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Learning Grammar With Meaning

BY Brandi Leggett
 | Jul 30, 2015

photo of the dayA noun is a person, place, thing, or idea. Read the sentence and circle any of the nouns. Do this for sentences 1–10 on your noun worksheet and turn it in.

Does this sound familiar? Worksheet after worksheet, identifying all types of grammar with limited reasons to remember any of it beyond the lesson that day. Is understanding grammar important? Yes, it definitely is.

After teaching grammar this traditional way of using worksheets, I came to the conclusion that students weren’t fully grasping the concepts because nothing was relevant to them. They were simply circling answers to complete a task, but had little engagement in doing so. If I wanted my students to retain grammar rules, I needed to come up with something different, where students could apply their understanding in a meaningful way.

To begin each grammar concept, I used LearnZillion’s free write-along lesson. These are interactive video lessons for grades 3–8 aimed toward improving student writing. Each video focuses on a specific skill by modeling the process of revising or editing a blemished piece of writing. Students followed along using a practice sheet, culminated with a formative assessment where they can apply the skill to a new draft. This is a great site to build the foundation for the grammar skill you are working on with your students.

Next, I used EarthCam, a network of live webcams around the world. The students chose a destination, and then we traveled to the site and completed a free write of what we saw, focusing on incorporating the specific skill we were working on. Students loved applying the specific grammar skill while writing creatively. After a few minutes, students traded their writing, identifying the targeted skill. Afterward, students discussed their writing and if they used the grammar correctly. This was a great way to spark interesting discussions of their writing.

For homework, I used the National Geographic Photo of the Day. Students referred to this image to write a creative story, using the targeted skill of the week and previous skills we had worked on. Prior to leaving class, we used Google Earth to travel to the destination where the photo was taken, which built excitement, as these vivid images provoked students’ imaginations to come alive. In class the next day, I separated the students into groups of four, where they conferred about their writing, focusing on the grammar.

When working on dialogue, students paired with a student in class they didn’t know too well and interviewed that student. From this interview, they created a newspaper story using Fodey. In addition to working on dialogue, our classroom community became stronger, as students shared positive things with the class they learned about their classmate.

Every quarter, students worked together to create a writing project, incorporating the grammar we had focused on using technology tools such as Movie Maker, Animoto, Emaze, and Plotagon. Students then used Weebly, a site to make free websites, to display their learning to classrooms we collaborated with around the world, allowing them an opportunity to have an authentic audience.

Besides making significant gains on the Spring Measurement of Academic Progress test, students gained a loved for grammar, retaining the material better than any of my previous classes.

When I look back, it all came down to me changing my approach to how I taught grammar, and writing in general. Students didn’t need rote memorization, the way I was taught grammar growing up. They needed meaning, knowing why they were learning the specific skill and how it could be applied in their everyday lives. Every one of my students was capable of being successful; I just needed to offer them the right opportunities. If you are printing worksheets or pulling out those grammar workbooks, are your students engaged? Are you teaching grammar in isolation? Do students see meaning in what they are doing? Maybe it is time to reflect, finding ways for grammar to be more relevant for your students.

Brandi Leggett is a National Board Certified Teacher as a Middle Childhood Generalist. She received her master’s in Elementary Education from Arcadia University in Glenside, PA. She currently teaches third grade at Prairie Ridge Elementary in Shawnee, KS. Follow her class during the school year at Team Leggett.


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