How do you know when it’s time to move on with a grammar topic and when it needs to be re-taught? Making this decision requires reflection, strategy, and knowledge of best practices. As with everything else in education, this question has many possible answers. Teaching grammar can be tricky, but when students’ best interests drive our instruction, it’s hard to go wrong.
Welcome to ELA Today, a monthly chat where the authors of Reading and Writing Haven and Language Arts Classroom cover different ways of approaching common decisions in the ELA classroom.
TEACHING GRAMMAR: WHERE TO BEGIN
At the beginning of the year, I give students a comprehensive grammar diagnostic. Still, at the start of an individual unit, I like to start with a smaller diagnostic so that I have an indication of students’ current understanding and a way to track growth. No Red Ink has some diagnostics that focus on specific details, but when I want a bigger picture of whether my students can transfer those skills to writing, I create my own.
From there, I begin with direct instruction in the form of a mini-lesson. Research has proven that direct instruction rooted in best practices can improve students’ writing abilities and understanding of language (especially when it focuses on targeted skills identified by common writing errors). However, conducting a mini-lesson requires strategy.
When considering if you should move on or reteach a concept, it’s important to reflect on how you chunked the direct instruction. For example, when I teach conjunctive adverbs, I break the lesson down into three (or four – depending on my students’ readiness levels) separate lessons. We discuss how they can be used in the front, middle and back of a sentence. Each day for several consecutive days, we study one of those approaches. It seems to be more effective to chunk direct instruction in this manner rather than introducing multiple skills in one day.
MOVING STUDENTS FROM GUIDED PRACTICE TO INDEPENDENCE
After teaching each use for conjunctive adverbs, we do some whole class practice exercises. I then move students to independent work. Can they do it on their own successfully? If so, it might be time to assess them. Usually, however, some students show early understanding of the topic, and others are still confused.
When this is the case, I work on focused, small group instruction with the latter group. My favorite way to do this is in the form of a visual or kinesthetic activity. Of course, there’s always the rest of the class. What are they doing? I try to stick to something simple but make it worth their time. Enrichment activities can include asking students to read a novel of their choice and look for examples of how the author uses that skill (or how/why he or she breaks the rule). Sometimes, I ask them to read independently and then respond to what they have read. In their writing, they demonstrate command of the grammatical concept we are currently studying.
REFLECTING: IS IT TIME TO MOVE ON?
After this informal intervention, I give students a post-assessment. It looks very similar to the pre-assessment, but the questions are slightly different. Same skills…different words. If 80 percent of students show mastery on a grade-level skill after I’ve tried all of the aforementioned approaches, we move on.
Often, a grammar skill is built upon over the span of multiple grade levels. According to the Common Core standards, junior high students are expected to write in complete sentences and to use various types of sentences, but students aren’t expected to master the semicolon until high school (grades 9 and 10). When deciding whether you should move on or re-teach a skill, keep in mind the specific grade-level standards for your course.
As always, there is more than one way to teach ELA. If you’re looking for an alternate perspective, Lauralee at Language Arts Classroom is sharing tips for teachers who are new to grammar instruction.
WHAT TO READ NEXT:
- Why Teach Grammar?
- How Do I Sequence Grammar Instruction?
- How Do I Structure a Grammar Lesson?
- Spicing Up the Grammar Lesson
- Differentiating the Grammar Lesson
This conjunctive adverb mini-lesson is the one I use to scaffold and chunk instruction to maximize my students’ growth from beginning to end of the lesson (as described in this post).