August 7, 2023

My Approach to Teaching Grammar in Middle School: Reviewing The Basics

At the start of the year, we review the grammar basics: nouns, verbs, and adjectives with a choice writing piece called “Where I'm From."

My view of teaching grammar has changed dramatically over the years and I am on a mission to make it fun and enjoyable (as opposed to serious and tedious as it too often is). To teach grammar in a way that is both engaging and meaningful, I balance examining mentor texts,  going over “rules” of usage, and having students experiment with concepts in shorter and longer writing exercises. You can read more about the key elements of my grammar instruction here.

At the start of the year, we jump right into grammar by reviewing the basics: nouns, verbs, and adjectives with a choice writing piece called “Where I’m From,” inspired by a lesson from Linda Christensen’s book, Reading, Writing, and Rising Up. I usually introduce this lesson the very first week of school.

First we read and listen to the original poem by George Ella Lyons. After reading, we review the definitions of nouns, verbs, and adjectives, and identify examples in the poem. Because I want students to develop their writing skills as well as understand grammar concepts, we also discuss sensory details (imagery) and color code examples of details that appeal to each sense in the poem (i.e.. red for sight, blue for hearing, yellow for smell, etc.).

Lyons’s poem has been imitated before in varying lengths so we also read or listen to examples from Renee Watson (YouTube video) and from Kwame Alexander and James Patterson’s book, Becoming Ali. Their version of the poem is written from the perspective of Muhammad Alias a child.

Our next step is to fill in a brainstorming organizer, which is broken up into categories similar to the content of the original poem like common sayings in your family, favorite foods , and parts of your home. We take time to share ideas from our brainstorming to help spark even more ideas for each other. We use the same color coding strategy with our brainstorming as we did with the original poem. 

To draft their poem, students use ideas from their brainstorming to plug into a fill in the blank template based on the structure of the original poem. Students can add additional stanzas, but must add at least one final stanza of their own. 

Students’ revisions to their poems circle back to the ideas we worked on with the original poem: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and sensory details. Students identify nouns, verbs, and adjectives that they used in their poem and consider how to make them more specific or how to “level up” their vocabulary. I have a set of thesauruses that students use and provide them with a list of adjectives organized by sense. They list possible revisions, like “Monopoly” to replace “board game,” hustled “ to replace “ran,” and “olive” to replace green.” Students also color code their draft, just like we did with the original; poem and their brainstorming organizer, to show the sensory details in their draft and see where they might need to add more.

I don’t require that students make all of the changes they considered during the revision process, but do emphasize that their poem should be noticeably different. Before submitting their final draft, students also work through an editing checklist that focuses on the poem format as well as punctuation, capitalization, etc.

To wrap up this assignment, I print copies of the students’ finished poems to give to families at back to school night. I also create a collaborative poem, pulling a line from each student’s poem. Each student reads their line in the class poem and I play the recording at back to school night as well.

You can find all of the resources for this choice writing assignment in this Google Drive folder. Go to "File," "Make a Copy" to add any of the resources to your Google Drive and edit them to fit the needs of your classroom.

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