Click play below to hear three grammar swaps to improve grammar instruction:
Happy New Year, everyone! As we start the beginning of a new year, I want to help you feel successful in areas that you have identified as challenging or struggling concepts to teach. In a teacher survey, there was an overwhelming response to grammar and the many questions surrounding this concept. So, I wanted to start the year by giving you three grammar swaps that change your grammar instruction for the better.
Before jumping into the grammar swaps, I quickly provide an overview of what grammar is and share how it affects a student’s reading, writing, and communication skills. Then diving into the three grammar swaps, their goal is to build up your own knowledge and understanding while discussing why each swap will make a huge improvement on your instruction and the ability for students to grasp and apply grammar within the context of their own writing.
There’s no question that grammar is a challenging and difficult concept to teach and learn. But with small changes to your grammar instruction, you will gain confidence, and your students will be able to apply their knowledge in their own writing. So make sure you start putting into practice these three grammar swaps to have the biggest impact on your grammar instruction this school year.
Want even more ways to be successful in 2024? Make sure to join me for my event, Read, Write, & Rejuvenate! This free event runs starting today until next Monday, January 8th. There will be free resources, training, giveaways, and collaboration for all third, fourth, and fifth-grade teachers. This event is designed to help you reset and get recharged to tackle another semester of teaching reading and writing this year. I hope to see you there!
In this episode on grammar swaps, I share:
- 3 grammar swaps that will make the biggest impact on your instruction
- Research on the best way to teach grammar to your students
- Overview of what grammar is and why it’s so important to a student’s reading, writing, and communication skills
- Reasons why grammar is challenging to teach and ways to combat that
- Join me for my free event, Read, Write, & Rejuvenate
- Read, Write, & Rejuvenate Event
- Sentence Writing Reference Sheets
- Sentence Writing Routine Free Sample
- Sentence Writing Routine Resource: TPT Store
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- Check out my Free Literacy Workshop, The Time Crunch Cure: Create a Literacy Block That Fits it All In and Achieves More
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 159, Avoid These Things During Writing Instruction & See Students’ Writing Improve!
- Episode 139, Practice Sentence Deconstruction [Small Steps to S.O.R. Part 2]
- Episode 131, The #1 Mistake Upper Elementary Writing Teachers Make
- Episode 101, A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills
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- Instagram: @thestellarteachercompany
- Facebook: The Stellar Teacher Company
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact on your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high-quality, no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Happy New Year! Oh my gosh, I cannot believe that we are kicking off 2024. Like today is the first of the year.
Now I hope that you have had or are currently having a really great winter break whenever it is that you’re getting ready to go back to school. And I really hope that you’re ready to hit the ground running and just start 2024 off on a really good note.
And to help you do that, I want to invite you to join me for a really special event that is happening this week. We are hosting what we’re calling, Read, Write and Rejuvenate. And this is a free event for third, fourth and fifth grade teachers. And it starts today and it’s going to run through next Monday, January 8.
And we’ve got a special pop up Facebook group that we are using to host the event. And we’re doing daily giveaways, we’re giving away free resources, we’re offering some really fun and quick PD sessions. Lots of things that are really just designed to help you reset and get recharged and really just get ready to tackle another semester of teaching reading and writing this next year.
We’ve got a lot of really great free PD that’s going to help you with small group instruction, paragraph and sentence writing, how to incorporate the science of reading into your current classroom. And this week, we’re also going to be offering our super popular workshop the time crunch here. So if you have not seen that yet, we’ve offered it a couple times last semester. But if you’ve not had a chance to attend this week is your chance.
Anyways, all that to say it is going to be a really fun week, my team and I are super excited about it. So even if you’re getting ready to jump back into school, tomorrow, or the next day come and join us. The sessions are going to be available for replay this entire week, it’ll be a good chance just to get some inspiration, some motivation, some confidence, and really, hopefully some strategies that will just help make the rest of this year a super success for you.
So you can find the link to join our free Read Write and rRejuvenate event at stellarteacher.com/rwr. That’s stellarteacher.com/rwr for read, write and rejuvenate. And of course, I will add the link in the show notes as well.
Okay, so let’s jump in to today’s topic, which I think is something you’re going to get some value out of. And that’s because we’re going to be talking all about grammar.
Now recently, I sent out a survey to the teachers in my audience, maybe you filled it out, we had almost 1000 teachers respond. And I asked for y’all to share with me any questions that you had when it comes to literacy. And honestly the majority of teachers asked questions around grammar, we had a lot of questions that were similar to what is the best way to teach grammar? How do I effectively teach grammar? How to make grammar more interesting? How do I simplify grammar? What is the actual best practice to teach grammar? Lots of questions around grammar.
