Faculty Spotlight Series: Sarah Golden on How to Teach Grammar to Students

The Windward School is a learning community that recognizes the profession of teaching is a craft that takes an incredible amount of study, practice, and reflection to perfect. Thus, it is part of the School's mission to develop a faculty that is expert in teaching children with language-based learning disabilities. In our Faculty Friday series, we will be highlighting Windward faculty members and their expertise on a variety of educational topics. 

How should we teach grammar to students?

Grammar should be taught to students in context using specific sentence activities such as sentence combining and expansion. I have found this to be most effective in my own practice teaching students of all ages, and it is also supported by research. Utilizing the direct (explicit) teaching model, a specific grammatical concept should first be taught and modeled by the teacher, in the context of a specific sentence activity. This is most effective when done in a whole class lesson that promotes a high level of student participation. Then, students should practice the newly learned concept, so they may reach mastery and generalization of the skill.  With plenty of guided practice at the sentence level, students will ultimately begin to incorporate the learned structures and concepts into their independent writing.  

With plenty of guided practice at the sentence level, students will ultimately begin to incorporate the learned structures and concepts into their independent writing.

Very young students could begin learning basic sentence structure, sentence boundaries, and the components of a sentence by engaging in oral or written activities that require them to identify sentences and fragments. When students identify fragments, they must always be required to change the fragments into a sentence (MacDermott-Duffy, 2018).  As students move up through the grades, this activity can be used to teach other grammatical structures such as dependent clauses.  

Another way to introduce students to or reinforce grammatical concepts used in writing is through a strategy, which in the Windward Expository Writing Program (MacDermott-Duffy, 2018) is called sentence expansion. In this strategy students are provided with a short unelaborated sentence and prompted, using question words, to add words, phrases, or clauses to the given simple sentence. This enables students to learn and practice skills like appropriate pronoun use, adverbial clauses and the use of appositive phrases or relative clauses. Additionally, students can practice different sentence structures if they are prompted to start with, for instance, the subordinating clause or information generated by a specific question word. 

A third strategy, and one which is particularly effective and strongly supported by research (Saddler, 2007 as cited in MacDermott-Duffy 2018), is sentence combining. In this strategy, students combine simple sentences into more complex, and therefore longer, sentences using a variety of strategies that help students learn grammatical concepts including punctuation, tense and number agreement, parts of speech, coordinating and subordinating conjunctions, and relative clauses (MacDermott-Duffy, 2018; Scott, C. et al, 2006 as cited in MacDermott-Duffy, 2018).