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Check the Grammar: Worksheets Ain't Working






The Way We Teach English Grammar Is Not Working


As a college professor of over two decades, the anecdotal and experiential evidence is clear; English grammar worksheets are a waste of time for teachers, homeschool parents, and students. My college students can recite the rules, sometimes, but have no idea what they mean and even less idea how to apply the rules to their writing.  When they try to apply the rules, their writing suffers even more.  When writing without rules, their writing, and subsequently their thinking, shines. 


Navigating the realm of English grammar can sometimes feel like a daunting task. As parents and teachers, we strive to provide our children with the best possible foundation in language skills, yet we often question whether traditional methods like rote worksheets truly equip them for success.


William Zinsser was spot on when he shared, “You learn to write, by writing.” 


Writing is a skill.  In order to get better at it, you must first do it, then do it over and over, again.  Let’s consider what Gladwell taught us: 


"Haveing access to getting 10,000 hours of practice allowed the Beatles to become the greatest band in history (thanks to playing all-night shows in Hamburg) and Bill Gates to become one of the richest dudes around (thanks to using a computer since his teen years)."


To practice writing, we must actually write, not fill in the blanks, declare something is true with a check mark, or choose an answer from a list. 


Understanding the Limitations of Rote Worksheets


Rote worksheets have long been a familiar sight in writing instruction, offering repetitive exercises aimed at drilling grammatical rules into young minds; however, while these worksheets may provide short-term familiarity with grammar structures, they often fall short in fostering a deeper understanding and application of language in real-life contexts. Let’s face it.  It’s hard for any of us to follow a rule when we do not understand why the rule exists. 


Many parents worry that relying solely on such methods may hinder our children's language development and critical thinking skills. They are right. 


Learning English Grammar Holistically


Fortunately, there's a more effective and enriching alternative: teaching grammar within the context of your child's writing. By integrating grammar instruction into their writing process, we can offer a holistic approach that not only strengthens their grasp of language mechanics but also nurtures their creativity, analytical thinking, and communication abilities.  


Your child was born knowing grammar.  Think about this:  When your child asked for their first cookie, they spoke the words in the correct order. Their syntax was spot on. 


Holistic Grammar Instruction is a Game Changer


When grammar lessons are tied to a child's writing projects, they gain a deeper appreciation for the practical application of language rules. Rather than abstract exercises, grammar becomes a tool for expressing thoughts, ideas, and emotions authentically. This relevance makes learning more meaningful and fosters a genuine connection to language.  


Active Engagement


Writing is an inherently active process that encourages children to engage with language on multiple levels. By incorporating grammar instruction within the context of their writing tasks, you invite your child to become an active participant in their learning journey. They'll learn to identify grammatical challenges organically and develop problem-solving skills as they refine their writing pieces.


Integrated Learning


Holistic grammar instruction naturally lends itself to interdisciplinary learning opportunities. As a child writes about historical events, scientific discoveries, travel, and books, they not only practice grammar but also deepen their understanding of other subjects. This integrated approach enriches their learning experience and enhances retention across different areas of study.


Feedback and Revision


One of the greatest advantages of teaching grammar within the context of writing is the opportunity for timely feedback and targeted intervention. As a child works on drafts and revisions, we can provide personalized guidance to address specific grammatical issues. This formative feedback loop promotes continuous improvement and empowers your child to take ownership of their language development.


Creative Expression


Grammar should never stifle creativity; rather, it should serve as a tool for enhancing communication. By encouraging a child to experiment with language, voice, and style in their writing, we foster their creative expression. They'll learn to make intentional choices about sentence structure, punctuation, and word choice to convey their ideas effectively.


Practical Strategies For Ditching Worksheets


Implementing contextualized grammar instruction into the curriculum is easier than you might think. 

  • Integrate grammar mini-lessons into your child's writing workshops or language arts sessions. The key here is to teach what they are doing right, and allowing them to figure out how errors change their meaning.  It’s not about right or wrong. It’s about communicating well through writing.

  • Provide model sentences or mentor texts that illustrate grammatical concepts in context.  Read with your child and point out great words and sentences that work and discuss them.

  • Work with others to peer edit and collaborate writing activities to promote grammar awareness.

  • Utilize technology tools like grammar-checking software or online writing platforms to support your child's editing and revision process.  Learning to use these tools actively, rather than passively, helps writers improve writing.  Remember, spell check is only good for those who spell well.

  • Integrate instruction by starting with what is not working in your child's writing. Focus on the why to use a comma rather than what a comma is.  For example, focus on how a period of a sentence paces a reader and how a connecting word ties two thoughts that need each other to be understood.  

  • Encourage reflective writing activities where your child analyzes their own language use and identifies areas for improvement.  


My Two Favorite Synonyms:  Reading and Writing


Often practiced as two separate skills, reading and writing are intricately connected.  If we read good writing, we will write well.


Even with one hundred worksheets in your arsenal, this will not be enough to seamlessly help a child to think on paper.  

The most logical strategy to teach good writing is to immerse yourself in good writing. Reading, and reading a lot is the best grammar instruction of all, and the best thing about reading is that it is a team sport. Children need to see all their peers, their parents, and their teachers read regularly.  Books need to be present and the library should be a place where we can all travel the world one word at a time.

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