August 7, 2023

My Approach to Teaching Grammar in Middle School

Practicing grammar through different writing exercises and choice writing assignments can make learning grammar concepts fun and enjoyable.

Grammar has always been an area of weakness for me. I was never formally taught it in school, which has made me uncomfortable teaching it to others. As an avid reader, I have always had a “natural” understanding of writing structures and techniques so it was easy to tell myself it would come naturally to others. There’s always so much to do in an ELA class period; grammar was one less thing to squeeze in.

After reading two of Jeff Anderson’s books (Mechanically Inclined and Everyday Editing), I began to think of teaching grammar differently. Practicing grammar through different writing exercises and choice writing assignments could be fun and enjoyable. In Anderson’s books, he uses the most basic terms for grammar and outlines lessons in which his students have opportunities to imitate and play with writing. 

Teaching grammar in a way that is both engaging and meaningful requires a balance of three things. First, looking at how authors use grammar intentionally in their own writing. Second, discussing the “rules” of usage and how and why authors might break those rules. And third, letting students try out concepts in shorter and longer writing exercises, from sentences to quick writes to choice writing pieces to essays.

Key Elements of My Grammar Instruction

With  each grammar concept that I review or introduce, there are a few elements that I use each time.
  1. I create an “insert” for students’ ELA notebooks. These are usually based on graphics from Jeff Anderson’s books. I might add other examples or helpful tips. Inserts are glued in the back of their ELA notebooks for reference. Students add their own examples on the page with the insert through different writing activities.
  2. I also create an anchor chart with similar content to the insert in students’ notebooks. I hang the anchor chart in a prominent place while we are focused on that concept and then when we move onto the next concept, I move it somewhere that is easy to refer back to.
  3. To connect grammar instruction with other daily parts of class, we frequently hunt in our independent reading novels for sentences with our grammar concept in focus. That might be looking for a complex sentence with an “interrupter” or a sentence with as many pronouns as possible. Students write out the sentences they find on sentence strips that I display on our whiteboard or bulletin board. 
  4. Once we get going with our grammar instruction, I also review concepts through our Do Now. Each day of the week has a themed activity. Thursdays are dedicated to a spiral review of grammar concepts, but Tuesdays sentence structure activities often indirectly reinforce grammar concepts as well.
  5. To help encourage independent reading, I pull sentences from titles in our classroom library for different grammar activities. Sometimes I will use the start of a sentence as a sentence frame for students to finish. Other times, I’ll use a simple sentence that students will add onto to create a compound or complex sentence. When we are in the midst of a whole class novel or literature circles, I’ll pull sentences from those.
  6. Students demonstrate their understanding of grammar concepts and sentence types with each major writing assignment we complete, whether it is a choice writing piece or a more formal essay. Depending on the assignment, we may practice writing specific sentence structures together during the drafting process. After drafting and revisions, students work through an editing checklist which requires them to highlight a specified number of different types of sentences. Each time students work on a choice writing piece, they also complete a revision activity in which they identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives to improve.

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