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Teaching Grammar the Write Way

by Dana Gage

Since I hold both a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in English, my friends are often surprised when I tell them I started out as a math major. I usually explain that English was my least favorite subject in high school. It was hour after hour of workbooks, rules, and more exceptions than rules. Once I turned in a short story I had spent hours writing and was disappointed to receive a fairly good grade only because there were few spelling errors. In stark contrast with this unfriendly gathering was math class: exciting, fun, and challenging.

So I left for college excited about being a math major and reluctantly signed up for the first of the three required classes with the prefix EN. In these classes, however, I began learning some new things. I learned that I could arrange my paragraphs in a way that would make my argument more convincing. I learned that I could replace linking verbs with action verbs and give my essay strength and vitality. I learned that writing poetry was more than finding rhyming words. My papers were graded on content as well as spelling. It soon became apparent that not only had I grown to love English but I was also actually more competent in that area than in mathematics. Maybe your children share my pre-college feelings about English, especially grammar. Maybe they see writing and grammar as unrelated or grammar as boring, impractical, and repetitive. Sadly, if grammar is taught the wrong way, students cannot enjoy the fascinating study of their own English language. Fortunately, using two helpful teaching methods, induction and integration, you can interest your children in English and improve their long-term comprehension of grammar.

Induction is the opposite of deduction. Deduction is learning a general rule and then making specific applications. For example, you can give your child a list of auxiliaries and tell him that be, have, and do can also be used as main verbs; then he can underline all the auxiliaries in an exercise. Induction is examining specifics and creating a general rule. Teaching inductively, you would give your student several example sentences with verbs and auxiliaries and let him generate a list of auxiliaries. Using this list, he would then determine which of these auxiliaries could also be used as main verbs. Through induction, he will discover concepts himself—or at least be curious and eager to learn more.

Breaking down the whole body of knowledge into smaller subject areas is helpful, but not relating the subjects to each other can result in arbitrary facts with no real-life context. Try as much as possible to integrate your grammar lessons with writing, vocabulary, literature, and speech. You can easily integrate grammar with writing by using writing folders. Teach a usage lesson, such as changing passive to active voice. Next, direct your child to take a paper from his writing folder and to revise his writing, changing many of the passive-voice verbs to active. This method allows your child to practice—the skill while observing the positive difference in his own writing. Now you can discuss the effects of changing passive to active. Ask your child to explain why some sentences should remain passive and why others sound better in active voice.

Use induction and integration and take the dread out of English class. Maybe your child does not like grammar, or maybe he learns quickly and becomes bored. With inductive activities and creative writing assignments, you can spark interest and improve long-term comprehension. Remember that language is a gift from God and unique to beings created in His image. It is important to understand language and to use it well. With a fresh approach to grammar, you may even discover some hidden talents. Who knows? Your child may even be an English major or a writer someday.

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