And I get it grammar is tough. It is hard to teach. And it’s hard to make sure that grammar actually sticks with our students. And it’s something that they use. And I think one of the things that makes it so hard to teach is that there’s so many rules and it feels like we never have enough time to cover them all thoroughly. And if you’re anything like me, then you might not feel very competent yourself in your own grammar knowledge and you don’t feel like you can confidently teach it.
And I definitely felt like that when I was in the classroom. I have learned a lot and a ton over the last few years because I’ve had more time to learn and research. But when I was in the classroom, I relied heavily on worksheets to really do the work for me. But here’s the thing that we know from research, and that is worksheets don’t actually work the best when it comes to effective grammar instruction.
There is a lot of research that really does suggest that the best way to teach grammar is within the context of your students own writing. But as a teacher, we can think okay, if I don’t have a worksheet to rely on, then that means that I need to have enough content knowledge myself in order to know how to teach grammar. And that can be really intimidating.
So what I want to share with you today are really three small grammar swaps that I would encourage you to make. So these are three things, I’m going to hopefully help build up your own knowledge and understanding of some grammar and maybe some grammar rules and give you some three swaps that I think will actually make a huge improvement in your instruction and the stickiness of grammar for your students.
Now, before we do that, I want to make sure that we’re on the same page, because I think sometimes when we talk about grammar, it’s this sort of sort of big category, and it can kind of be vague. So let’s talk a little bit about what is grammar and why is it important.
So grammar is in essence, the system of language. It consists of a set of rules and guidelines that really governs the structure of language. So it includes things like syntax, which has to do with subject verb agreement and word order.
So for example, because of syntax and grammar, we know that in a sentence, we always put the head noun before the head verb, otherwise, the sentence wouldn’t make sense. So when you hear the sentence, the cat chased the mouse, that is going to make sense to you, you can visualize it, you understand what’s happening. And that’s because there is an order to how we put words together.
Now, if you switched up the order of those words, and you heard the sentence chased the cat, the mouse, even though it has the exact same words, that sentence isn’t going to make sense, because it doesn’t follow the rules of grammar, it doesn’t follow the system of how our language works.
So grammar also consists of things like having an understanding of parts of speech, having an understanding of the different sentence types, and sentence structures, and also understanding things like capitalization rules and punctuation rules.
And ultimately, grammar really helps us know how to put words in order, so that when we read something, it makes sense to us. And if we didn’t really have grammar, then language would have no meaning. And we would really have a hard time communicating with each other if we didn’t have grammar. So as you can see, grammar is extremely important.
I think sometimes we forget how essential it is, you know, grammar helps our students with effective communication. You know, grammar provides the framework for putting together clear and coherent sentences. Grammar also helps with reading comprehension. Because if we have a strong understanding of grammar and syntax, it’s going to be easier for us to read texts and analyze and understand what’s happening. Having a strong understanding of grammar is going to increase our writing fluency and our overall writing skills.
Also, I think grammar helps students be successful in other academic areas, and also setting them up to be successful in life. You know, we have to be strong communicators, both orally, and in writing in order to be academically and professionally successful, and grammar connects to all of those. So grammar is important, it still can feel really hard to teach.
So like I said, I want to share with you three swaps that I think are going to be relatively simple for you to make, that should have a really big impact on your grammar instruction.
So swap number one. I want you to swap out teaching, the definitions have the eight parts of speech for teaching the function or the job of each part of speech. Now, let me explain what I mean.
Usually, when we’re teaching the eight parts of speech, we really focus on getting our students to understand the definitions. So we talk a lot about how a noun is a person, place thing or idea. We talk about how a verb is an action word, we talk about how an adjective describes a noun, it really focuses on the definitions.
But here’s the thing that I want you to think about. Just knowing the definitions of the eight parts of speech, it really doesn’t serve our students well. And when we focus heavily on the definitions, the parts of speech kind of become irrelevant, or pointless. Like our students don’t really understand how they impact our reading and writing. And it almost becomes this separate thing we teach. We teach the eight parts of speech, and then we teach reading, and then we teach writing.
But the eight parts of speech really do have an impact on reading and writing. And we want our students to really understand them. So instead of focusing on the definitions, what you can do is you can really help your students understand the function, or the job of each part of speech.
And ultimately, we want our students to understand that every word in every sentence serves some specific purpose and has a role. And if our students understand those roles, then it’s gonna be a lot easier for them to make meaning out of what they read. And also it’s going to be easier for them to write meaningful sentences.
So a really easy way that you can help students understand the function of the parts of speech is to teach them that every part of speech can answer a specific question. And if they can understand the questions that the parts of speech answer, not only is it going to be easy for them to identify the parts of speech in their reading, but it’s also going to be easy for them to figure out what part of speech they need to include in their writing.
