English teachers have the unfortunate reputation of being monotone and boring. Most students dread the thought of session after session focused on grammar. Long papers facing the scrutiny of their instructor seem to be a daunting punishment. How can we make a typically fear-inducing topic and make it fun and engaging? Below, I share my notes and activities I use for one of my lessons covering some of the basics of grammar. I encourage you to use my material or experiment with a similar model. In my experience, engaging the student in the material improves long-term comprehension and memory and brings energy to the classroom.
This grammar lesson is based off of the content and focus included in Writing For the Road Ahead by Preston Waller.
Grammar Lesson Notes
Parts of Speech
- Noun: Person, place or thing
- Subject: The noun doing the verb in the sentence.
- Object: The entity that is acted upon by the subject.
- Verb: Action word
- Adjective: Describes a noun
- Adverb: Describes a verb, adjective or another adverb
- Pronoun: Replaces a noun: Replaces a noun
- Article: Signal that a noun is going to follow (the, a, an)
- Preposition: Show relationship between words in a sentence (to, after, on, etc.)
- Conjunction: Connects words, phrases, clauses, or sentences (and, but, then, etc.)
- Interjection: Exclamations that express strong feelings (Oh!, Ouch!, etc.)
Activity: Do a MadLibs activity together.
This game requires students to recognize and suggest various parts of speech. As a student suggests a particular word, ask the class why it qualifies as that particular part of speech.
“The most common error in people’s writing is spelling.” Spell Check is a great tool, but do not rely on it. Teach yourself to be able to edit your own writing. Here’s a web page I often consult for English spelling rules.
- The biggest way to improve your spelling is to recognize the words that give you problems. Know what they are and work to memorize the correct spelling.
- Reading is another great way to improve spelling. The more you see a word spelled correctly, the easier it will be to identify when it is spelled incorrectly.
Activity: Do a spelling quiz together.
Create a list of words. Include both correctly and incorrectly spelled words. Give students a few minutes to identify as many misspelled words as possible. Then, go over the incorrectly spelled words together and define the correct spellings.
- Commonly misspelled words: seperate (separate), freind (friend), invisable (invisible), personel (personal), payed (paid), obnoxous (obnoxious), bookeeping (bookkeeping), ratchit (ratchet), procede (proceed)
Homonyms or homophones are words that sound alike but are spelled differently and have different meanings. Find a list of homonyms here.
Activity: Homophone Class Book.
After reviewing and generating homophone pairs, students work with a partner to illustrate pages of a homophone class book. Each student will have a pair of homophones. On one page they use the word incorrectly in a sentence and then draw a humorous illustration to go along with the sentence. For example, “Come see my rows garden.” The students could draw a picture of an outside area with rows of chairs amidst trees, flowers, and shrubbery. On a second page, the student will use the word correctly with a corresponding picture. You can use your device to look up the definitions of the words. (Source: K12 Reader)
Use of the Comma
In general, the comma represents a pause when the sentence is read aloud. For the reader, a comma represents a division or break in the sentence.
- Commas before coordinate conjunctions
- If there is a conjunction connecting two independent clauses or phrases that can stand as individual sentences, you need a comma before the conjunction word.
- Commas after introductory elements
- Use a comma after an introductory statement. Example: “One day, I saw a frog.”
- Commas to set off nonessential words and phrases
- If you can read a sentence without certain information, you should surround it with commas. Example: “My friend, the girl in pink, is nice.”
- Commas in a sentence
- When you list items or a series of phrases in a sentence, separate them with commas.
- Commas in Dates
- In the format of month, day, year, place a comma after the date of the day.
- Commas in Addressees
- Place a comma after the street name and after the city.
A complete sentence has a subject and a verb and expresses a complete thought.
Activity: Fragment or Sentence?
Give students two sheets of paper. One says “fragment,” the other says “sentence.” Show a sentence/fragment and have students pick which one they think it is. On the count of three, have everyone reveal their answer. Ask one or two students why they chose what they did.
- Shouldn’t you wear a coat today? —sentence
- Went for a walk right after supper. —fragment
- Softly sang a song to the little baby. —fragment
- Birds chirp loudly. —sentence
- Some new books with pictures in them. —fragment
- The sky was all dark with clouds. —sentence
- A full cup of hot coffee. —fragment
A run-on sentence is a combination of two or more sentences without any punctuation.
- Make two separate sentences.
- Add a comma and a coordinate conjunction to make a compound sentence.
- Join two independent clauses with a semicolon.
- Join two independent clauses with a semicolon and an adverb followed by a comma.
