I grew up diagramming sentences. I still have my Warriner's English Grammar and Composition book from high school and I have unsuccessfully tried to teach my daughters how to diagram sentences. They will write with me during the summers and they want my suggestions on their papers, but they draw the line (pun intended) at diagramming sentences.
Over the last couple of weeks, I have had several conversations with teachers in our district about how to teach grammar and punctuation to students. Some of these conversations have been driven by our districts standardized assessment scores; the Connecticut Mastery Test includes editing and revising strands and our district did not perform as strongly on the editing portion of the test as we did on the rest of the test. Other conversations have started because teachers find that many students don't include basic punctuation-- capital letters, periods, question marks-- in their writing drafts, even though we know that they have had prior instruction on these skills. Additionally, teachers are lamenting that students write in incomplete sentences with very little regard to parts speech, word variation, or sentence complexity.
Enter the Common Core...Some of the fifth-grade standards include:
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.5.1a Explain the function of conjunctions, prepositions, and interjections in general and their function in particular sentences.
Between these conversations and the fact that the Common Core specifically addresses grammar, conventions, and punctuation, I have been reading and thinking a lot about how to inspire students to retain and use what we teach about grammar and punctuation. One of my new favorite books is Janet Angelillo's Grammar Study because I love her approach to teaching grammar through units of study and mentor texts. She believes that the purpose of grammar units should be “to introduce them to the fact that grammar makes language work and to make them curious about how it works.” (p. 23) Moving along, she also gives specific and explicit ideas for incorporating grammar into units of study. One of her ideas include choosing mentor texts that are good examples of the genre with the grammatical structures that you plan to teach. Her book is full of ideas for mini-lessons that are designed to inspire inquiry-based learning and curiosity. Instead of teaching from worksheets that contain sentence fragments, have students create charts of fragments from mentor texts and talk about why the author chose not to use a complete sentence. I'd love to see some of the scripts of those discussions. To specifically address the content standards cited above, what about creating charts that show how an author uses interjections in sentences? Then, brainstorm ideas about what those interjections add to the piece of writing.
I'm looking for ways that others are integrating punctuation and grammar into their daily practices and writing workshops. Please feel free to share in the comments!