So for example, nouns can answer the question Who or what? So who or what the sentence is about? Verbs can answer the question what is happening, or they can also tell us, you know, is doing or was doing if we’re just looking at the sentence stems. Adjectives can answer, how many? What kind? Which one? adverbs can answer how, but they can also answer when, where, and why. Pronouns can answer who, what or who’s. And prepositions can answer when, where, and in what ways.
And then conjunctions and Interjections are a little bit different. They don’t necessarily have clear cut questions, but you can still teach their function. So you can teach students that conjunctions really connect ideas together in a sentence words or ideas together in a sentence, and then you can teach students that interjections can emphasize a thought or a feeling.
And I want to give you an example of how this can really help students when we focus on the function rather than the definition. Let’s talk about adverbs for a minute. So, an adverb, if we look at the definition, an adverb is a word that describes an adjective, or a verb.
But when you think about that, it’s like, okay, well, if I don’t really understand what adjectives are, or adverbs, then I’m going to struggle to figure it out. And how do I know if an adverb is describing an adjective or if it’s describing a verb?
So the definition of an adverb is really hard for students to understand. But if you’re asking students to look at a sentence and say, can you tell me the word that is telling us how that action is being done? Or when something is happening? More than likely they can answer those questions, and therefore they can identify the adverbs.
Or if students are writing a sentence, and you can say, you know, what can you add details that tell us where that is happening, or when that’s happening? And students can probably do that, which means they can add adverbs to their sentences. So it’s going to be so much easier for students to answer the questions, which means they’re going to develop an understanding of the parts of speech in a very practical way, rather than just memorizing definitions that are hard for them to really understand and, you know, conceptually visualize.
So your first swap is to focus your attention on the function of the eight parts of speech instead of just the definition. Now, if you’re looking for a resource that can help you with this, we have a set of sentence writing reference tabs that I’m going to link to in the show notes, those are available in our TPT store. And if you’re a member of the Stellar Literacy Collective, we also have them included in the membership hub.
And there is a chart and one of those reference tabs and it lists out the parts of speech, the definition, the question, and then some examples. That would be a great resource to share with your students to start to have this conversation about how parts of speech all have jobs to do. So that’s your first swap.
Now your second swap is going to be to swap out your grammar worksheets for more actual practice with sentence writing. I know I mentioned this at the beginning of the episode, and I’ve mentioned this I think on some other episodes, but as easy as they are, we know that grammar worksheets don’t actually work because if they did, then our students would all be great at grammar.
Now in the writing revolution, if you have not read that book, yet, I would highly recommend it. One of the things that Natalie Wexler and Judith Hochman bring up at multiple points is how research is really clear that teaching grammar is most effective when it is done within the context of student writing. So rather than teaching, you know, worksheets, or rules and all these things separately, we actually use student writing as the vehicle for teaching grammar. And specifically, we use sentence writing as the vehicle to teach grammar.
So here’s the thing that I want you to think about. Any grammar skill you want to teach, can be taught and modeled with a sentence. And it can also be observed in an actual text that you are reading. So we really need to shift our focus. And you know, rather than relying so much on worksheet, we want to give our students more time with sentence writing, and then use their sentence writing time to teach grammar through the sentences that they are writing.
Now, grammar worksheets can have their place in the classroom, and I understand that sometimes they are necessary. So I’m not saying to get rid of all of them. I’m just encouraging you to really give your students more time to write actual sentences, and then use their writing to focus on additional sentence writing skills.
So again, I’m going to share with you a really easy way to do that. And that is if you are using our sentence writing routine. So if you’ve been using our sentence writing routine, which I know a lot of our listeners have been, let me just give you a shout out and a virtual high five because you’ve already been making a really awesome grammar move If that is going to help your students.
So if you’re not using this routine and your like sentence writing routine, what is that? Go right now to stellarteacher.com/sentences. And you can get a free sample. Now, if you are using this routine, like I said, you’re already well on your way to doing an amazing job of teaching grammar. And that means that your students already are getting a ton of practice with actual sentence writing.
So now that you have that routine in place, and your students are familiar with it, you can start to look for additional opportunities to discuss and teach other grammar rules that can really apply to the sentences that their writing. So some things that you might want to start bringing up and discussing to them. And this could either be you modeling it or using a student example to model.
But you can start talking about subject verb agreement, you can start pointing out different capitalization rules, you can start pointing out punctuation rules, you can start highlighting and showing them different types of conjunctions. And when we use those conjunctions. You can even start talking about the parts of speech and the sentences and don’t forget to bring in the function and talking about the questions that they answer.
