When I taught school outside my home it was all the rage to teach grammar through writing. While grading the students papers I made notes on the grammar I thought they needed to learn and then used the grammar textbook to teach grammar in mini ten minute lessons three times a week. Overall, I didn’t feel very successful, but I kept plugging along as that was what was required of me as a public school teacher.
In homeschool I thought I found a gold mine when I discovered Ruth Beechick’s method of using passages from the children’s reading books to teach grammar. I spent quite a bit of time coming up with lessons that introduced nouns, verbs and basic punctuation to my children. I would start the year eager and enthusiastic about writing lessons for three grade levels of “Beechick Grammar” as I came to call it, but soon grew weary.
I felt guilty, I’m an English teacher who wasn’t consistently teaching grammar skills to my own children. Yikes !
I was lamenting my lack of a good Grammar to my Mom one night and she took it upon herself to send me a grammar she thought looked good by Nancy Mack. If you haven’t heard of Nancy Mack and her work you can read about her on her website here: http://www.wright.edu/%7Enancy.mack/grpoet.htm
She is an Associate Professor of English at a University in Ohio, she used to teach public school and she too was being asked by the school to teach grammar through writing. I know how that goes.
Nancy Mack, devised a system that makes perfect “fun” sense to me and my children. She teaches grammar through poetry.
In her book Teaching Grammar with Playful Poems: Engaging Lessons with Model Poems by Favorite Poets that Motivate Kids to Learn Grammar she introduces and explains to children the parts of speech using patterned poetry by favorite children’s poetry writers like: Kalli Dakos, Bruce Lansky, Lilian Moore, Colin McNaughton, Jack Prelutsky, Karla Kuskin and Shel Silverstein.
Children give a dramatic reading of the sample poem, write a group poem, learn a grammar topic through a mini lesson and write and illustrate their own poems and more.
Children write before they learn the grammar topic. Students are encouraged to “not skip the art part” ! Mack believes writers do need grammar instruction, she believes the parts of speech do not need to be mastered before writing begins and skill based grammar instruction like underline the subject once and the verb twice does not improve writing. She’s clearly my kind of gal!
She also uses the word joyful to describe her lessons. I’m sold! And after trying it out for over a year so are my children!
In case you want to know to more, the lessons also include thought teaser extension activities, grammar reinforcement activities and suggestions for writing about literature in a way that relates to the grammar topic.
Teaching Grammar With Playful Poems has ten chapters.
Each chapter takes our family about a month to work through as Ms. Mack includes not only grammar extension activities but topic variation suggestions and writing about literature prompts that connect the topics studied in the chapter to well known literature.
- Chapter one is called grammar instruction myths, this chapter includes a discussion of the challenging assumptions about language learning. Here you can read about Ms. Mack’s philosophy of teaching grammar. If you are like me you will find yourself nodding in agreement as she explains how to teach grammar through poetry in a purposeful fun way.
- Chapter two is called verbs and features cures for a boring day poems. This chapter has lessons on action verbs, verb tenses, irregular verbs, predicates and imperative sentences.
- Chapter three is on nouns and in it students write lost and found poems. Concepts taught are common nouns, singular and plural nouns, capitalization and article-noun agreement.
- Chapter four or pronouns encourages children to write encounter poems. Lessons taught are on personal pronouns, subject and object pronouns, and possessive pronouns.
- Chapter five focuses on adjectives using synonym poems. Adjective usage, synonyms, adjective-forming suffixes and serial commas are reviewed.
- Chapter six is about adverbs and poetry in motion poems. Adverb usage, comparative and superlative adverbs and sentence structure are taught.
- Chapter seven is prepositional phrases where students write dream poems. Prepositional phrases, and objects of prepositions are reviewed.
- Chapter eight is conjunctions and the writing of pair poems. Lessons are on coordinating conjunctions, parallel structure and compound sentences.
- Chapter nine is on interjections. Students write extraordinary experience poems. Interjection usage and punctuation is featured.
- And finally chapter ten is on taking the next step, or supporting grammar lessons beyond the book.
Teaching Grammar With Playful Poems is not a complete grammar, but rather a way to review and reinforce grammar already introduced, taught and practiced. The book is recommended for grades 3-5, though in my opinion, easily adaptable for older students. Some of the suggestions; write a poem on the overhead, trade and edit papers with other students or write a peer group poem are probably not suited to all homeschools. Though, to my surprise, my children did like writing a family group poem before trying their own and they do enjoy editing each others work.
Finally, if you are thinking grammar through writing poetry sounds fun, but you are not sure how you are going to fit it in with the current grammar you are using, might I suggest, using these activities as a break week. This is what I did at first, I took a week off our traditional grammar and did instead an activity in Ms. Mack’s book. I have also used the poems for copywork and have discovered my children writing poems unprompted in the format of the poem we learned in Teaching Grammar With Playful Poems. I will end today’s review with a promise to review, very soon, another of Ms. Mack’s books Teaching Grammar with Perfect Poems for Middle School.
Susan, who lives in the heart of Dixie with her husband and three school age children, blogs about quilting and homeschooling at Stitchin’ Life.