Thinking Out Loud About Grammar

I didn’t always love teaching grammar.  That’s not to say I hated it.  Personally, I remember being one of the few who could make sense of sentence diagramming back in my own middle school years.  But having a sense of something does not necessarily equate to being able to pass that on to others – especially those whose eyelids and shoulders drop at the mention of the word “grammar”.  These days I love teaching it  … using the 4 Level Sentence Analysis that I learned about from Michael Clay Thompson.

Using a 4 Level Analysis of a sentence allows for my students to think through their decisions, to defend their choices and to create their own sense of understanding.  There is definitely some groundwork that needs to be laid before the analysis can begin.  The first thing we do at the beginning of the year is to review the eight parts of speech and the five parts of a sentence.  Then as we begin analyzing sentences, we add discussion about phrases, sentence structure, and sentence types.

We begin by having a group of volunteers label the part of speech for each word in the sentence on the board.  The students in the class are then expected to look at the labels and to question them when they don’t seem to fit with what he or she understands.  These questions often lead to rich discussions on the role of each part of speech, the relationships of the parts of speech to one another and the idea represented in the sentence as a whole.

In the sentence we analyzed on Friday, the students had two opportunities to contemplate the idea that often words can be more than one part of speech, depending on how they are used in the sentence.  So while we may appear to be looking at the sentence one word at a time, we are always keeping the idea represented by the sentence in mind.

The first word questioned was ‘so’.  Many of the students recognize it as a coordinating conjunction.  That great question allowed us to revisit the role of a coordinating conjunction.  It also allowed us to think about how the word was being used in the sentence.  When the students thought about it in relation to the other words around it, it became obvious that in this particular sentence the word was an adverb.  The second word questioned was ‘student’.  Most of the time it is thought of as a noun.  I especially loved the way Elizabeth recognized that it can be a noun … sometimes.  Again, we need to look at it in the context of the sentence!

Looking back at the video, I realize that you can only see part of the two magnet charts I refer to at the top of my white board.  The first one lays out the parts of the sentence in a visual way.  Here is a better picture of it:



The students decide if the clause has an action verb or a linking verb.  Then they know what to look for next.  If they have an action verb, they look for a direct object.  If there is one, then they look for an indirect object which will be found (if there is one) in front of the direct object.

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I like this visual of the main sentence structures because I can incorporate the correct punctuation for each sentence structure as we find examples of each.  Teaching grammar in this way is more intriguing to the students.  With each sentence their confidence grows because they are asked to explain their thinking which helps them build their own sense of how grammar works.


3 thoughts on “Thinking Out Loud About Grammar

  1. Thanks! At the beginning of the year, we rush through a review of the eight parts of speech. Because I am not yet looking for solid understanding of these parts, I have created an interactive notebook for the students. The information I want them to be able to refer to is already there, but there are also blank pages and places where they create mind maps, practice identifying parts of speech and parts of the sentence, and add personal examples when asked.

    Page 32 is the page detailing the two kinds of conjunctions. There are certain pages that we refer to often. Page 32 is one of them.

    As you can see in the video, there is no point in spending too much time on the up front information presentation. It is in analyzing the sentences (mid-October through May) that the students form a deep seated understanding of how the eight parts of speech function in a sentence, and how sentences are structured.

    If you are interested in seeing a copy of the notebook, let me know. We call it our “Grammar Examiner”. With the notebook, the information is at their fingertips. They add their own reasoning and logic!

  2. I love how you weave in the structure of the word to reinforce the meaning of the dependent clause! This is really interesting work I want to dig into further this year. What reference were they using to look things up, like when they went to page 32?

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