Teaching Demo

I’m excited to hear your thoughts! Thanks for listening and participating.


Posted on July 3, 2012, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. This hits close to home for me with your findings of what your students are lacking. As a Language Arts teacher of students who are coming to you, I feel quite guilty that we (8th grade teachers) DO NOT hit conventions and grammar that hard. We work with students within the Workshop to edit for grammar and conventions. We really only hit punctuation and grammar at the beginning of the year, and just refer back to it occasionally when polishing a piece of writing.

    I wonder where the “holes” are occurring. This is something that needs to be addressed district-wide.

    I am totally going to steal your strategies, so I apologize in advance for having kids come to you in a couple years and tell you, “We already did this…”

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. The green door game was a great way to understand how kids often feel when working with grammar. It’s so easy to forget that to someone who doesn’t yet have an existing background in reading and writing might feel confused by or excluded from the secret language of grammar and punctuation. But don’t worry, it was fun too! I appreciate you mentioning how important it is to honor kids’ home languages and dialects, because I get so, so frustrated and angry when I see kids being punished for speaking or writing in a way that is very rule-governed, and perfectly appropriate in many contexts. I’d much rather teach them how and when to code switch like you describe. I also appreciate the way you study grammar with the intent of making writing sound a certain way, rather than as simply telling kids to memorize rules they might not really understand, which can inhibit their writing.

  3. Way to represent the reading group! I like the way you structured your demo today. I’ve used several of your strategies, and agree that Anderson rocks. I actually have learned his techniques second hand because I haven’t grabbed a copy of his books yet. I’ll be doing that this summer, though.

    I’d also like to review your presentation again at the start of the school year. I need your enthusiasm for grammar. I’m sure that transfers to your students and keeps them involved.

    I’d also like to give you props for being brave enough to present about grammar to a room full of English teachers. I would have asked everyone to surrender their red pens before I began.
    Enjoy basking in the glow of a completed demo for the rest of the day.

  4. Becky,
    Thank you for the activities we can use in our classroom to teach grammar in the context of writing. I also now have four more books to add to my reading list so thanks for that too! Moving to 7th grade next year I wonder what this will look like in my classroom. I’m sure I can ask Chris for some good ideas. This class has been so amazing and such a good resource for improving my instruction of writing. Trust me when I say that I was never bored, nor disengaged during your presentation. It was amazing and the hard work you are putting into your teaching is paying off for your students and for us, as today I became one of your students as well. I can’t wait to continue our collaboration into the next school year and beyond!

    P.S. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Dear Becky,

    Thank you so much for your presentation on guilt-free grammar. I felt like I had an inside look into your presentation because I read and used so much of Jeff Anderson’s work this school year. I absolutely love him and his ideas on grammar! This makes grammar so much more meaningful and purposeful for students, and they begin to enjoy it as well! It really is guilt-free as a teacher because of the engagement of the students. Thank you for your fun examples and activities that we could use in the classroom right away. The student examples you had really helped to ground some of this in reality – sometimes Jeff Anderson’s ideas almost seem “too good” that you’re concerned about how well they actually work for students. Sometimes it takes more time, but slowing down and examining the author’s craft through those good mentor sentences pays off in students’ writing for sure.

    Thanks for your presentation. It was engaging, informative, and applicable to many.

    -Jenna Engel

  6. I LOVE LOVE LOVE your approach you take with your students. It is not overwhelming for both the students and I. So much I think about what grammatical jargon I need the students to know, so that they are ready for next year. But I like your approach with using it to improve their writing vs. drill and skill lessons. Simple ideas that make the writing so powerful. That is effective and useful grammar. You have actually inspired me to read a couple books :-).

  7. While I found playing the “green glass doors” game frustrating, it was a good experience for me to remember how many of my students feel about grammar, especially my poor ELLs trying to guess at the rules for a language they don’t even speak. I think the first promo activity could be used with kindergarten students. I’m curious to try having them do it in English and then in Spanish and see what happens…

  8. Becky,
    So much of this teaching demonstration resonated with me. I must admit: I feel guilty about how I use/don’t use grammar. I’ve always found grammar to be an insurmountable hurdle in teaching English. Until now! You’ve given me many valuable resources and ideas for teaching grammar in my class. I found the information about DoL to be very interesting (I actually still remember some incorrect sentences I learned in DOL…in first grade!). I definitely don’t want my students to internalize the wrong sentences, or think that I am reinforcing incorrect grammar usage. Also the fact that “Correct grammar allows students to participate more effectively in the ‘culture of power'” resonated with me because of my experiences in my diverse teaching placements. This statement is incredibly powerful to me because it gives mea goal to help my students succeed. This lesson is very applicable to my teaching. I will focus on student strengths in my grammar lessons, so students feel encouraged and motivated to learn more. This also helps to answer our reading group’s question regarding code switching. In a diverse setting, the topic of grammar is very important because it is incredibly relevant to students that in most cases speak more than one language. Thanks again for your input and wonderful teaching demonstration!

