Here's How to Make Teaching Grammar Fun
Today’s grammar students don’t need to suffer through sentence diagrams like a lot of us did. As educational research has dug into teaching grammar, scholars have found that the most effective way to teach grammar is in the context of reading and writing - in other words, making it more fun.
After all, grammar is a system of language conventions that promote strong communication. Good grammar is not about arbitrary rules that exist for no reason at all — it’s about ensuring language can be used to communicate thoughts, ideas, and experiences from the speaker or writer to the listener or reader.
Diagramming sentences is out. Studying mentor texts that employ grammar well is in.
With a little imagination, grammar lessons can engage students’ excitement and curiosity — and ultimately strengthen their writing and communication skills.
The 5-step approach to teaching grammar
For too long, English language arts educators taught grammar in isolation. Students learned the rules of grammar, the parts of speech, and so on through various drills and exercises separate from reading and writing assignments. We now know that’s not the best approach.
Students need to see grammar in action in what they read and write. There’s still a value to knowing the parts of speech and identifying nouns and verbs and adverbs, but that knowledge should be bolstered with an understanding of the “why” behind every grammar rule and concept.
In an EdWeek article, Sean Ruday, an associate professor of English education at Longwood University and an author of numerous books on teaching grammar and other ELA subjects, recommends a five-step approach to teaching grammar. The steps are as follows:
1. Start with mini lessons to introduce fundamental concepts.
Rather than overwhelming students with a bunch of grammar concepts all at once, introduce one concept at a time through mini lessons that hit on the concept briefly, but not in-depth. This way, you can spark awareness and curiosity in students about the concept in question while also explaining the “why” behind the rule.
2. Show literary examples of the concept.
To further develop student understanding, show the concept in action through read-aloud sessions and other literary means. For greater engagement, choose texts that are interesting to your students and match their reading level.
3. Discuss how the concept impacts the text.
What function does subject-verb agreement serve? How does the use of past or present tense enhance the piece? Talk through the practical effect of the concept and how the text might read differently if it wasn’t following that particular grammar convention.
4. Have students apply the concept to their own writing.
Now that they’ve seen how another writer uses the concept, have students try it out for themselves. This can be done through everyday writing assignments — just ask your students to pay extra attention to their use of past tense or parallels, for example.
5. Have students reflect on how the concept impacts their own writing.
The point here is to see the usefulness of the grammar concept and how it strengthens students’ abilities to write clearly and effectively.
6 fun activities for teaching grammar
Because grammar is best learned in the context of language use — reading, writing, and even speaking — there are many creative ways to teach grammar concepts. Gamification, role-playing, call-and-response, and detective games can all be used to ingrain correct grammar into your students. Here are a few ideas:
1. Storytelling games
With your students in a circle, kick off a group storytelling game. You can start the circle with a scenario (ex: Poppy the puppy goes to outer space). Then have each student speak for 10 seconds, picking up where the last person left off. Games like this can help students learn and practice good grammar in context, without having an overt lesson, and can be especially helpful if students aren’t quite ready to write.
2. Mad Libs
Harness student creativity and get the whole classroom laughing, while also cementing the differences between nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Start with shorter Mad Libs that won’t require as much time to set up, and build up to longer Mad Libs.
3. Interactive read-alouds
Your students will need to see what you’re reading in order to participate in this activity. You can focus on punctuation or particular words. Before you start reading, tell your students what movements the class will do for each focus punctuation mark or word. For example, students could jump every time you encounter an exclamation mark, clap for a period, or shrug their shoulders for a question mark.
4. One of these things is not like the other
Create a series of sample sentences that display the grammar concept you’re teaching. This could be subject-verb agreement, comma placement in series, or something else. All of the sentences should follow the concept correctly — except one. Display them all together on the screen and ask students to identify which one is wrong. Then, either explain why it’s wrong or have students discuss and provide their own answers as to why it’s wrong.
5. Paper fragments
Once your students are learning about more complex sentence patterns and constructions, this activity can be a fun way to put what they’re learning into action. Create a collection of partial sentences: fragments, dependent and independent clauses, etc. Print them out and cut them up into strips, then distribute to your students individually or in groups. Have them mix and match the fragments to create complete sentences of varying complexity. For an added giggle, your paper fragments can be on funny topics or use silly words.
Variation: You can also use a similar approach to show how sentences affect each other’s meanings. Instead of sentence fragments, print a variety of complete sentences. Have students arrange them in different ways and identify how the sentence meanings change based on what was said before or after.
6. Play detective
Once students have mastered different grammar concepts, give them a detective mission. What funny grammar mistakes do they notice at home or out and about? Ask your students to write those mistakes down or take a picture to share with the class. You can share these funny examples at a certain time each week or have a contest for who can find the most or the funniest.
Good grammar is a tool. It’s a way for students to better articulate their thoughts and ideas — and learning grammar can be just as fun as it is useful. We hope these ideas inspire you to bring creativity to your grammar lessons so your students will both learn and get some laughs along the way.