So all of these things are very common grammar rules, but all of them can be taught in a sentence writing practice. So in that sentence writing routine. So again, let me just encourage you, you don’t have to have a fancy lesson or a worksheet to teach these concepts. You just need to have sentences that either you can model or your students are writing that you can use as examples. So like I said, if you’re using that sentence writing routine, you have a lot of options to bring in some additional grammar rules.
Okay, swap number three. I want you to swap out a rules first approach to teaching grammar for a usage first approach. And so often when we teach grammar, we want to follow you know the list of standards that our state gives us. Or maybe we have a scope and sequence for our district adopted grammar workbook or textbook.
But the problem often is when we are following, you know, a rules first approach, our students might not ever get the chance to apply and use those rules and see them in action. Or if you teach them the rules, when they apply, it might not be for a couple of weeks or months.
So for example, you might be spending several grammar lessons trying to teach your students how to incorporate dialogue into their writing. I know that’s something that we taught in fourth grade. So you’re teaching them all about quotation marks and the different dialogue tags and when to use a comma, and you’re doing grammar lessons on dialogue.
But if your students are working on expository writing, or some other type of writing where there is no dialogue, then your students aren’t actually getting a chance to practice using dialogue in their real writing. And if you teach your grammar lessons on dialogue, but then students don’t visit narrative writing for a few weeks, or even a few months, then that grammar skill isn’t going to become sticky.
And your students are going to have a hard time remembering all of those rules around dialogue, because they didn’t get an actual opportunity to apply the rule to their writing. All of the practice that they got was, you know, sort of separated from real life usage.
So rather than just teaching a rule, for the sake of teaching a grammar rule, I really want you to think about and trust yourself that you can identify this, I want you to think about what do your students actually need to use in their current writing? Or what grammar rules do students need to be aware of, for their current reading? And then teach those lessons so that your grammar actually becomes meaningful, and purposeful.
And I think one of the biggest problems with the way we teach grammar is that we tend to teach it in isolation. So we have our individual grammar block and our grammar lesson. And it really becomes about memorizing definitions and specific rules and practicing things in isolation, rather than learning how to apply them to our real reading and writing.
You know, a couple examples that come to mind. And these are things that I did when I was in the classroom. And again, there’s no judgment, if this is what you’ve done, I wish I could go back and do it differently. And hopefully, as you think about it, you feel empowered to make some changes in your classroom that will benefit your students.
You know, I remember spending a lot of time trying to get my kids to re memorize all the different common rules. I think there’s eight different common rules, and like 12 different capitalization rules. But when I think about it, it’s like how often do my students actually need to use all of those capitalization rules like learning about the capitalization of states and book titles and all of the different proper nouns?
Like those things might come up once or twice during the year if they’re doing a special report or something like that. But in general, all of those capitalization rules aren’t going to show up in their everyday writing, all of those common rules aren’t going to show up.
So rather than hyper focusing on getting our students to memorize all of these rules that aren’t as important, as something like sentence writing, we want to really hone in on and focus on those grammar skills, that’s like we want to double down and focus on those grammar rules that are going to make the biggest impact. And those need to be things that are related to writing complete sentences.
So ultimately, if you’re wondering what to teach for grammar, really think about your students needs and what they need to be successful with their current writing. And my guess is more than likely, it’s going to have something to do with sentence writing, practice learning how to write complete sentences, how to fix fragments, how to use conjunctions correctly, how to make complex sentences.
And it is 100% okay, if you spend a ton of time on sentence writing practice, because think about this. You know, if the only grammar gift that you give your students this year is to master sentence writing, you are actually going to be setting them up for success in a much bigger way. If your students really end the year with a strong understanding of how to write a sentence that is going to serve them so much better than if they know the definitions of the eight parts of speech. And they can recite all the comma rules and then know all the different tags for using dialogue.
Because while those things play a small role in grammar, they’re not as substantial as sentence writing. So don’t be afraid to spend time on the things your students actually need.
Okay, so just to recap three simple swaps that you can make this year with your own grammar instruction. First, swap out teaching the definitions of the eight parts of speech for teaching the function or the job of each part of speech. The second one is to swap out your grammar worksheets for more actual practice with sentence writing. And then the third one is to swap out a rules first approach to teaching grammar for a usage first approach.
So my challenge to you is to pick one swap, and start putting it in practice this first week that you’re back with students. And I would love to know what it is. So share it with me on Instagram at @thestellarteachercompany.
And then of course, don’t forget, this week, we are hosting our free Read, Write and Rejuvenate event, which is a week of giveaways, freebies, training, collaboration and motivation for third, fourth and fifth grade teachers and we would love to have you be a part of it. So if you have not joined us yet, go check out everything we have going on at stellarteacher.com/rwr, and I hope to see you in our special pop up Facebook group later this week.
And cheers to a stellar New Year. I am so excited to see and to hear what this year has in store for you. I know it’s going to be great things.