    • So slow! I thought you were going to post your comments before me…? I have already written my comment for Thursday’s teaching demo. Gotta get up early in the morning to beat me!

  9. patricklynnette

    Hi Becky,
    I really learned lots from your demonstration on teaching grammar. Since I teach early elementary, I have to gear down the activities and suggestions to meet my students’ needs. However, when you introduced Harry Noden’s book, Image Grammar, the skies opened up! I love his idea that grammar is an art! I came up with this activity to craft sentences by using pictures with words written beneath the picture. I would create these first. One or two words per picture. Kids put the pictures together, creating a sentence. After gluing them down on paper, they can add commas and periods with crayons, or paint. This sentence became a work of art!
    You mentioned another idea about having students create their own rubric. For example, they list grammar rules they want to pay close attention to. On this same rubric, students could identify a comprehension focus as well. I like this. I will definitely create a multi-useful rubric for my students to use as well.
    Thanks Becky! You did a fantastic job and ALL of your activities were beneficial and appropriate!

  10. Your teaching demo today was fabulous! I love the emphasis on grammar and the fact that you make it enjoyable for students. I continually tell my students, “Your writing represents you and the company for whom you work.” That said, I believe it’s important to keep our writing polished. Often, future employers get their first glimpse of us through our writing (applications, resumes, posts, etc). Your presentation today will be helpful in my class as I use your techniques to reinforce grammar in the classroom. Thanks so much for sharing!

  11. Becky,
    You did a really good job of making grammar fun today; when I said that the first game was awful, what I meant was that I was sooooo consumed by trying to figure out the pattern that I became frustrated. That is a good thing!

    I really appreciate the AWWUBBIS idea, and I will definitely adopt it in my Advanced Composition class. I’m even going to read some Jeff Anderson material to see if I can add some punctuation clarification to my students’ writing.

    I also liked your idea of having students find a picture that means something to them, then using that picture to craft a sentence, expressing an action or emotion. I see this strategy as being really useful on the computer, where students can find images of just about anything. I could use this all the time! Mwa! Ha! Ha! The power I will have!

    I love grammar and have always lamented the apparent movement away from its focus, but, of all aspects of teaching English, grammar is the one that few if any teachers have mastered within the context of writing. I’ve tried a million different strategies, and some have “kind of” worked, while others have not worked at all. At this point, I was feeling defeated and uninspired to teach grammar . . . until YOU re-inspired me! Now I will once again attempt to teach a little grammar a day, and I will no longer feel guilty about it. I really am going to try it again. Thanks for all your work, Becky. Jeanette Barry

  12. Dear Becky,
    You need to know I can recognize a grammatically correct (or incorrect) sentence, and I can (and often do) write grammatically. However, I have a true confession: I do not know the LANGUAGE of grammar, and this is why I default to my safe place in my composition classes and allow reading to substitute for grammar instruction. Ask me to identify a verb, a noun, an adjective, an adverb, or even a preposition and I’m ok. Talk about subordinating conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs, and I am a quivering mass of Jello! I make this confession not to encourage you to “out” me to my department chair, but to thank you for talking about the teaching of grammar in terminology I found non-threatening and useful. 🙂
    My students shut down if I use the language of grammar (to wit: “Substitute a proper noun for this pronoun” is greeted with eye-rolling and exaggerated sighs, followed with a plea to “just TELL me what to do!”). I like that we don’t have to use the language of grammar in order to teach grammar, and that we can help students recognize patterns they can replicate in their own work. (I especially liked the last activity you shared with the pictures and the absolutes. My students would really get into this.)
    Thank you for your bravery. Thank you for your fearless insistence that grammar is not scary. Thank you for your encouragement. (Did you notice the parallel structure? :-)) I may be able to stomach 10 minutes a week of grammatical instruction after all!

    • I certainly am not a grammar guru, and I still make PLENTY of grammatical errors, but that is the beauty of grammar to me. I can play with it to make my writing sound how I want it. When I argue with someone about how to punctuate a sentence or how to word a phrase, I walk away with a revised schema of how language works. When I actually try to teach the language of grammar, it is hard for me to explain how certain words work, for instance the phrase “heart attack” is a compound noun but “heart” is also a noun acting as an adjective…Is it one or the other???? Our grammar textbook doesn’t explain, so I don’t know. I feel so much freedom in just skipping that conversation because students naturally use those parts of speech fairly accurately. Sorry, random comment on your comment.

  13. Becky, thank you for your passion about grammar. I can see that your students are not bored. You took what many consider to be a dry subject and made it come alive in your presentation. I had the privilege of hearing Jeff Anderson speak a few years ago and bought two of his books. I am still reading “Mechanically Inclined,” but have been able to incorporate many of the suggestions he makes into my teaching. Thank you for the suggestions of more books that will help with grammar instruction. I have a growing list of reading to do! Excellent job on you demo!

