Effective Grammar Instruction

As a concerned parent, understanding the key traits of effective grammar instruction will make it easier to assist your child in developing his communication skills.

Need for Declarative and Procedural Knowledge

When discussing effective grammar instruction, it's necessary to understand the difference between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge.

  • Declarative knowledge is knowledge about a particular subject area. In reference to grammar studies, declarative knowledge indicates a student's ability to memorize grammar rules.

  • Procedural knowledge is the ability to do something specific. In reference to grammar studies, procedural knowledge indicates the ability to correctly use grammar in everyday life.

In order to truly master English grammar, a student must have both declarative and procedural knowledge. Memorizing grammar rules isn't useful unless a student understands how to apply these rules to daily communication.

Changes in Teaching Philosophies

The way grammar is typically taught in schools today is most likely very different from how you learned basic grammar rules. Although declarative knowledge was once the primary goal of grammar instruction, today's teachers now place a greater importance on helping students develop procedural knowledge.

Prior Philosophy

Traditionally, English grammar was viewed as a separate part of the educational experience. For example:

  • Teachers helped students learn by requiring regular substitution or pattern practice drills and diagramming sentences.

  • Memorization was a key part of grammar instruction

  • Frequent quizzes and worksheets were available to test a student's mastery of grammar rules.

This philosophy is sometimes referred to as prescriptive grammar instruction.

Current Philosophy

Today, grammar is viewed as an essential communication tool.

  • Instead of viewing grammar as a separate area of study, teachers often strive to integrate grammar instruction into other subject areas.

  • Drills are minimal.

  • Students have practical discussions of how grammar can be used to aid in effective communication or how grammar is used in a particular piece of literature.

This philosophy is sometimes referred to as descriptive grammar instruction.

Even though the hands-on knowledge students gain from descriptive grammar instruction can be quite valuable, it is interesting to note that this modern approach to teaching English grammar is not without its critics. In fact, many people believe the current pedagogical approach has led to an overall loosening of grammar standards. However, this has yet to be conclusively proven.

Tips for Teaching Grammar

If you're interested in helping your child develop a better understanding of English grammar, remember the following tips:

  • Don't use worksheets to measure knowledge. Grammar worksheets are fine for practicing basic concepts, but worksheets place too much emphasis on simple memorization.

  • Teach grammar in the context of good writing. Encourage your child to write stories and poems, using his work as a starting point for grammar instruction. Relating grammar to a subject that interests your child will help him see grammatical rules as both practical and relevant.

  • Stress communicative competence. If you are reading a story with your child, use the text as an opportunity to discuss irregular verbs, proper pronunciation, and any other related grammar concepts. Reading also provides a chance to reinforce that good grammar is a building block writers use to effectively communicate their ideas.

  • Use error correction to support language acquisition. If your child is discussing his day at school and makes a grammatical error, respond by using the correct grammar form and providing a brief explanation if necessary. However, it's best to avoid overstressing minor mistakes that don't interfere with communication. You don't want your child to view learning grammar as something to be reprimanded.

Additional Information

Links to grammar worksheets and interactive grammar lessons can be found at:

Remember, worksheets can fail to help students develop the critical thinking skills necessary for applying the rules of grammar to real life situations. You need to apply the worksheets, handouts and games to everyday life.

Effective Grammar InstructionEffective Grammar Instruction

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