Tag Archives: grammar

Don’t Throw Away Your Shot: Rise Up at the Grammar Reimagined Workshop

This post is written by member Sean Ruday.

seanrudayOne reason I absolutely love the hit musical Hamilton is the show’s optimistic message and continued focus on realizing one’s potential; statements like “rise up,” “I’m not throwing away my shot,” and “I’m passionately surpassing every expectation” convey powerful ideas about setting and achieving goals.

This message of potential and achievement is also at the heart of what I believe about effective grammar instruction: I feel grammar instruction should provide students with an awareness of the ways grammatical concepts can reshape and enhance a piece of writing. In other words, teaching grammar effectively can help students see grammatical concepts as a way for their writing to “rise up” past where it previously was. To achieve this goal, we teachers can help students develop deep and metacognitive understandings of how published authors use specific grammatical concepts in their works, why those concepts are important to the published pieces in which they appear, and how students themselves can apply these grammatical strategies to the works they create.

I’ve traveled around the country sharing ideas about effective grammar instruction, presenting at conferences and delivering keynote speeches and workshops for school districts. During these experiences, I’ve been struck by teachers’ desires for innovative and effective strategies that help students develop deep understandings of key grammatical concepts and apply those concepts to their own works. In response to these interests, I’m holding a day-long workshop on grammar instruction on July 21, 2017, in Charlottesville, VA, on the grounds of the University of Virginia. This workshop, called Grammar Reimagined, is designed to provide teachers with practical and innovative ideas they can use to reimagine the grammar instruction in their classrooms. The workshop registration fee of $150 includes a signed copy of one of my books on grammar instruction (The Common Core Grammar Toolkit for Grades 3–5 or The Common Core Grammar Toolkit for Grades 6–8), a catered lunch, and admission to a full day of workshop sessions. Here is the agenda for the workshop:

  • 9:30–10:00 a.m. Check-in and welcome
  • 10:00–11:30 a.m. Opening Session: “The Grammar Toolkit—Metacognition and Grammar Instruction”
  • 11:30 a.m.–12:15 p.m. Lunch
  • 12:15–1:45 p.m. Session Two: “Grammar Remixed—Mentor Texts and Activities for Lasting Understanding of Grammatical Concepts”
  • 1:45–2:00 p.m. Break
  • 2:00–3:30 p.m. Session Three: “Focus on Assessment—How Can Teachers Best Assess Students’ Knowledge of the Grammar Toolkit?”

The graphic below illustrates some ways that this workshop can help teachers enhance their grammar instruction:



To register for the Grammar Reimagined workshop, please visit this link:


Sean Ruday, assistant professor of English education at Longwood University, began his teaching career at a public school in Brooklyn, NY, and has taught English and language arts at public and private schools in New York, Massachusetts, and Virginia. Sean has written six books on English language arts instruction, all published by Routledge Eye on Education. His Twitter handle is @SeanRuday.

Grammar to Get Things Done: Language Choices in Real Situations

This post is written by members Darren Crovitz and Michelle Devereaux, authors of Grammar To Get Things Done: A Practical Guide for Teachers Anchored in Real-World Usage, a co-publication of Routledge and NCTE. 

crovitz-devereaux-book-coverMention grammar to students, and you’ll likely get a response somewhere between fear and loathing. Beyond the rare fans of sentence diagramming, teachers usually react with similar unease or frustration.

Grammar is a thorny thing. In our work with preservice English teachers, we’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how best to help our candidates navigate some realities of grammar and usage:

  1. controlling the surface features of their own communication to meet professional expectations,
  2. building a comfortable working knowledge of common grammatical concepts, and
  3. putting strategies into practice for teaching grammar effectively with their future students.

There are no easy solutions here. Each of these objectives is an ongoing, incremental project that requires consistent metacognitive attention from teachers and teacher candidates. This is work that, realistically, takes years.

Most of us know what the research indicates: that teaching grammar in isolation isn’t effective. The alternative is usually teaching “grammar in context,” which often translates to students considering the moves that writers make in classroom texts. Meanwhile, using students’ own communication as the basis for constructive language study may sound like a fruitful possibility, but it’s also a daunting prospect for teachers with a hundred or more students. There are few models for having such conversations in the classroom.

