Is Teaching and Learning Grammar a Waste of Time?

Karen Lemons

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The Purpose.

The purpose of learning grammar is to write something beautiful. Or persuasive. Or inspirational. Or . . . . Fill in the blank. Authors strive for clarity, but writing is also an art. Grammar knowledge is like having a number of gadgets in your toolbox to help you get the job done. If you want to build a beautiful piece of furniture–say a patio table that will seat your guests for long, summer dinners–you need to have the right tools. Furniture has function, of course, but it also has style. Do you want the top of your table to have a beveled edge? Why? Your choice to stain the wood instead of paint it is grounded in a stylistic or functional purpose. Writing is the same! How can an author use words, syntax, and grammar to bring about an emotion in his reader? When should you start a sentence with an participial phrase? What effect does a long string of dependent clauses have on the advancement of an idea or theme? So, teaching and learning grammar is not a waste of time. To communicate well, and with a stylistic and functional purpose, writers need to understand how to use the tools of the trade–nouns, verbs, semicolons, oh my!

What About Sentence Diagraming?

I used to teach sentence diagraming. I liked the mathematics-like structure of the language and saw beauty in the variety of how words could be placed together to form an idea. Frustrated that my middle school students didn’t see it my way, I was even more discouraged that their skill in diagraming didn’t translate to beautiful composition. What was I to do? 

The Vertical Planning Meeting.

As a middle school teacher and high school teacher at a small Christian school, we had a vertical planning meeting for English language art curriculum. An elementary teacher asked a high school teacher what she should be doing to prepare students for secondary school. The high school teacher responded, “Teach them how to write a sentence!” At that point, our sweet elementary teacher was not so sweet anymore. “That’s all we do!” she responded defensively. 

Research to the Rescue.

I wanted to know why my middle school and high school students couldn’t write sentences since that’s all they had done in elementary school. 😉 

I discovered that students compartmentalize grammar knowledge and do not transfer their knowledge when composing pieces of writing. I also discovered that students should be combining sentences all the way through high school! We high school teachers are the ones that need to teach them how to write a sentence! As students age, their speech naturally becomes more complex; they don’t know how to punctuate those complex sentences. 

Recommended Curriculum.

Homeschool moms know a thing or two! They’ve been using the following curriculum for a long time, but once I implemented the techniques in these books, my students made quick progress that awed me. Here’s the list: 

Easy Grammar. The sentence combining is the most valuable and without this aspect of the curriculum, I would not recommend it. 

Donald & Jenny Killgallon texts. I start with the elementary book even with high school students as it’s hard for them. There is one caveat here–these are not texts to just give to your learners and have them go at it alone. I found that you need to explicitly teach and model and guide them along, so they have success. 

Recommended Courses.

If this is something you want to outsource to Lemons-Aid, we are happy to teach! Check out these courses: 

A Cut Above (a 2-day, get-your-feet-wet course)

State of the Art (an ongoing subscription course)


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