Wednesday, November 25, 2015

For the Love of Grammar

I love English Grammar. I love reading about it, learning about it, and teaching it. Two books in particular have piqued this interest. In Denise Eide's book, Uncovering the Logic of English, she explains and gives examples of the numerous grammar and phonetic rules, how to use them, and how to teach them. Once I realized how language and its usage all fit together, I discovered that the exceptions to these rules are actually rare. I also use her curriculum in our homeschool as one of several resources I pull from. The other book that has intrigued me enough to read it several times is King Alfred's English by Laurie J. White. This book is a fascinating, entertaining, and an informative telling of history, the development of the English language, and linguistics. In fact, I'm planning to read it again over the holidays.

Since enthusiasm is contagious, English Grammar is a favorite subject in our home. My own homeschool children, M and G, have caught the bug and I work hard to keep that bug alive. We like to play games. Since I'm the Essentials tutor in our local Classical Conversations homeschooling community, I've not only learned a vast amount of English Grammar, I've also created numerous games to use in class. Review time can become a drag unless the teacher/parent makes an effort to spice it up a bit. Games make learning fun and do an excellent job of reinforcing concepts. Over the holiday season, I'm slowing our homeschool down and not introducing any new material; just taking time to solidify what we've been studying for the past 12 weeks.

One of the games we play in class at the end of each twelve weeks is Wipe-Out. I write the grammar terms introduced so far on a white board. The students split into two teams, and taking turns, either give definitions or examples of each one. The words are erased from the board when answered correctly. At home, I'm planning to blindfold my child,(M), turn her around a couple of times, and let her stick a post-it note onto the board. Then she can tell me what she knows about the term she lands on and wipe it off. A Hershey's kiss goes a long way as a reward. Awww... keeping it simple!

Jenga is popular at our house. I taped different English Grammar questions on the blocks and then we play as usual, stopping to answer the questions. I'm always astounded by how much she knows. (I'm also amazed by how much I know thanks to the last four years of Essentials class and I'm blown away by how much her sister knows after graduating from three years of Essentials.)

Of course, Bingo is an easy game to put together. I printed a blank bingo card and wrote the answers to questions related to our IEW writing curriculum, Teaching Writing, Structure, and Style. I like to call it VINCO (I conquer) just to throw in some Latin. 

Another fun game is Preposition Bingo. As I call out the different prepositions, I also give some other parts of speech for M to identify. I try to be tricky and use words like some, somehow, forward, farther; words that we haven't used in example sentences yet. She may not initially know what parts of speech these are, but she should know that they're not prepositions because she has those memorized. (Thanks to CC Foundation's English Grammar memory work.)

We review the parts of speech while also working on writing skills by narrating, or telling back, a short section of something she's reading. It can be anything. Eventually, I will have M write out her narration, but for now I type it up as she is retelling the story. I have her identify different parts of speech. Using different colors to highlight makes it fun. I sometimes present it as a scavenger hunt - find ten nouns, circle five subjects, underline six verbs, highlight four adverbs, etc. Then she adds quality adjectives and -ly adverbs. 

One of the ways we study sentence patterns is by choosing one of our favorite photos and writing sentences incorporating the first four patterns that we are learning. I print them out and then she parses, diagrams, and writes down the pattern. This is fun and I'll find some holiday related pictures to use these next couple of months.

We also play with sentence patterns by writing sentences in different patterns about whatever  book she is reading. This is a higher thinking skill because she not only has to recognize the pattern, she has to take what she has learned and put it into practice. As you can see, she doesn't always get them correct. But she's learning! We'll do this again using different sentence patterns.

I'm a staunch believer that in order to develop excellent writing skills, excellent literature needs to be read.   By becoming familiar with different great authors and various genres,  vocabulary increases, and different writing styles and techniques are recognized. I'm all about using what we read as the jumping off point for writing assignments. 

I also take every opportunity to mix in picture study. Pick-a-Stick lets M create unique sentences about a particular work of art. I've found numerous sites where famous artworks are available to download for free. The sticks have prompts written on them to guide the sentence creations. I love this game; it may be my favorite.

I like to teach punctuation as we read. I think it makes much more sense when seen in the context of a book. Project Gutenberg has all the old classics available to download making it possible to print sections of books. I look up some literature that we are reading and print out a favorite selection. We read it, look and circle all the punctuation; discussing punctuation rules as we go. I then print it again, removing all the punctuation. We work together to replace all of it. I let her do the ones she knows on her own; always adding a new one following IEW's Andrew Pudewa's EZ+1 motto. 

Writing an original story by using three pictures is a wonderful way to spark creativity while practicing not only handwriting, but also writing a keyword outline, constructing sentences of different structures and patterns, using the correct parts of speech, and adding stylistic techniques. That's more than enough concepts for M to manipulate. Talking about them together while creating a fun story makes this assignment very doable. I like to pick pictures from favorite books that we own. We've used illustrations from Good Dog Carl . Next up is Roses for Harry.

We couldn't function without a whiteboard. I often write the word usage labels across the top and she adds in the appropriate parts of speech. She then changes one word to its antonym, one to a synonym, and makes one complete word change. This is an activity presented in Shurley Grammar, another extremely helpful resource. I use the level 7 book and adapt it to our needs. M has fun diagramming but then again, don't we all?

I love how the Classical model invites me to be creative and taylor the curriculum to meet my individual child's needs. I enjoy thinking of ways to make learning English grammar and writing a natural part of each day. Lately, I've been keeping track of what we do over on Pinterest. There, I've posted a document of fun and inspiring Christmas sentences created by a fellow Essentials tutor to parse and diagram as we countdown to Christmas. Feel free to check it out and... enjoy the holidays.

Blessings to all of you during this holy season,