Every day, young people use language in unique and sophisticated ways to get what they want and need. Can we leverage these moments to help them take up and practice specific grammar moves intentionally? Can we help them bring their subconscious language knowledge to their conscious language use? Can we show them how grammatical fluency can help them achieve real, immediate goals in the world? For example, consider the following:

  • You just had a fender-bender driving Grandpa’s vintage car. In your phone call to him, use passive voice to de-emphasize your responsibility.
  • At your school’s homecoming pep rally, you’ll have a few moments on the microphone to motivate the crowd to support the football team in tonight’s big game. Use compound sentence structure and parallelism to create a classic rallying cry.
  • What’s the best way to end a relationship? Your friend Yulia was just going to send a text to her soon-to-be-ex Casey, but after talking it over with you, she’s decided that a face-to-face conversation is more respectful. It won’t be easy, but Yulia is determined to make a clean break. Help your friend prepare for her heart-to-heart with Casey by planning out what she’s going to say. Try to use some simple sentences intentionally—be direct and clear—without being cruel.

As English teachers, we have a responsibility to include discussions of power, society, and identity when we teach language. Ultimately, language is a form of power: shaping reality, changing minds, getting things done. Grammar instruction, then, should include conversations about using language purposely but also ethically. This is grammar at work in our lives, and—perhaps—what grammar and language study should be in the classroom.

darrencrovitzDarren Crovitz is professor of English Education at Kennesaw State University. He is co-author of Inside Out: Strategies for Teaching Writing, 4th ed. (Heinemann, 2013). Darren and Michelle will be presenting at the NCTE Annual Convention Saturday, 11:00 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. I.45 Grammar to Get Things Done, Room B405.

michelledevereauxMichelle Devereaux is assistant professor of English Education at Kennesaw State University. She is the author of Teaching About Dialect Variations and Language in Secondary English Classrooms (Routledge, 2015) and the winner of the 2016 CEE Richard Meade award.


Is Teaching Grammar Necessary?

This post is written by Joanne Yatvin, NCTE’s P12 policy analyst for Oregon. 


Many years ago, while visiting a grade 4/5 classroom in the school where I was principal, I listened to a group of children reading aloud the first drafts of essays they had written about various holidays celebrated in America. The children were helping each other to correct errors and make meaning clearer. In reading her essay one girl said, “In the United states we celebrate Christmas by giving and receiving gifts and sing Christmas carols.” Immediately, another girl in the group interrupted her, saying, “That word should be singing.” The interesting thing for me was not that the second girl was absolutely right, but that she was right without knowing why. Neither she nor any other child in the classroom could have stated, “Sentence elements of equal grammatical rank should be expressed in parallel constructions.” Yet, all of them subconsciously knew that principle of English grammar and were able—most of the time—to demonstrate it in their speech and writing.

This story is but one illustration of what happens most of the time in language usage; we construct grammatically correct sentences or correct our mistakes by intuitively applying the rules that govern English syntax. If, instead, we had to apply those rules consciously, they would only get in our way, making it impossible for us to speak or write at all. To construct a simple two-word sentence, such as “He dreams,” requires the application of at least seven grammar rules. Imagine trying to apply them consciously following the rules of English grammar.

To say what I mean, I need a noun phrase and a verb phrase. The noun phrase can be made up of a singular noun plus a determiner, a plural noun, a proper noun, or a nominative case pronoun. If I choose a pronoun, it can be singular or plural, but it must be inflected for first, second, or third person. The verb I choose can be transitive, intransitive, or copulative. But if it is transitive, it needs an object, or if it is copulative, it needs a complement. In any case the verb must also be inflected for first, second, or third person to agree with the pronoun.

With grammar rules so complicated and hard to use, you may wonder why we have them at all. The fact is that such rules were created by linguists in order to explain language phenomena that had already existed for thousands of years. Most of the grammatical explanations were reasonable at the time they were created, but some have been discredited by subsequent discoveries about language. Others were cancelled out by actual changes in spoken language over time. In all cases, though, the rules were merely rough models for incompletely understood mental processes. No grammarian ever asserted that a grammar list exists in the brain from which human beings select and apply rules as they need them.

Although grammar rules are explanations for what exists in language, not prescriptions for what “ought to be,” they have been misused for a long time. Teaching those rules in schools started with instruction in ancient Latin and Greek, where it made sense because those were “dead” languages. But then those rules gradually slipped into other parts of the school curriculum, such as modern foreign language courses and English classes, where they had no business.

Over the years, the teaching of grammar has continued to be prominent in English and foreign language instruction, leaving less class time or student energy for students to speak, read, or write in those languages. Yet, many perceptive teachers, sensing that grammar lessons might not be all that beneficial for their students, have pressed for research to determine its real impact on learning. As early as 1906, studies were undertaken that attempted to show the relationship between knowledge of school-taught grammar and language skills. Since then, hundreds of such studies have produced some clear and unequivocal conclusions: The teaching of formal grammar does not help a student’s ability to speak, to write, to think, or to learn foreign languages.

It is important for educators to know that, among recent research studies, not one justifies teaching grammar to help students write better. * Although we accept the fact that social, economic, and political forces influence education in many areas, we ought not to allow such forces to outweigh knowledge and reason in determining the school curriculum.

