Tuesday, February 16, 2010

What in the World is Grammaropolis?

I taught 7th Grade Writing for six years at Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills, California. The school had separate English classes for Literature and Writing, and I was therefore able to focus most of my class time on composition and grammar. Many of the students had come from Pinewood’s Lower and Middle Campuses, where there was an incredible effort to teach grammar, but about half the students came from schools with very little grammar background. This presented a challenge. How to teach grammar to a class where half the students could diagram noun clauses in their sleep while the other half had trouble with adjectives and adverbs?

One of my most successful assignments was when I had the students pair up and write children’s book from the perspective of a single part of speech. Using the personification, strong characterization, and a clear storyline, the main requirement was that the story effectively convey the purpose of the chosen part of speech.

It forced the students to think about the parts of speech in ways they could relate to. I may have told them that an adverb modifies a verb, adjective or other adverb, but that definition may not have meant as much as when they thought of putting an adverb in a story and figuring out how it would act. Suddenly, the adverb became bossy, and of course nobody had any trouble understanding how bossy people acted.

At the end of the assignment, the students illustrated the books, bound them, and read them to the younger grades. They were so excited to share their stories that they actually seemed to forget that it had all been a grammar assignment. They weren’t thinking about parts of speech; they were thinking about characters.

As a fiction writer, this intrigued me. I knew that there are many different learning styles, but most of my grammar workbooks focused on the dictionary definitions of the parts of speech. There had to be another way to do it.

I’m hoping that Grammaropolis is that other way. I hope it helps kids connect with the parts of speech on a human level. I hope they’ll be so entertained that they’ll forget they were supposed to hate grammar.

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