Recently I have been working with teachers on using mentor sentences to look closely at conventions and style in writing, and some teachers want to teach the parts of speech. Is teaching the parts of speech wrong? Well, that depends on how you look at it.
My experience with the parts of speech included the little grammar book that I remember as a student and later as a teacher. What I noticed, as both a student and a teacher, was that learning and teaching the parts of speech was like throwing a bunch of paper balls at a student and hoping something stuck. But it didn’t. So does that mean it’s completely useless to teach? Not at all, but it depends on how you teach it.
If you are using that little grammar book of lessons and practice, assigning worksheets, or even digital slides that are essentially worksheets, you may not be getting much to stick. That is because drilling out of context has been proven to ineffective. However, if you are using mentor texts and examining how the parts of speech impact writing and allowing students the time to go into their own writing, you are teaching grammar in context and you may find more success.
What Does This Look Like?
First, introduce a student-friendly definition. In this case, we are thinking about adjectives. Then allow students time to brainstorm. Whether they are in person or remote they can pick something in the classroom or in their home to describe coming up with as many examples as possible in a specified period of time.
They can also play tennis with the item they are describing. In person, name back and forth until the first person can no longer leaving it up to the other partner to keep going unit they can no longer think of any as well. In a hybrid classroom, breakout rooms can be used to partner up students.
Step one is quick…few minutes at most!
Find a mentor text to read to students and then examine just a piece of it looking closely for adjectives–words that describe people, places, or things.
Then remove the adjectives. Again this is just within a few minutes.
Ask students what effect the adjectives had on the text. Why did the author use the adjectives?
After studying this wrecked version of an informational text, we are showing not telling our students that adjectives provide precision and clarity in order to help readers understand. This would then lead to an invitation to revise.
If we are teaching the parts of speech in a way that teaches writers then we are more likely to improve writing, and isn’t that really the goal? Being able to name and identify parts of speech is not a life long goal; however, becoming a writer is. The research forever has proven that teaching grammar in isolation does not have positive effects on writing growth. In fact, it can cause more harm. Not only does it not stick, but the time wasted takes away from valuable writing time. Teaching grammar and the parts of speech in context of writing and using it as a means to transfer to student writing is a more effective approach.
Where Do I Start?
Think about the genre you are in. What are the parts of speech and conventions that will be important to learn and apply? The work is meant to transfer right into the current writing. For example, opinion and informational texts that need that precision and clarity will lend itself nicely to adjectives while strong verbs and strong nouns are necessary in narrative pieces. It might be useful to examine a mentor text for the genre and type of writing you are working in to determine what kids need. Studying realistic fiction, for example, might show me that strong nouns, strong verbs, paragraphing dialogue, and punctuating dialogue will be a helpful start. Think to yourself, what do they need now that they can go in and write or revise today.