*See Elley, W. B., Barham, I. H., Lamb, H., & Wyllie, M. (1976). The role of grammar in a secondary English curriculum. Research in the Teaching of English, 10, 5-21.

Over her 45 year career Joanne Yatvin was a teacher of almost all grades 1-12, an elementary and middle school principal, and a member of The National Reading Panel.  Since retiring she has done independent research in high poverty schools, written three books for teachers, and served as president of NCTE. Joanne Yatvin is a lifetime member of NCTE.

How Do You Teach Students to Write Solid Sentences?

This guest post is written by author Michael Laser. 

If you’ve had success, please share what worked!

This post is adapted from a much longer post on Doug Lemov’s blog, Teach Like a Champion.

MichaelLaserI’m a novelist and a relatively new teacher of freshman composition (going into my 4th semester). I’ve been searching for effective teaching methods to help my students improve their writing at the sentence level. To give you a sense of the problems I’m trying to address, here are a few sentences from their essays:

Because now in today’s age if it were opposite and it was a group of males in a store shirtless and a male manager walked in he would 9 out of 10 times ignore it and say that they weren’t doing anything stupid or unnecessary, holding women to a different standard.

The similarities among the speakers and their author are illustrated differently through their speaker’s separate tones. 

The money in the household shared between the Nora and Torvald contrast the idea of a happy marriage. 

I’ve read books and articles on integrating grammar instruction into a writing curriculum and have adapted the strategies that seemed most promising. I’ve also invented lessons of my own, including “Recognizing Awkward Sentences” and “Improving Awkward Sentences.” But even students who seemed to get the idea when we practiced usually forgot the lessons when they wrote their essays. And, though it hurts to admit this, very few of my students improved significantly—at the sentence level, at least—by the time they handed in their final essays.

I expect awkwardness in a first draft, in student writing and in my own; but I know that I can clear up most of the problems by going back and revising. That’s the skill I’ve tried to teach my students. So far, I haven’t found a way that works.

Frustration has led me to rethink my search. Instead of trying one teaching strategy after another, I want to find teachers who have gotten better results and ask how they did it.

Have you seen significant improvements in your students’ grammar and style between September and June? If so, would you be willing to share some of your methods? The more specifics you can provide, the better.

You can post suggestions in the Comments section, or email me at Michael@michaellaser.com. Eventually, if enough people respond, I’d like to compile these ideas and present them for other teachers to use, either on the Web or in book form. Either way, I would credit the teachers who suggested the methods.

Note: Many writing specialists believe that an emphasis on correctness crushes confidence, stifles creativity, and produces less capable writers. For decades, they have sought to engage students by assigning topics that matter to the writers, encouraging students to flesh out early drafts with more detail, and overlooking most errors. They have worked to overturn students’ belief that I can’t write—a belief that results from finding their best efforts bloodied with red marks, repeatedly. These insights are important. Still, it seems to me that, in the reaction against oppressive teaching methods, basic skills have been lost. If students graduate from college and go on to write emails, letters, and reports that are as awkward and error-filled as the papers they’ve written in my class, they’ll be judged harshly.

I want to encourage my students to think creatively. The challenge is to build their confidence at the same time that we teach them to write graceful, grammatically correct sentences. If you’ve accomplished that, please take the time to explain how.

Michael Laser writes novels for adults and younger readers. You can read more about his work on his website, michaellaser.com. 

Supporting TAs in Multilingual Classrooms

L2WritingLogoFeb22The following post is by Norah Fahim, who is a Lecturer in the Program in Writing and Rhetoric at Stanford University.

In light of the recently updated CCCC Statement on Preparing Teachers of College Writing, there is an ever pressing call for action to provide graduate teaching assistants (TAs) with multiple professional development opportunities to aid student learning and success, specifically when “working with diverse populations such as non-native speakers of English (L2 writers), students with special learning needs, non-traditional students, and at risk student populations.” While the increase in international and domestic multilingual student enrollment in US academic institutions is now familiar to many compositionists and Second Language Writing scholar-teachers, one question that unites our responsibilities is

How can First Year Composition programs, specifically those working with TAs specializing in various subfields in English Studies, provide more relevant professional development to help address the needs of an increasingly multilingual student population in mainstream composition courses?

Given recent changes in student demographics, this question is especially pertinent when FYC TAs (like many writing instructors) are encountering a considerable demand on their time, and a heightened sense of uncertainty regarding the extent of their professional responsibilities when giving written feedback and meeting with students during office hours.

