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10 top tips for teaching grammar

1. Start with the endpoint

Before you start teaching the grammar, write or at least look at the model. Which grammar do they actually need to write this? Are you going to look at simple sentences to create tension? Are you going to need relative clauses to add more factual information? But by starting at the end, you can ensure that the grammar that you are teaching is relevant and can be used by the children immediately,

2. Be confident

Are you confident in using the grammar? Before you begin, make sure you understand the fundamentals, the ‘rules’ (more about this next), and have written some examples for yourself. This way, you’re less likely to get caught out.

3. Rules are made to be broken

Much to grammar pedants’ distaste, rules in grammar are changing all of the time. Why can’t you start with and? Why can’t there be two becauses in a sentence? Show some ways we can break the rules, but also discuss that we can’t throw out all of the rules, because after all, the reader needs to understand when you’re writing.

4. Get messy

I don’t necessarily mean getting out the paints, but be messy with grammar. Write clauses and words on sentences. Rip them up. Move them around. Talk with your class about what works, what doesn’t and why. Grammar is flexible, creative and should be reflected that way in the classroom.

5. Have fun with it

Grammar has had a bad rap for a while. There are loads of resources for making grammar fun. Grammarsaurus has lots of brilliant grammar songs and there are plenty of websites (including this one), with lots of ideas for teaching grammar in a fun and hands-on way.

6. Bin the textbooks

If there’s one thing we can learn from the past, it’s that grammar textbooks just don’t work. If you want to know more about this, check out my blog post on ‘How we should teach grammar’. But suffice to say, textbooks don’t work. They don’t put the grammar in a context that means something to the learner and they don’t get to play around with it; something that is essential to learners understanding and using grammar.

7. Get it ‘wrong’

One of the best ways to teach grammar is to explore what does and doesn’t work. Put some sentences on the board, but change only one word. Is this sentence better or worse? Does it make sense? Which do you prefer? Open up the conversation about grammar. No-one is necessarily wrong, if a learner prefers something, that’s their right.

8. Be the student

Learn with the children. Find new words. Explore new sentences. Show the children that you’re not the expert and that grammar is something that we’re all learning. Can they show you a new way to use this word? Can they mix up the words to make up a new sentence? How can they help your sentence work better? Children love being teachers, let them.

9. Don’t skip the basics

With the pressures in education, don’t skip the basics. Do they understand what a clause is? Can they find a noun in the sentence? It’s pointless expecting them to use subordinate clauses if they don’t know what a conjunction is. Sometimes it’s best to pull it back and go over the basics, before moving on. Of course, we don’t want to bore the learners, so it’s important to move on quickly, if they’re ready.

10. Don’t get hung up on the words

Experts cannot even agree on a definition for a sentence, so why should we? What is important is that the learners understand what sometimes does and that they can find it. They need to know when a sentence stops, how to move a clause and how to find a subject and verb to check the sentence makes sense etc. But they do not need to define them. Of course, this can be useful sometimes, particularly with word classes (noun, adjective …), but don’t stress if they can’t remember the definitions. It’s more important that they can use, manipulate and around with them.

If you would like to find more on how to teach grammar, check out the other articles on my blog, which are full of strategies, ideas and the principles behind effective grammar teaching.

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