Tag Archives: grammar

The No Grammar Year

This year, thus far, is a no formal grammar year for us here at the rowhouse and I don’t anticipate adding any grammar in later either.

Up to this point, we’ve done a few different things for grammar:

  • Fun, light grammar in kindergarten and first grade, including things like Mad Libs, Schoolhouse Rock, and the Ruth Heller and Brian Cleary books.
  • Grammarland in second grade. I recommend waiting on this book until at least third or even fourth grade, but it was so sweet and my kids got a lot out of it.
  • Random, light grammar worksheets in second and third grade, mostly from Scholastic Dollar Deals books like the No More Boring Practice series.
  • MCT Grammar and Sentence Island in fourth grade, though this turned out to be a good program that was all wrong for us. And, in fact, made me rethink teaching grammar at all.

I do have some grammar resources hanging out on the shelf, including The Giggly Guide to Grammar and Killgallon’s grammar, which we’re using mostly just for good model sentences, but I decided to just stop with the grammar for now. Probably for a couple of years.

Overall, I don’t feel like we completely wasted our time learning grammar. I don’t think grammar is a waste of time at all. There is something really fascinating and wonderful about being able to really understand the structure of language and the rules. I’m glad that there are people who do study and learn grammar on a deep level. And anyone who loves it, should do so. For my kids now, they have a very basic vocabulary to talk about sentences and words, which I think is useful.

On the other hand, I’ve come to see how some of the struggles to get the kids to understand what is a verb or when should I use a comma could have been saved and taught much quicker, much more painlessly down the line a little bit. If we had only waited a couple of years instead of trying to understand some of these things at younger ages, then it would have taken half the time at most. If we had just stuck with Schoolhouse Rock and Mad Libs for a little longer that would have been fine. In fact, it probably would have been perfect.

Also, I have always known and believed that being able to parse a sentence or correctly fill out a grammar worksheet doesn’t translate to good writing or even to grammatically correct writing much of the time. Yet I still – for some reason that in retrospect makes me wonder if my head was screwed on all wrong – felt obliged to give it a try with my kids. They didn’t hate it or anything. Doing a few which verb tense or circle the error worksheets was never a battle. Nor was MCT Grammar Island when we gave it our best shot. But they never seemed to learn anything that could be remotely applied to their own writing.

In the end, I believe it’s their own writing that really matters. We never spent a ton of time on grammar, but what time we spent would probably have been better spent playing around with words and writing more. Or, if we wanted to focus on something more practical, it would have been time better spent on spelling or typing.

So now I am trying to throw our time and resources toward the things that we can actually apply and only tackle grammar in terms of mechanics through dictation and occasionally editing their own writing. And then, in a year or two, or maybe more, we’ll pick grammar up again as a formal subject and see where we stand with it for a little while.

Homeschoolers tend to have a bit of a mania for grammar. There seem to be more grammar programs than any other sort in homeschooling. If you want a homeschool geography or science or literature program, there are a handful of options, but if you want grammar, there’s a warehouse of them it seems. But it doesn’t mean that we all need to jump on the bandwagon, especially in elementary school.

In other words, we’ve decided to let grammar lie.

Or is it lay?

Either way, we’ll figure it… in a few years once spelling and writing voices are stronger.

Third Grade Grammar

Quite awhile back, I posted a list of some of the resources we used for first grade grammar.  Now that we’re up to grade three, I felt the need to be a little more focused, though I’m still in the gentle grammar camp.  Here’s what we’ve been doing.

Copywork and Dictation Lessons
Following in the style of Bravewriter’s The Arrow, this has been our primary means of teaching grammar and punctuation.  I’ve been choosing passages from the books we read with an eye toward introducing comma and capitalization rules and the like.  Before doing the passage, we discuss it and talk about the structure of the sentence a little.  I feel like this has been a good basic way to introduce most concepts.