As such, this post presents a programmatic initiative taken by the University of Washington‘s (UW) Expository Writing Program (EWP) as a response to these increasing sentiments of professional uncertainty expressed by TAs. Given the scope of this post, I will showcase some the recommended feedback strategies for students’ writing as presented in the “Statement on Supporting Multilingual Language Learners.” This statement aims to “help empower students—multilingual learners and native speakers alike—to become self-editors of their own work and to research their grammar errors as a means to learn through self-correction.” A link is provided for access to the complete policy statement for the interest of other institutions.


The UW, similar to numerous academic institutions across the USA, witnessed a noticeable increase in international student enrollment, amounting to 17.6% of the total number of newly enrolled undergraduates in 2014; Holistically, the total number of international student enrollments, including that of graduate students, had tripled since 2008 (a 245% increase). Other US academic institutions may relate to these changes in demographics and the accompanying concerns expressed by TAs regarding the recommended amount of written feedback: this can especially be the case when TAs have limited experience working with L2 writers.

The creation of the Statement on Supporting Multilingual Language Learners was a direct result of cross-disciplinary collaboration between graduate TAs, Faculty and WPAs with various specializations such as Language & Rhetoric, TESOL and Literature and Culture in the Department of English at the UW. All parties involved were united in their drive to clarify instructor responsibilities while fostering multilingual student success through normalizing students’ needs. A key element in these discussions was asking what kind of feedback best served the needs of not only international L2 students, but also the often less identifiable domestic multilingual L2 students. Thus a considerable number of suggested practices were based in SLW methodology: it is worth noting that all students, regardless of their language background, still require self-editing strategies that help with higher-order concerns of content, as well as lower-order concerns typically described as “grammar” issues.


Many instructors, whether novice or experienced, would likely agree that an academic quarter or even semester is not a sufficient amount of time for L2 writers to become their own “self editors,” as also indicated by L2 research. While we all wish we had more time to work with our students, it is more manageable to have a set of suggested strategies. Students can be encouraged to take ownership of “tools that help with using grammar strategically, intentionally, and persuasively in various situations,” while having the time to focus on higher-order concerns.” Similar to “Developing Strategies” in “Activating Learning,” instructors need to introduce students to the range of self-editing strategies and campus resources available to them, as well as offer a consistent form of error feedback to help students take charge of their learning progress.

The following sections offer strategies presented in the Statement on Supporting Multilingual Language Learners:


  • L2 writers can become their own self-editors by developing important writing and reading strategies and skills.
  • The support of feedback from composition instructors, writing centers and peers, and access to effective resources (such as handbooks) related to grammar, usage, and style can enhance students’ ability to take ownership of their final redrafting process, and can help with future classes.

On Self Editing

  • Studies have shown that students are able to self-edit their work when instructors circle or mark a check next to “grammar” errors, which has proven to be as effective as when instructors correct.
  • Cueing students to the presence of an error (without fixing the error or marking what type of error it is) and ensuring that they are aware of the available resources is sufficient for self-editing.
  • If errors prove overwhelming to reading comprehension, an instructor should invite the student to have a conversation with him or her or a Multilingual Learner consultant in addition to a range of other resources. While these resources vary across institutions, they are crucial in helping TAs feel supported in their desire to better serve the needs of their students.

Practical Applications

  • First Pathway: Revision Throughout—Fewer Assignments, Multiple Drafts of Each. This pathway allows students the opportunity to work with revision throughout the quarter, producing multiple drafts of each shorter and/or major assignment, with grammar feedback on later drafts. In this approach, instructors focus on higher order concerns in early drafts before prioritizing and selectively marking errors on later drafts, which students then edit during the portfolio sequence. This can be a good option for instructors who have a high percentage of students struggling with sentence structure issues, as it provides students with a head start on revising for their portfolios.
  • Second Pathway: “Higher Order” Feedback-Focused, Defer Grammar Cueing for Portfolio. This pathway allows for reading through error until the portfolio sequence of the course. In this approach, instructors focus mainly on higher order concerns throughout the first two sequences before attending to grammar concerns during the portfolio sequence. As such, this option requires that instructors provide the full two weeks allotted for the portfolio sequence. Note that even if you choose this pathway, you may work on a few shared grammar patterns among your students throughout the quarter, and help individual students target their most pressing issues early on.

While FYC programs learn more about their student populations, listening to the needs of TAs, who are often the backbone of the teaching workforce in FYC courses, can be a promising start for incremental change in department policies. As a continuation of such communication with TAs, we learned that novice TAs who worked with the Statement were finding that feedback practices based in SLW research also offer productive outcomes for all students, regardless of their language and cultural backgrounds. Such genuine conversations between WPAs and TAs can allow for cross-disciplinary collaboration that results in sustainable teaching practices that benefit both our students and instructors.

We just need to remember to listen to each other first.