  14. Becky,

    Thank you for sharing your knowledge and enthusiasm about grammar with us. I can tell you are an excellent teacher because you are an articulate and confident presenter. I am amazed at the range of courses that you have taught. Having prepared for so many different classes, you seem to have thought very deeply about how to craft student learning. I also noticed that you reflect carefully and review current research in order to decide what worked well one semester and what to try the next semester. That’s very exciting for me to witness. I also appreciated that you gave us specific exercises to try with our students and explained WHEN you fit these grammar lessons into your teaching. I’m so happy to hear that students return to their drafts after learning a new technique, trying it out within the context of their own texts. Even though I KNOW to do that, sometimes I let it slide in the momentum of coaching students’ drafts from start to finish. Thanks, also, for giving me a testimony about which professional texts you have found to be useful. When I teach undergraduates, I always have to choose which textbooks to choose, and your feedback is very helpful. Next semester I think I’ll stick with Jeff Anderson. Thanks for the endorsement. You have made the study of grammar once again a fun topic to study and discuss. Well done!

  15. Becky~
    Thanks for sharing and I am finding that I enjoy grammar. Heart racing, palms sweating, I am writing this blog as best as I can and hopefully, grammatically, correct.
    Some of the ways that I might be able to use this with my little ones in first grade is playing with words/sentences. I may ask students to play with mentor text by cutting up the words and creating a new sentence. This will help me identify those students who may or may not have a sense of what comprises a sentence. Also, I think I could use the terms: opener and closer, for students to see how a sentence opens and closes with a complete thought within. I’ll play around with these ideas and try them once my first graders are adept at writing complete sentences.
    I also wore my “mom” hat today. I have a son who will be a freshman and a daughter in 8th grade. I am thinking that my son (Conner) needs to first of all: read, read, read. I am planning on showing him the mentor sentences – seeing if he can identify the subordinate clauses (openers) and teaching him the AAAWWUBBIS acronym clue. So helpful! and I need this kiddo to do well on the English part of the ACT (he’s a whiz in science & math). I also want to help my son improve as a writer and using the idea of adding absolutes is a simple way for him to just “brush” up his wording. Finally, I will share with Conner the quick write noting errors in his own writing, then each time he wants me to “read over” his paper, I will ask him – “Did you check for _____”, whatever his focus area is so that I’m not doing all the correcting work for him. Much appreciated for sharing 🙂

  16. Thanks for having the courage to do a presentation on grammar! I’ve shared a similar journey in grammar instruction: DOLs gave way to other activities which were eventually thrown out in exchange for additional writing time. I used some of Jeff Anderson’s methods in my classroom this past year, and I LOVE his encouraging, positive tone! It so resonates with me that “grammar is power” — something I long to communicate effectively to my students.

    I am inspired to go back to “Mechanically Inclined” (see, even here it is frustrating because I can’t underline the book in a blog comment — drives me crazy!) and to check out Constance Weaver. Thanks for renewing my interest in/dedication to grammar instruction!

  17. Thank you, Becky! The verbiage of grammar has always been a bit boring and scary for me to teach. The basic parts of speech are there, but sentence structure labels are weak. I appreciate your emphasis, with supported research, on the students just “doing it” through mentor text, your instruction and conferencing. Using a piece of their own writing to record what they already know, and what they need to focus on throughout the quarter is a great idea. I see it giving me a guideline of what needs to be covered in class, and it giving the kids (I hope) a bit of ownership for their own learning. I’m anxious to take a look at Jeff Anderson’s books and his website. Thanks for introducing us 

  18. Becky,

    Thanks for the shout out re: games. Wondering — is my first sentence grammatically correct? What about the second? And, now the third? This line of reasoning could continue. For the fact that I’m thinking about it and playing with it here, I thank you. Or, is it Thank YOU.

    What I mean to say is, your presentation hit both a person and professional chord for me. I have had a fear of grammar, to a lesser extent but similar to my fear of math. I am coming to understand that this might stem from the fact that I have a hard time figuring out and recognizing patterns – and rules are grammar rules are expressed language patterns. Your presentation shined a new light on the issue of grammar in my life.

    OK, you might be asking “How did this woman get through a Ph.D. program without really /knowing understanding grammar? So, the cat’s out of the bag. I can say, thank goodness for 1) my dissertation director who taught me common patterns used academic writing, 2) my family background where grammatically correct speech was expected, and 3) mentor texts that I could follow. Because I have felt unsure about grammar, I have felt unsure bout teaching it and about giving too much editorial feedback on papers. Your presentation changed this for me.

    You caught my attention and brought me in (Green Glass Door)
    You helped me realize I already have a strong grammatical sense (Focus on strengths)
    There are some common patterns to rely on (patterns of power)
    There are some “hot spots” I can look for in my writing and in others writing (build a checklist of common errors)
    There ARE ways of teaching my students (undergrads) to teach it (methods) that are fun, interesting and effective (games, patterns, common errors, Image Grammar) so that when we get to the revising stage and the editing parts of the writing process in my classes, I don’t just slide over it.

    I loved the format you used with the Promo followed by a point. It kept things moving and engaged us fully around each point. I will borrow that as well as I format presentations for my classes.


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