Thursday, May 21, 2015

BANISH BORING SENTENCES! My Favorite Grammar Exercise

Sometimes I think of grammar as a "necessary evil." It's typically not fun to teach, mostly because students would rather watch paint dry than identify nouns and verbs. I remember spending countless hour in seventh grade diagramming sentences on the board. Luckily, grammar came fairly easily to me, so the grammar unit in every year of school after that was a time that I could sit back and "coast." But I know that I was one of the few. I know plenty of adults who shudder at the thought of subject-verb agreement, or second guess their choice of who verses whom.

I think it's necessary to make grammar relevant.  My preferred method of grammar instruction is to deliver a concentrated dose of grammar in the form of a mini-lesson, followed by writing application. Students might argue that they will never need grammar again, but I haven't had many tell me that they won't need to write well after high school. 

One of my favorite mini-lessons involves replacing forms of the verb "to be" with more specific action verbs. I have a set of "boring sentence" cards that I made, printed, and laminated. (You can grab them in my Teachers Pay Teachers store.) I pass them out to students and then I ask them to show, rather than tell what the card is saying. For example, one of my favorite cards is "The chihuahua was scary."

I point out that the sentence contains a form of to be: was. It would be a much more interesting read if we were showed the dog was scary, rather than just being told. (After all, if someone told me they saw a scary chihuahua, I would want proof!) As a class, we brainstorm details that would show us that the chihuahua is scary: Are his eyes bulging? Is he foaming at the mouth? Did he just chase off the Mastiff down the street? Once students have the hang of it, I turn them loose to expand their one-liners into detail-oriented paragraphs. If we have time, we share some of our paragraphs. Students like trying to guess the original sentence each of their classmates was given.

What is your favorite grammar lesson? Leave your answer in the comments!

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