Grammarland by M.L. Nesbit
Oh my goodness!  I can’t believe what an excellent book this is!  I wish so much that we had read it last year.  I resisted it for a little while because I thought the whole concept and presentation seemed a bit old-fashioned.  I love many older books, but others make me wary.  However, this story of Judge Grammar and all the Parts-of-Speech is one worth embracing, especially since you can find it free here.  A kind homeschooler has also turned the homework Judge Grammar assigned the Schoolroomshire children at the end of most chapters into a set of worksheets that you can find here (though you can also use a notebook if you like).  The kids are enjoying this read aloud greatly and find it very funny.

Mad Libs
You can never have enough Mad Libs, especially when you find a giant Mad Libs omnibus at the thrift store never touched for only 69 cents.

Grammar Cop
I decided to get a couple of dollar deals things from Scholastic awhile back and this one has worked well for helping the kids practice and reinforce some of the concepts I’ve taught.  The worksheets are mostly cheesy or punny fairy tales, but cheesy isn’t necessarily bad when you’re eight.  Scholastic has several others in this vein, such as the No More Boring Practice, Please! series.  I had considered briefly getting Critical Thinking Company’s Editor in Chief workbook, but decided against it because I wanted something a bit more fun and less serious.  We do one of these here and there when it seems like the right time.

Caught Ya! Grammar with a Giggle
I used the middle school version of this program when I taught school and really liked it.  I didn’t bother buying the elementary version (the third grade story didn’t sound great), but just adapted the idea of having a daily (silly) sentence to correct as part of a story since it takes just a couple of minutes but can really have big dividends.  Ours hasn’t quite been daily, but I’m trying to work it into our routine.  When we’ve done this, the kids have really shown how much they’re able to bring their learning into focus and remember things I was worried they hadn’t really learned.

Writing, the Bane of my Existence

That title might be a slight exaggeration.  Except, what did I do with my week off while Mushroom and BalletBoy were in summer camp?  Well, other than have a lovely lunch date with the Husband and catch up on all those episodes of True Blood I missed while I was traveling?  I wrote a writing workbook for the kids to use this year.

This is me, hitting my head against a wall.  I don’t even know if it’s out of frustration with writing and grammar curricula options or with my own pickiness with writing curricula.  Either way, I feel like a dope.  Surely, what I wanted isn’t that strange and I’ve wasted my time.  Yet, after looking, and looking, and looking, I just didn’t find it.  You’re probably feeling compelled to suggest something for me to consider now.  Let me assure you that I’ve already seen it so you needn’t bother.

There’s two pieces to this.  First, is our personal requirements.  I know what works for me as a teacher and the kids as learners.  They need structure and step by step approaches.  I need something that isn’t scripted and doesn’t require daily prep that I know I won’t do.  There’s nothing I like less than a long, two page description of how to do an activity that takes less than ten minutes.

The second piece is my own beliefs about writing.  Most curricula focus on one of two approaches.  First, there’s the classical approach, which has copywork as the basis for understanding how to imitate good sentences as a foundation for learning to write well.  Second is what I might call the organizational approach, which focuses on generating ideas, outlining, and types of writing.  I believe in the oral part of the classical approach, the narration piece, which we’re planning to get more serious about for second grade.  I was very inspired by Melissa’s two narration posts a little while back to renew our narration push.  However, I don’t believe in copywork.  Nor do I believe all kids this age need to write well is a little organizational help.  It’s a lot to ask kids to compose on paper when they’re still working on spelling, phonics and handwriting fluency.  I think kids need grammar instruction as a part of writing, but I’m not gung ho to spend a huge amount of time on grammar worksheets or lessons.  What I want is something fun and interesting but that uses words and sentences as the foundation for good writing.

There are some fun, interesting resources out there.  I’m especially fond of Peggy Kaye’s Games for Writing.  The kids got this little book from our 826 down the street and it’s fun.  I also am excited to try out Tin Man Press’s Just Write, which is filled with irreverent worksheets for writing.  But none of these include grammar or are especially structured.  The blog based curriculum Wordsmithery focuses on simple ways to teach thinking about using good words across a wide age range.  It’s a great little program, but it’s not open and go enough for me.  I need more of a form for us to really follow something through and not be spotty about it.  There’s a few good grammar and writing curricula that are worktext based like I want.  Scott Foresman even has a free writing and grammar workbook online, but it’s dull.  I almost went ahead and bought Growing with Grammar and Winning with Writing half a dozen times.  The problem is that they’re too long for what I want and not especially fun.

