My last blog article shared research and reasons why grammar should be taught in all English classes because it improves communication, helps with learning a second language, enhances analytical skills, and boosts reading comprehension. After I wrote that piece, I did an informal survey among former students, asking them if learning grammar had helped them in “real life,” specifically in college classes and in learning foreign languages. Every student who answered affirmed the teaching of grammar; many of the responses focused on how grammar helped their writing skills.
Comments from these former students include “the most helpful parts that come to mind are knowing sentence structure and punctuation. Both helped tremendously in writing papers…to emphasize points and vary the writing” (this from a student who works in a design and communications job). Another said, “Sentence structure and learning how to construct a well-written essay are two of the most useful things [covered in my high school English classes].” And a third mentioned, “I fully believe that the six years of learning grammar (which I loved, and still do!) helped my writing immensely AND it’s been very helpful in learning other languages.” The last former student included here shared a story from her current life as a missionary: “I remember really struggling with grammar in school and even asked you at one point why we needed to learn it. It was a comment I threw out in frustration, but you took it very seriously…. At the time I was annoyed because I didn’t think I would ever be learning another language or using grammar skills to interpret Scripture into other languages. Here I am 15 years later learning German, and I’m so grateful…. German grammar may still be the death of me, but it makes so much more sense due to the foundation I have in English grammar.”
So, I will continue to teach grammar. But as the second part of the title says, grammar can be fun! While it may at times include worksheets or sentence applications, it can also incorporate hands-on activities and games. Here are a few “grammar-is-fun” activities to include in your next English class. (While these are geared mostly toward grades 7 through 9, they may be adapted for younger or older students as well.)
Irregular verbs race: Make small laminated cards, each containing one of the principal parts of an irregular verb (e.g. do/does, did, (have) done; has/have, had, (have) had). Make two sets of cards. Divide the class into two teams and have the members of each team sit together. Distribute one set of cards to each team so that the students have an equal number of cards, making sure that a student does not have two from the same verb (this can easily be adapted for the struggling student by giving him/her fewer cards). Call out the infinitive of a verb (e.g. “to do”). Three students from each team should have cards and race to the front. The students should arrange themselves in order: present, past, past participle. Call on the team that has theirs in order first; they receive a point. They should recite them, saying “Today I ___. Yesterday I ____. I have ____.” (This gets especially fun with some of the tricky verbs like “to lay” or “to rise.”)
Indefinite pronoun candies: Give each student about ten individual candies, such as Skittles or M&Ms. Call out specific indefinite pronouns and have them sort an appropriate number of candies to determine which pronouns are singular or plural or either. Some of these pronouns are tricky (e.g. why is “everyone” singular?), so this sorting process makes it more obvious. And of course, the students can eat them at the end.
Grammar sword drills: Find a few Bible verses that show examples of whatever you are discussing and have the students race to find the verses. The first one who finds it stands and reads the verse. The rest of the class then identifies whatever grammatical concept you are looking for. For example, when studying gerunds, use Ezra 3:11 (praising and giving), Zephaniah 3:17 (singing), Colossians 1:29 (working–a good verse to use because it also requires students to distinguish the gerund from the participle “striving”), and Philippians 1:26 (rejoicing).
Scoot:While this is certainly not original to me, I often use Scoot as a class test review to give the students a chance to get out of their seats. You can find free Scoot worksheets online, or make your own by printing a table with numbered boxes to use as an answer sheet. Then write approximately ten to fifteen numbered questions on separate pieces of paper. Place the questions on various desks or other places around the room. Tell the students to take their answer sheets and pencils to one of the questions and write the answer on their answer sheet. Keep a timer and after approximately twenty seconds (you can vary this depending on the class), say “Scoot!” The students should move in a clockwise direction to the next question and answer it. Continue until they have answered all questions and then check their answers together.
Hands-On Grammar Activities
Forming group sentences: A quick activity that can be completed multiple times in a year consists of writing sentences on notecards to cover whatever grammar topic is being discussed, with one word per card. Distribute the cards, one per student, in random order. Have the students go to the front and arrange themselves so the sentence makes sense, showing their words to the rest of the class. Then tell them to do certain things depending on what you are studying. For example, you can have the students who are the complete subject take one step forward and the students who are the complete predicate take one step back; the student who is the simple subject takes another step forward while the simple predicate/verb takes another step back. Do this with several sentences to make sure all students in the class get a chance to go to the front. You can also ask sitting class members to answer questions about the ones in front (e.g. Which students are adjectives?) This activity works well with adverbs: one of the tests for descriptive adverbs is that they can be moved in a sentence, so have the students who are adverbs move to wherever they make sense in the sentence.
Forming compound nouns: Take a piece of paper approximately 4×6 and cut it into two puzzle-piece shapes. Write one part of a compound noun on each half of the puzzle. Make enough puzzle pieces for each class member; distribute them and have the students find their partners. (If you have an odd number of students, do a three-part compound like “sister-in-law.”) To make it more challenging, cut several of the pieces in the same shape, so that they have to match the words instead of just the shapes.
Diagramming sentences: Write each word of a sentence on a separate card. Give a group of students the cards, along with several strips of paper to serve as lines, and have them diagram the sentence on a table or the floor.
Touch the punctuation mark: Make a worksheet with sentences (written in large font) that are missing their punctuation marks. Have the students glue objects on the paper to fill in the missing marks. Use elbow macaroni for commas, apostrophes, quotation marks, and the bottom part of a semicolon. Broken spaghetti noodles can form the top part of exclamation marks, dashes, and hyphens. Yarn works well for question marks, while red hots make good colons and periods.