“I’m not looking forward to the BORING grammar lesson today,” moaned my intern teacher, Gina, “but I guess it’s a necessary evil before we can get to the fun book unit next week.”
“AGH!” I gasped with shock. I’d forgotten that many people don’t realize a stunning truth about ELA class: English language editing and usage lessons are often the most fun and memorable lessons for students of all ages. “Gina,” I exclaimed, “No offense, but you’re just wrong. Watch and see.” My intern teacher raised her eyebrows.
Our twenty-eight 7th-grade students filed in, grabbing the small packet entitled “Vanquishing Grammar Demons Forever!” We began by distinguishing “Academic English” from other forms of language use. Students nodded with understanding as we discussed examples of “code-switching:” matching the type of language used with the situation. The purpose: To establish that there are numerous ways of using English -- each of which is valid in the matching situation -- and that the form known as “Academic English” is one useful form to master for contexts like schoolwork, jobs... and even dating profiles!
At this point, students were attuned and engaged. Why? Even the most trained student of English (myself included) has certain “grammar demons” which drive us crazy -- those typos we keep making that muddle the ideas we yearn to convey. Students are HUNGRY for editing skills. They long to “vanquish grammar demons” and create powerful passages to be proud of.
Thus the fire of motivation was lit. On to the exercise! For each “grammar demon,” we read a short line of explicit instruction about the rule (ex: “who’s vs. whose,” and “apart vs. a part.”) Then came the challenge: Students had to write a sentence using each INCORRECTLY, then hand it to their assigned partner to slash out the error and to fix it. But wait -- the invitation was to make the weirdest, funniest sentence possible (appropriate, of course). Giggles rang through the room as we shared our creations.
“I walked passed the goblin, not knowing weather he’d gobble me up or not!” wrote one student, passing it to his partner with a flourish. The partner gleefully slashed out “passed” (replacing it with “past”) and “weather” (adding “whether”), grinning as she slammed the corrected paper back on the boy’s desk.
Students left class elated from expanded skills and smiling with new friendships formed through silly sentences.
“Whoa,” marveled Gina. “They really did like that!”
“Just wait,” I responded.
At the end of the year, students did a closing questionnaire and letter about our ELA class... and sure enough, “Vanquishing Grammar Demons” topped the charts for unit popularity. Further, every year, former students pop by to reminisce nostalgically about what they learned about editing. Who’d-a thunk?
The moral of the story is that energy influences, so don’t assume a certain topic will be boring for students, especially if it’s something that provides powerful skills. There can be delight in everything... even apostrophes!
Postscript: Since seeing the happiness these editing lessons have given students over the past 17 years I’ve been teaching, I’ve recently launched the new site, Drawings Of… Educational Cartoons, along with an accompanying YouTube channel. The site now has nearly a hundred posts (illustrated by my hand-drawn cartoons) which can be used as free lessons for ELA concepts such as common homophones, figurative language, and literary devices. Feel free to contact me if you’d like to request specific new lessons that would assist your class -- and might make your students smile, too.