Saving Grammar

Mar 15, 2018 | Posted by Nathan King


“Grammar is important. Language should be precise. We must teach it well. However, let us not be confused or distracted by feeling a need to teach formal grammar too soon to children who are too young.” – Andrew Pudewa

Think about the driest subject imaginable. You might think it’s the diplomatic history of an obscure country or perhaps the process of writing a computer program using nothing but ones and zeros. Of course, in reality the driest subject is arguably the sport of golf, but all eye-glazing, unengaging topics share a common thread: those who are bored by a subject have little deep understanding of its basic tenets and certainly no reason to see it as relevant or useful.

The driest, least useful of subjects to many students is English grammar. Grammar is often seen as a difficult set of rules, made more so by its plethora of exceptions and nuances. Containing plenty of unfamiliar words and concepts, the subject of grammar eludes easy comprehension, resulting in students who have a tendency to either cry bitterly or else zone out entirely. In short, the way that grammar is often taught is like the taste of eggplant; it sucks the joy from any meal.

What if there is a better way to teach grammar? What if it could be taught gently as a skill instead of as a subject, one small concept at a time? What if it could be taught at the point of need so that students could actually apply it to a task that they care about? What if it could be taught in a way that doesn’t destroy the motivation of children and the sanity of instructors?

Grammar can be approached like any skill: teach a few things to do, then practice doing them. Swimmers do not move on to advanced strokes until they have a mastery of the basics from hours of practice. Martial artists spend a tremendous amount of time building the muscle memory of basic maneuvers before they attempt more spectacular motions. Once a suitable mastery of the basics is achieved, instructors can add a few more things to do. Students who are learning skills practice new exercises while not neglecting the first things that they’ve done. This layered strategy produces over time students who are competent in their skill. To develop confident grammarians, treat grammar like a skill; let your students become lifelong masters of the basic exercises they’ve worked on so diligently, rather than confused half-experts, unsure of the overwhelming exposure they’ve received to an obscure subject.

Not only can grammar be taught as a skill, it can also be taught in a way that doesn’t demotivate students—grammar can be taught as something relevant rather than irrelevant. As you teach grammar, introduce concepts that can be used in real time on a real task. For instance, giving students an actual composition to edit bit-by-bit produces opportunities to use new grammar concepts immediately in their task. Then, not only is a new concept learned, but it is learned as a useful tool to complete an actual project. The student thus has a real sense of accomplishment; grammar becomes a means to an end, rather than an end unto itself. This is far more relevant to the student, far more motivating, and far more satisfying!

Thankfully, IEW just so happens to have a program called Fix-It! that does all of this with grammar and does so in a way that is quick and easy to apply in the classroom. Day by day, students take about fifteen minutes to edit a single sentence in their student book taken from a charming tale. Once this is finished, instructors edit the paper with straightforward teacher editions. The students resolve any errors in their process, then copy the perfectly edited sentence into their notebook, slowly but surely reproducing the story in their own hand—an entire tale, completely and proudly edited by the student. Thus, the motivation of children is saved, and the sanity of instructors is ensured. For even more encouragement in teaching grammar, click here for a free download of Andrew Pudewa’s talk, “But… but… but… What about Grammar?”

Whatever program you use for teaching your students about grammar, teach it gently as a skill, one small concept at a time, instead of as a body of content. Introduce it at the point of need in a real project so that students can apply it to a task that they care about. In so doing, you will increase student motivation and perhaps save even your own as well.


Nathan King, the customer marketing manager for IEW, grew up as the son of a pastor in Wichita, Kansas. Following his graduation from Manhattan Christian College and Kansas State University with a degree in secondary education in history, he worked for thirteen years as a youth pastor in his hometown. Since he began working for IEW, Nathan has enjoyed both the marketing and customer service sides of his position. Nathan and his wife of thirteen years, Melissa, homeschool their four children, but it is his amazing wife that does the lion’s share of this vital mission!

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