Teaching language arts to middle schoolers is a rewarding and exciting experience. However, over the last couple of decades, the landscape of education has changed substantially. The way English is taught, particularly grammar, is fundamentally different than it used to be, causing many teachers to worry over the instruction and application of basic grammar skills.
Transformational grammar, which seeks to teach grammar in conjunction with everyday speech and usage
patterns, stands seemingly in opposition to the prescriptive method. This method used to require teachers to teach grammar in a standalone, formal, technically "correct" way. On which end of the spectrum should the teacher err?
Most teachers, even those in private schools, have a set of prescribed standards which must be followed. These standards are often set by the state, and include relatively detailed instructions as to how grammar must be taught.
Within these standards, there is often plenty of room for a middle ground between the prescriptive and transformational methods. For example, a teacher may instruct his or her students in basic grammar for a portion of the period and put those methods into practice during more formal reading and writing exercises.
On the basis of the students’ grammar background, map a curriculum that includes a variety of exercises, including standalone grammar lessons, that will play to their strengths and build up their weaknesses. All of this should be done under the guidelines set forth by state or school standards, the backbone of your curriculum.
No matter what age level you end up teaching, it is important to begin each year with the fundamentals of grammar so that you know what the students have learned and what you can build upon.
The parts of speech is an excellent place to begin, as confusion between nouns and verbs, adjectives and adverbs will make any more complicated instruction rather difficult. Emphasize spelling and vocabulary to complement the basics. By revisiting some of the concepts with which they are already familiar, you will bolster the importance of the concepts and create a solid foundation that can be improved over the course of a year.
Consider the different approaches you might take to grammar instruction. After covering the basics, you might find that your students are well versed in matters of syntax, vocabulary, and the parts of speech. Some classes will be more advanced than others.
Seek out teaching materials that play to the students’ strengths.
If one approach simply does not work, try another! Throughout the course of a school year, it is to be expected that some lessons will fall flat. Commit to learning from the experience, pick yourself up and try again.
Grammar skills mean little if they don’t show in a student’s writing.
The more your students write, edit their own writing, and see your corrections, the better they’ll do on the next assignment. Allow them a level of freedom when they’re doing more creative projects, but hold the line on more formal assignments.
In each unit, emphasize the importance of syntax, vocabulary, and spelling. As you do, you’ll see your students improve dramatically throughout the course of a school year.
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