading…they are like milk and cookies.
My favorite way to do this is through something I’ve called “Grocabulary.” With each grocabulary worksheet, my students are working on a particular grammar skill, but they are also determining unknown word meanings based on context clues provided in the sentence. Here’s an example in which students were first supposed to identify the simple subject and simple predicate and then answer the questions that follow:
The sentence might read: I do not like to be bothered by childish frippery, like who gets to ride in the front seat.
- What context clues are included for the bold-faced word?
- Based on the context clues, make an educated guess about what this word means.
- What part of speech do you believe this word is?
- Now, look up the definition in a dictionary. Compare your guess to the denotation.
Why is this technique effective? Many students love funny new words. I try to use words that either sound humorous or that have an entertaining definition in my sentences. These are not words that I put on the final exam. Rather, it’s vocabulary that engages the students in the worksheet so that they want to dig into the context clues, guess the meaning of the word, and then check their answers. Many of my students walk away from grocabulary worksheets talking and laughing about the words they encountered. To me, this is a success because they were also working on the grammar skill for that day. You can see some of my Grocabulary assignments here.
Frame the Grammar Minilesson with Free Writing
When I conduct a minilesson for a grammar skill, I like to begin by engaging students in a writing task. For example, if I were introducing fragments, I would give students a writing prompt (about an odd news story, an interesting question, or a political cartoon, for instance), and students would free write for about five minutes. Then, I would have them put their response aside and proceed with that day’s grammar topic. (By the way, I don’t tell them what grammar concept I am covering for the day until they have completed the free write).
Upon completion of the minilesson instruction, I then have them pull their free write back out and look for errors, in this case, fragments. If a student says, “I don’t have any,” I have them trade with a partner and check each other’s work. If I’m covering material that is appropriate to students’ ability levels, there are generally mistakes related to that day’s lesson that can be fixed.
This type of lesson generally resonates with students because it answers the question, “Why do I need this?” perfectly.
Emphasize Students’ Interests in Worksheets
So this one is big. My students know I am receptive to their ideas, and they frequently request that I make sentences that use their names or that are about a certain topic. It’s the nerd in me, but I absolutely love that and do my best to accommodate. My Rules for Commas and Semicolons lesson uses student names, for example. During homecoming week, I try to incorporate grammar sentences about the football game, the variety, show, the pep assembly, and the dance.
Along the same lines, I try to pay attention to television shows and movies my students enjoy. One of my kiddos last year was SOOOOO disengaged it wasn’t even funny. Randomly one day, he asked me if I would make some of the grammar practice sentences about the show My Strange Addiction. Trying to hide my excitement, I responded, “Sure” with a little smile and then turned my back before my face broke into the kind giant grin you always see on Christmas morning. (I ran home and made that puppy right away!) I wish you could have seen his expression the next day when he realized I had, indeed, made the sentence types worksheet he requested.
Here’s a free worksheet with answer key I put together to help my students practice punctuating dialogue. My students love Pixar and Disney movies, so most of the quotes come from there.
Use Mentor Sentences from Nostalgic Children’s Books
As students grow older, I always look for ways to keep them engaged with light-hearted, classic picture books. Truly, there is something special about children’s literature, and I strongly believe it should be read and cherished at all ages, not just preschool.
When I use picture books with my high school students, I look for ways to embed the story into higher-level concepts. Speaking solely about grammar instruction right now, I like to use mentor sentences from picture books to teach various concepts, like prepositions and infinitives. Generally, I’ll introduce the concept through a minilesson, and to reinforce the skill, I will read the picture book to the class and have students identify the grammatical element we are studying as they listen. To illustrate, they might raise their hand or flash a red card if they hear a prepositional phrase. After reading, I have a practice worksheet ready that contains sentences from the book.
Play Grammar Games, Sparingly
Games are the bomb, really. My students always ask for them, and I love to use them…sparingly. I won’t go into too much detail because when you do a search for “fun grammar activities” on Google, you’ll only get several million ideas.
Here’s the thing with games though. They are time-consuming, and students generally have so much (off-task) fun that little class time is actually spent practicing the grammar skill in question. Even so, I break them out once in a while, but generally not until right before a test. Once students have a solid handle on the material we are studying, I feel confident in letting them answer questions on their own in small groups without constant supervision. At this point, the review is for their benefit, and if they choose to be off task at the high school level, it’s on them.
I will say the game I enjoy the most right now is my Grammar Games (a parody of the Hunger Games title) dice activity. It’s a unique way to get students to think critically about specific test concepts regarding phrases, clauses, punctuation, and parts of speech. I like to use it before final exams to help review the concepts we covered over the course of the semester.
For more down-to-earth ideas about grammar instruction with older students, hop on over to my friend Lauralee’s blog, The Language Arts Classroom.
Do you have ideas about grammar instruction you’d like to share? I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line in the comments below.