We’ve established that in order to paraphrase, you need to unpack syntax and grammar. So, how should you teach grammar? For many years, I wrestled with this question. Should it stand alone, or somehow be incorporated into writing instruction? For students who couldn’t pick a noun or a verb out of a lineup, where should I start?
I experimented wildly. One of the most effective approaches involved a combination of direct instruction on types of clauses and phrases (with their accompanying punctuation) and writing conferences in which I said things like, “I notice you’ve used an appositive here: what kind of punctuation do you need?” or, “This doesn’t look like a complete sentence yet. What’s missing?” When students knew the terms and we could share this common language FOR A PURPOSE, it was easier for them to remember AND USE the constructions. Their writing became more complex and, at the same time, clearer.
Students need to know Why Punctuation Is Important. Here’s a quick way to illustrate this point: Compare “Let’s eat, Grandma!” to “Let’s eat Grandma!” In the first case, you’re hungry. In the second, you’re a cannibal. PS–This example can be found all over the Web; I particularly like the one with the tagline “PUNCTUATION SAVES LIVES!”
One of my favorite books on grammar instruction is Mechanically Inclined, by Jeff Anderson. Unlike many people who waste countless hours forcing students to correct random errors (often without learning the rules), Anderson believes in showing models of EFFECTIVE grammatical constructs (such as, beginning with two-word sentences) and having students imitate them. He posts anchor charts in his classroom and gives students opportunities to practice incorporating these elements in their writing.
Bottom line: Working on grammar can improve students’ reading AND writing skills.
*This entry is adapted from The Literacy Cookbook, which is available for pre-order HERE.