Activity: Give teams print-outs of run-on sentences. Have them work with a partner to fix the sentences on the worksheet. Discuss them as a class afterward.
- Make sure both the verb and subject are either singular or plural.
- Example: “He is” / “they are”
- We usually make verbs past tense by adding “d” or “ed” to the end of the word.
- Example: “Listen” becomes “listened”
- Most errors happen with irregular verbs when we try to follow the normal pattern.
- Errors also happen when we try to make regular verbs follow an irregular form:
- “Throw” into “throwed,” rather than “threw”
- “Drag” into “drug” instead of “dragged”
Make your verb tense consistent in your writing. Use present or past language throughout your whole essay.
Activity: Separate students into teams to play the Subject-Verb Agreement Game. If you have enough class time, create a tournament style battle with the game.
Pronouns help you avoid repeating the same word over and over again. Make sure it is clear what noun the pronoun is referring to. If you have two nouns prior to your pronoun, you will usually only be able to use a pronoun for one of the nouns later in the sentence.
- Pronoun-antecedent agreement
- The noun replaced by the pronoun is the antecedent. Make sure your pronoun is appropriately singular, plural, male, female, etc.
- Pronoun case
- The form of pronoun changes based on whether they are replacing the subject (the noun the sentence is about) and the object (the entity that is acted upon by the subject).
If you are unsure if you are using the right pronoun, try reading a portion of the sentence to see if it sounds right.
Confusing adjectives and adverbs is a common problem, but why?
- Modifiers are descriptive words or phrases (adjectives, adverbs)
- Most adverbs end in -ly.
- Adjectives describe nouns, not action words (verbs).
- “Good” and “well” are the modifiers most often misused.
- Good is an adjective and should not be used when describing how something was done.
- Placing modifiers in the wrong position
- Do not place modifiers too far from what they describe.
- Using double negatives: “no” and “do not” / “no” and “was not” / etc.
Activity: Give teams of students a sentence with a misplaced modifier. Have them illustrate the error, then write the sentence correctly at the bottom of the page.
- A woman passed by, leading a springer spaniel in a long black dress.
- Hopping briskly through the vegetable garden, I saw a toad.
- The guide found the lion following its trail.
- We saw dinosaurs on a field trip to the natural history museum.
- Oswald and Hilda found the flowers hiking up the mountain.
- Don’t try to pat the dog on the porch that is growling.
- I found my missing baseball glove cleaning my room.
- The guest speaker had dedicated his new book to his dog who was a doctor.
- Covered in cream cheese, my friends will love these bagels.
- The model posed gracefully in front of the statue in the designer gown
- Capitalize proper nouns. Proper nouns are names of particular people, places, and things.
- Capitalize the first word of every sentence.
- Capitalize the word “I.”
- Capitalize the first word, last word, and all major words in titles. Do not capitalize articles (a, an, the), unless they begin the title.
Plurals and Possessives
In general, to make a singular word plural, add either s or es. Consult a dictionary if you are unsure of the plural form of a noun.
- Use ‘s to form the possessive form of singular nouns.
- Example: John’s hair
- Do not add an apostrophe to a possessive pronoun.
- Example: his bag
- Use a single apostrophe to form the possessive form of plural nouns ending in the letter s.
- Example: victims’ rights
- Apostrophes are sometimes used to form the plural of letters, numbers, abbreviations, and words referred to as words.
Activity: To Apostrophe or Not to Apostrophe?
Give students two cards, one with a check mark, one with an “x.” Print out several sentences on paper or show them on a digital screen. Have students choose whether there should be an apostrophe or not. Count to three, then reveal. Have a student explain why or why not an apostrophe should be used.
- Its hair was mangled.
- My friends TV was awesome.
- I took his sandwich.
- Its a nice day outside.
- Rachels adventure took forever.
- My friends went to the theme park without me.
You may need to use quotations in your papers for three main reasons:
- When the precise wording is important
- To authorize the source
- When the original wording provides dramatic emphasis
- Periods, commas, and exclamation points go inside the quotation mark at the end of a sentence.
- Question marks that are not part of the quote go outside of the quotation mark.
- If there is a quote within a quote, use single quotation marks for the internal quote.
- Example: “John said, ‘Go home.’ ”
Using proper grammar may seem tedious, annoying, and confusing at times. However, it is so valuable! It helps you communicate effectively and appear educated and professional.
Let me share one of my favorite examples of the power of grammar; it can honestly save lives!
“Let’s eat grandma.” vs. “Let’s eat, grandma.”