So, here I find myself with a nearly finished writing curriculum that’s appropriate for first and second graders.  We’re going to try it.  If it works at all for us, I promise to .pdf it and make it available to the masses, for anyone else feeling dissatisfied.

Gentle First Grade Grammar

I’m still trying to decide how much grammar we’ll do next year and whether there’s even a chance that any of it will be formal.  For first grade, we’ve just kept it really simple with the idea that reading and listening to books, as well as conversing together, was enough of a beginning for younger kids.  As we write, we’ve been looking at punctuation, capitalization and a few other things, but not in any systematic way yet.  In the last month or so, we’ve been doing a little more with it by introducing nouns, verbs and adjectives.  Below are some of the resources we’ve used.  In addition to these, we’ve also simply had writing assignments to “collect” various parts of speech and played some games trying to spot different types.

Mad Libs
Using Mad Libs for grammar is hardly a new idea.  Is there anyone who doesn’t do this?  Still, it’s fun and leads to lots of giggles.  I like how good it is at helping the kids begin learning to brainstorm for new words.  You can find Mad Libs to do online several places, such as these where you click the words for younger kids and these or these where you type in words you want.

Brian Cleary’s Picture Book Series
This series on parts of speech is full of cutesy rhymes and cartoonish doodles of monsters.  They’re pretty short and simple.  They don’t go into any depth, but they have a nice vocabulary and were well enjoyed by Mushroom and BalletBoy.  Plus, they cover many topics, such as synonyms, prepositions, and pronouns.

Ruth Heller’s Picture Book Series
This lovely picture book series is slightly longer than the Brian Cleary books, with a richer vocabulary as well.  The colorful images are crowded with detail.  The text also goes into some detail about the types of nouns, adjectives, adverbs and verbs.  Mostly, however, these are just creative lists with some clever rhymes.

Board Books!
The other great resource for simple parts of speech is books intended for use by very young children.  So, if you still have some around, dig out the board books.  After all, what’s in a people house?  Nouns!  What are yummy and yucky?  Antonyms!  By far our best find in this regard has been the beautiful picture book Do! by Gita Wolf.  This book, from artists of the Warli tribe in India has just one simple verb on each page along with a clean white on brown stick figure image illustrating it.  We were entranced.

Schoolhouse Rock: Grammar Rock
Ah, good old Schoolhouse Rock.  These are old, but still good.  You can find most of them online these days.  Here’s nouns, adverbs, verbs, conjunctions, pronouns, propositions, and interjections.  Below is Mushroom and BalletBoy’s favorite: adjectives.


Dear Children’s Books,

As most of us on the internet know, writing in all caps is considered yelling.  It’s okay to do it very, very occasionally online to punctuate what you’re saying.  It’s less okay to use in children’s books.  Capital letters have specific rules attached to them.  I’m not a complete stickler for grammar or anything.  I think most people who complain that contemporary children’s books have abysmal writing and grammar are going a bit overboard.  However, when you break the rules, you ought to have a good reason or at least a reason.

I feel like I’ve been seeing this a lot lately.  The first particularly egregious capitalization culprit that comes to mind is Junie B. Jones.  We get it.  She’s loud.  Why can’t that be expressed through the quality of the descriptive writing instead of by having at least one sentence in all caps on every other page?  I think that’s really my problem with Junie.  I don’t mind that a young child doesn’t use correct grammar, I mind that Barbara Park doesn’t when she writes about her.

Of course, I rarely mind bashing Junie, but the book that really inspired me in this post was How to Train Your Dragon, which we started as a read aloud recently then put down before getting very far.  Neither the husband nor I found much merit in it.  It wasn’t as good as the movie.  I get that capitalizing a word when you’re writing about a fantasy world lets us know it’s not just a ritual, it’s the Ritual, that you’re talking about.  It’s not just some flowers, it’s the Flowers.  However, if you use that over and over again, for dozens of words, it goes from meaningful to grammatical butcher shop.  And did I mention that you don’t need to YELL?

Sincerely, A Book Lover

Shh... Yelling isn't that cute.