“Let’s eat Grandma” – Teaching Grammar

by Sally Sigan

Let's Eat GrandmaGrammar is a bear.  No matter what grade level or subject you teach, grammar has a way of wheedling itself into your classroom.  Many teachers hate teaching grammar.  One of the problems is that we’re talking about English—a language with more irregularities than regularities. It’s difficult to rely on logic because there are so many exceptions to the rule.  In addition, grammar has a reputation for being tedious and boring.  Just mention the subject to your students and watch their eyes begin to glaze over. Finally, I suspect one reason teachers hate teaching grammar is because we don’t know it all that well ourselves!  How many of us can conjugate verbs into all six tenses correctly, identify a dangling participle, or explain exactly what a gerund is?

There is even a study or two that suggests that teaching grammar is a waste of time. These studies claim the best way to teach grammar is just as it shows up in day to day work. This hypothesis assumes that students will somehow learn grammar through osmosis and gentle guiding.  If only it were so!  Anyone who has spent time on Facebook knows that the teaching of grammar is still very, very necessary! As an ACT tutor, I can add that the teaching of grammar is the sort of skill that needs to be reinforced through every grade, gaining complexity until the ACT has been passed and the students can go on to horrify their college instructors with their misplaced modifiers.

Many of us rely on our ear to ascertain if our grammar is correct.  This is one of the reasons why the single most important skill we can teach early writers is to read their work out loud, because our ears often catch things that our eyes do not. Unfortunately, this does not work for our ESL students. They have not had the advantage of hearing English spoken all their lives.

There are those educators who have taken grammar into their own hands, shunning what they call archaic Latin labels and renaming the parts of speech and clauses in a more sensible way. The bookshelves are filled with books that do this.  I get it, but what happens when the student gets into a class where the teacher is using the real names? It’s confusing enough, isn’t it?

The bottom line?  There is no such thing as too much grammar instruction, but it doesn’t have to be completely dull.  Here are a few fun ideas for including grammar in your classroom.



  • Make ‘parts of speech’ mobiles.  Using a hanger, yarn and small paper plates, have the students label their plates ‘noun, verb, articles, adjectives, adverbs, etc.’ Have them cut words from magazines and glue them to the plates.


  • Human sentences.  Give three students cards with the ending marks (period, exclamation and question.) The other students each have cards with a variety of words.    Have the students form sentences and challenge the end mark students to place themselves in the proper place.  Take turns.


  • Induct your students into the Grammar Police Force.  They can issue “tickets” for improper grammar, or “commendations” for proper grammar. Be sure to give them opportunities to give you a ticket!


  • The first graders I work with became ‘copy editors’—first, they decorated visors with punctuation marks, then whenever they did writing they wore their visors.




  • Take a twister game and turn it into “homophone twister.” Using a permanent marker, write a different homophone (their, they’re, there, your, you’re, its, it’s, who’s whose) on each circle. Do the same for the spinner. Next, write out several sentences on cards. Label the cards with the word used. When the spinner lands on a word, read the sentence for that word. The player must put their hand or foot on the proper word.


  • Write ‘there, they’re and their ‘on the board, horizontally. Have students take turns coming up to the board.  Use one of the words in a sentence and have them stand in front of the correct word. Add to the challenge by having the students in the class come up with the sentences.


  • Have students take the grammar quizzes on Feedme.com.  When they get a good score, the site donates rice to needy children.


  • Those of us who learned to diagram sentences can never quite figure out how students today learn to write a proper sentence.  There are several websites that explain how to do this.  Try http:// grammarccc.commnet.edu/grammar/diagrams. Sentence diagramming adds a visual component to learning grammar, a nearly mathematical logic, that will appeal to many students.
Sally Sigan

Sally Sigan is the mother of three kids and teacher to countless more, liking nothing better than to be knee deep in the brilliant ideas and scenarios of young people. She divides her time between writing, teaching and other madcap creative pursuits. She lives in the suburbs of Chicago.