Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Importance of Teaching Grammar

I'll admit it.  Grammar is not my thing.  If it is your "thing", please don't tell me or leave a comment because that will make my MONITOR (shout out to Dr. Krashen!) go on overdrive and I just might shut down and never blog again.  Okay, I realize that might not be such a big threat but I HAVE been pondering the importance of teaching grammar.

I had some wonderful English teachers throughout my educational history but they all seemed to enjoy teaching literature more than grammar.  As a result, we never made it past nouns, verbs, and adjectives in our grammar textbook.   It wasn't until I was in an intermediate Spanish course that I was able to identify parts of speech like indirect and direct objects.  Even so, I'm sure I still make errors on the use of I versus me.  And, please don't ask me to explain any other clause than Santa!  Yes, I know his name doesn't have an e at the end.

Even though I have managed to get a Bachelors and Masters degree without the ability to successfully diagram a sentence, being a native English speaker has provided me with years of hearing and seeing the language used correctly.  I may not be able to analyze the English language in depth but I can typically answer the questions "Does it look right?" and "Does it sound right?"   When it comes to language usage, my native ability pretty much sets me up for success.

Yet, when it comes to speaking and writing in Spanish, I don't possess that natural ability.  I must rely more on my learning of the rules of Spanish.  My lack of years and years of exposure to the Spanish language has limited my ability to use the language correctly.  I need a combination of more exposure to native Spanish speakers but I also need the opportunity to explicitly learn some of the mechanics of Spanish grammar.

So, this has got me thinking about how we teach English grammar to our bilingual learners.  I don't think worksheets and going through the grammar textbook are the answer BUT I don't think we can just ignore grammar teaching and expect that our students will be able to successfully express themselves as speakers and writers.

I am still thinking through this but I observed a teacher yesterday that I think is definitely on the right track.  This fourth grade teacher teaches the English side of a one-way dual language program in Stephenville ISD.  She is doing a great job of paying attention to her students' writing and letting their errors be her guide to knowing what to teach next as their ZPD shifts..

Aren't these charts amazing?  I would love to hear your thoughts on teaching English grammar to your non-native English speakers.  I sure hope I never have to face off in a grammar game against these fourth graders because I'm pretty sure they would win!


  1. I'm from the generation(s) that weren't given grammar in high school. Well, we had one semester, but that was it. It wasn't until I took up Thai that I fell in love with the 'whys' of grammar (especially the differences between spoken, and written Thai). Now if I could just get Thai teachers to agree on a set of loose rules, I'd be chuffed ;-)

    1. Catherine, I had the same experience with Spanish. I enjoyed the analytical, almost mathematical aspect of learning the grammatical patterns of a second language. As I would compare it to my first language, I found it fun (in my nerdy sort of way!) to go back and apply my new understanding to the English language.

  2. Well, diagramming sentences was a mental exercise from the middle ages which was meant to sharpen the mind, but never intended to actually make you write better. But I do appreciate some of the grammar I was taught. It honestly wasn't until college that I learned how to use a colon and semi-colon and learned what was the difference between them, and how to use dashes and ellipsis. I was an English major and took a class on teaching English in secondary school, and one of the example exercises we did showed us how to do that, and I though "Wow...I never actually was taught this."

    1. Gale, I had never heard that info about the history of diagramming sentences. So interesting! And, yes, I would love to get that tutorial on the proper use of the colon, semi-colon, and ellipsis!

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