Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Notes on Teaching ENG100: Grammar

Everyone dreads it.

My students yawn when I tell them where to correctly put the comma (and I yawn back when they shrug their shoulders or roll their eyes). Teaching grammar isn't difficult, but it does require a certain amount of coffee, enthusiasm, and creativity.

How do we make grammar fun?

Well, as I always say, grammar isn't fun. Not even close. But like everything else, practice is the only way to "get it." I have been giving my students grammar quizzes at the beginning of class, which they silently complete (with ample groans and sighs). After they finish, we go over the questions and answers together.

Explaining why certain rules exist helps students to understand what the rules are. Imagine getting an essay back with red ERROR marks and explanation of those marks.

I also ask students to give "grammar presentations," where pairs of students have to give a presentation on a single grammar point. My class this summer is small (8 students), so they have about 3 or 4 grammar points to present on. Grammar presentations are part of students' participation grades. (This idea came from another GA at the University of Hawaii, Nicole Rabin, who got the idea from a professor at UH, John Rieder).

Here is a sample assignment sheet (altered for a small summer course):

All of you enter ENG100 with a range of writing abilities. Grammar presentations will help you teach your fellow students what you have learned about a specific grammar topic. For this project, you will work in pairs. Each group is responsible for giving a brief grammar presentation (5-10 minutes) to the rest of the class. You and your partner will teach the class about one grammar point in an accurate, informative, and creative way.


1.) Read about your grammar point online from one of the following websites:

Charles Darling’s Guide to Grammar

The Owl at Purdue

Grammar Girl

2.) After your research, you and your partner should discuss the main points you feel are necessary to point out to the class. Create a visual (handout, poster, PowerPoint, etc.) that lays out these points, and your suggestions of how to avoid and correct usage errors.

3.) Each presentation must be accompanied with a class activity where the class can put into practice the rules you have gone over with us.

How you will be evaluated for this group presentation:

This presentation will not be a measurement of how well you know do or do not know these rules. We all still struggle with grammar, and will continue to work at improving our style and usage. Your grade will count towards participation.

You will be evaluated on how clearly you present these rules to the class. This clarity will include: the work of visual; the use of examples for the rules; your presentation’s organization; both of the member’s active role in presenting the material; and the effectiveness of your included activity.

Topics and Resources:
Group 1: Subject and verb agreement, pronoun and noun agreement, tense agreements

Tense agreement

Pronoun/Noun agreement

More on Pronoun/Noun agreement (handout)

Subject/Verb agreement

Group 2: Sentence fragments, run-on Sentences, and misplaced and dangling modifiers


Run-on sentences

More on run-on sentences

Parallelism (overview)

More on Parallelism

Group 3: Commas, semicolons, colons, quotation marks, apostrophes (possessions, plurals, etc.), dashes, and dangling and misplaced modifiers





Quotation marks


Active vs. Passive voice

More on Active vs. Passive Voice

Dangling modifiers

Misplaced and dangling modifiers

*Note: During the regular academic year, I meet with each group prior to presentation-day to make sure the group is on the right track. This is a mandatory meeting.

By compiling a list of helpful websites for students, they have no excuse for not finding information on their grammar points. I also help students by giving a mock grammar presentation in class (this time around, I gave a 7 minute presentation on how to use italics). This way students know exactly what is expected from them.

Please feel free to use or alter this assignment sheet, link it to your blog, etc.

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