In an online review of our language arts program, the reviewer mentioned that we don’t provide enough grammar instruction and that we need more grammar exercises and worksheets. Are those the best way to teach grammar?
The goal of grammar instruction is for kids to be able to transfer what they’ve learned into their own writing. Studies show, however, that the benefits of the systematic study of grammar are negligible.
If endless worksheets aren’t the answer, what are the best ways to improve grammar skills?
Read. A lot.
Have you ever heard a young child say something like, “I eated all my dinner”? That’s a demonstration of the child’s brian naturally absorbing a grammar rule (that past-tense verbs end in -ed) and then applying it in speech. (Later the child will learn that “eat” is an exception to the rule.) Reading extensively is the best way for children to continue soaking up and reinforcing grammar rules. In fact, “those who read more, write better.” And Moving Beyond the Page’s literature-based curriculum gives children a wealth of reading opportunities.
De-emphasize grammar in the early years.
In elementary grades, we cover the basic parts of speech and general punctuation rules, but we prioritize reading and writing. We encourage students to write early because they are still learning the most important part of writing -- how to communicate ideas effectively and powerfully. When students are young, we encourage them to use capitalization and basic punctuation in more formal writing assignments, but the use of more complex grammar scales with age.
Encourage older students to apply rules to their own writing.
During the writing process, students engage in a recursive process of prewriting, writing, and revising their work. When following these steps, students first focus on expressing their ideas, not on grammar. Grammar concerns are delayed until the editing step, where students look for subjects and verbs that don’t agree, missing commas, etc. We teach the grammar skills that students will apply during this step and provide a handbook that they can use as a grammar reference.
If you want to teach a toddler to talk, you wouldn't start with flashcards and daily lessons. You would simply talk to your toddler at every opportunity, later providing constructive feedback as appropriate. Teaching correct grammar for writing works the same way. Provide an abundance of reading and writing opportunities, teach grammar in age-appropriate ways, and encourage students to apply what they’ve learned in the editing phase of their writing process.