Monday, June 22, 2009

Topic: Problems in Teaching Grammar--Purpose

10-second review: Base the teaching of grammar on problems that can be predictably expected in compositions. These problems involve sentence structure, punctuation and usage. Composition should be taught at the same time as grammar so that students can apply their knowledge of grammar to their compositions. The purpose for a knowledge of grammar in composition? To polish writing.

Title: “Grammar and Composition.” Teaching English, How To…. Raymond Stopper. Xlibris, 2004. pp. 164-206.

Problem: Purpose

If you’re an English teacher, how many times have you heard your students say that they really learned English grammar in a foreign language? Do you know why they say that? Because in the foreign language almost every grammatical concept is applied. The grammar is needed to make sense of the sentence structure in the foreign language. In English, very few grammatical concepts can be applied with any frequency. And the only opportunity to apply them is in exercises that have very little carryover into composition which is where grammar needs to be applied.

In my classroom, while grammar is being taught, so, too, is writing. I think in the past teachers thought they needed to teach grammar before they taught writing, just as the sentence precedes the paragraph, which, in turn, precedes the whole composition. As a consequence, many teachers in my days as a student never went beyond grammar, thus postponing the teaching of writing.

First I teach writing. I teach students how to brainstorm a topic, how to write a thesis sentence, how to write a quick first draft consisting of middle paragraphs that support the thesis sentence, a final, summarizing paragraph, and conclude, although it seems far out of sequence, with writing the introduction. Then we revise and edit. And with the revising and editing come problems in grammar. That’s when I teach grammar. And that’s when students learn how to apply their knowledge of grammar.

I start with the problem and I use grammar to help students resolve the problem. In teaching grammar, I use all of the resources available to me: the text book, text book exercises, even diagramming. But the focus of all this instruction in grammar is on resolving the problem.

Next Blog: The first ten minutes in class.

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