Grammar Instruction

Best Practice


Lately, we have had a lot of conversations about the teaching of grammar here at North Coventry. As a staff, we need to have some basic common understanding. According to research, our brain wants to imitate what it sees (Fisher, Frey, and Lapp 2012). Which means that when teaching grammar we will want to provide many examples of the “correct” form before showing students incorrect examples. According to research, if students see sentences written incorrectly, the brain will want to imitate the incorrect sentence structure.

Invitational Grammer & Editing Instruction with Jeff Anderson

Editing Invitations

Prior Professional Development

Two or three years ago, some of us received professional development based on Jeff Anderson's book Mechanically Inclined (Lori has a copy). The book shows teachers how to interweave grammar and craft so kids see the meaning of how they both impact each other. He believes that we should put up beautiful sentences, honor it, name it and extend it. Jeff pulls a sentence from a mentor text (sound familiar), a book he loves or student’s writing (Most of his “mentor sentences” he finds in the first few pages of books – sometimes the first line!). With students he discusses what a writer has done to create his/her sentence, helping students to develop a "writer’s eye" and to read like a writer. The brain sees and likes patterns. When students are taught to "notice things" their brain’s reticular activator system is engaged and as a result will remember what they saw.

Jeff's Procedure:

  • Invitation to Notice: Sentences are placed on the board (ex: If there were an Olympic contest for talking, Shelly Stalls would sweep the event. ~Flipped, Wendelin VanDraanen). Students are invited to notice. (“What do you notice? What else? What’s the ____ doing when I read it aloud? What’s the ____ doing when I read it with my eyes?”)
  • Teaching Point (What are you hoping they notice?)
    Comma: What is the comma doing? Building anticipation. Puts in a pause.
    Subjunctive mood: Writing has moods. We use wishful thinking words like “were” – meaning a wish , fantasy, contrary to fact, or not probable. Like “If I were in charge of the world..” or “If I were a boy” by Beyonce.
  • Invitation to Compare and Contrast with partner: Teacher writes a sentence that has the same features as the first (ex: If there were an Olympic event for listening, Cooper wouldn’t make the first cut.). Partners reread the mentor sentence and recall features of the first sentence and compare/contrast it to the teacher’s sentence.
  • Invitation to Imitate: Students imitate the concept in their writer’s notebooks. We are asking them to use their writer’s eye to see the patterns that authors use. We want them to use their writer’s eye to look at their world through the lens of pattern.
  • Share their sentence out loud twice: What is celebrated gets repeated!
  • Invitation to Edit/Revise: Students edit the sentences on the board for the specific concept. Put up the good sentence first. Then underneath put that same sentence but change one thing in each sentence. (Discuss – What changed? What effect does it have on the sentence? What did we learn about writing? What did we learn from this author? )

Do You Think You Need A Grammar Book?

Many teachers think they need a grammar textbook to teach their students. THINK AGAIN! “One essential and telling difference between learning from a style manual and learning from literature is that any how-to book will, almost by definition, tell you how not to write…a pedagogy that involves warnings about what might be broken and directions on how to fix it—as opposed to learning from literature, which teaches by positive model.” (Reading Like a Writer – Francine Prose, 2006)

15 Reasons Why Daily Oral Language (DOL) Doesn't Work by Mark Pennington

1. D.O.L. is proofreading, not sentence construction. As such, D.O.L. is error-correction, not meaning-making.

2. D.O.L. has no scope and sequence. It is random, repetitive, a hodgepodge and not aligned to the PA Core Standards.

3. D.O.L. is implicit, part to whole instruction, divorced from any meaningful writing context. Correction is not teaching, and no D.O.L. program that I know of has effective teacher prompts to teach the grammatical concepts.

4. D.O.L. aims to teach writing without writing. Would a coach teach how to throw a baseball by having a player spend all their time throwing the ball incorrectly? No. To pitch a ball correctly, you have to practice throwing the ball. To write, you have to practice writing.

5. D.O.L. involves little critical thinking. Writing involves decision-making about why and how sentences should be constructed for different rhetorical purposes.

6. D.O.L. is not diagnostic. D.O.L. has too much repetition of what students already know, and not enough practice in what students do not know. Teachers need to use diagnostic assessments to determine individual student strengths and weaknesses in grammar and mechanics and then use instructional materials to effectively differentiate instruction.

7. D.O.L. rehearses errors and imprints them in the long term memories of students. The more visual and auditory imprints of errors, the more they will be repeated in future student writing.

8. D.O.L. correction does not transfer to student writing. Students fed a steady diet of D.O.L. throughout elementary, middle, and high school repeat the same old comma errors in the university setting. D.O.L. simply does not teach “deep learning.”

9. D.O.L. is bad test prep. Although teachers often advocate use of D.O.L. for this purpose, the multiple choice format of standardized tests is dissimilar. Tests generally ask “which is right?” not “which is wrong?”

10. D.O.L. uses bad writing models to teach good writing. It teaches what is wrong, not what is right. Although some error analysis can certainly be beneficial, at least as much time should be spent analyzing what makes good writing so good.

11. D.O.L. teaches from ignorance. “If they don’t become familiar with the concepts they are asked to edit for BEFORE they are asked to edit, of course they won’t do it well. How could they? How can you tell if something like a mark is missing if you don’t know where it is supposed to be in the first place?” and “Do we start a social studies lesson with all the wrong dates and names on the board and ask kids to fix them? What about learning the concepts first (Jeff Anderson)?” Students cannot show what they do not know.

12. D.O.L. doesn’t teach the whys and hows of grammar and mechanics. Math teachers do not just teach the process of long division; they also teach the concepts behind the process, using examples, manipulatives, etc. to provide the “deep thinking” that students need. Students need to know why commas set apart appositives, for example. Students need to know how position of word choice affects meaning, for example.

13. D.O.L. isolates writing instruction from student writing. Students are invested in their own writing, not in that of pre-packaged print shown on the LCD projector, or SMART board®. Relevance and personal connection motivates student buy-in. “If the students care about their writing, are writing for a specific audience, and understand that “the importance of editing (and spelling conventionally) is to make their message clear and easy to read for their audience – or reader, they take this job seriously and work hard at making their writing clear (Regie Routman).”

14. D.O.L. does not provide enough practice. One isolated error correction does not teach to mastery. Good teaching involves instruction and immediate guided practice, followed by independent practice with teacher feedback. D.O.L. is throw-it-all-against-the-wall-and-hope-some-of-it-sticks instruction, not the targeted practice that students need to learn and retain the grammatical and mechanical concepts.

15. D.O.L. has little research base to indicate that it works. Why use what does not work, when workable, effective alternatives are available for effective instruction in grammar and mechanics?

Click Below if You Would Like to Learn More About Teaching Grammer Jeff's Way.