A prevalent idea in language classrooms today is that teaching grammar in isolation is a “bad thing.”
While our students do need to learn grammar explicitly, the language learning journey is more complicated than simple grammar rules. Students are good at doing grammar exercises; however, when it comes to applying this grammar in their writing, they fall short. Why? Most likely because we as teachers tend to teach writing and grammar as separate concepts. Below are some strategies to make writing more of a part of the grammar classroom.
Try These 5 Tips to Integrate Grammar and Writing
Take time to read in writing class
Any time you can emphasize the crucial relationship between reading and writing will be beneficial for the students. When you introduce a grammar concept, show students a model paragraph or text which illustrates this concept nicely. For example, when teaching indirect/reported speech, you can take a news article and highlight the examples of indirect speech for the students to expose them to this new form. Ask students to study these bolded sentences, and ask why these sentences are written the way they are. For indirect speech, you could show two copies of the same article, one with direct speech and one with indirect speech. Allow the students to compare and contrast to figure out the grammatical rules underlying this concept.
Alternatively, you can show students a text after you have introduced the grammar concept to the student and ask them to find all of the examples of the rule you have just taught. While teaching past perfect, you can give students a story to have students compare and contrast past simple and past perfect events.
Whether you use texts before instruction or after, seeing grammar concepts in their appropriate and realistic context is critical for learners. If they can’t understand the patterns and situations in which this grammar is useful and applicable, they will not be able to move beyond basic drills. Seeing the featured grammar in others’ writing will empower students to be more confident in using the structures in their own writing.
A writing per day keeps the errors away
After introducing and practicing a grammar concept, give students a short informal writing to illustrate that grammar concept. Whether it is a paragraph or a full essay, immediate writing with a prompt aimed at eliciting the grammar structure will get students into producing the grammar more naturally than sentence drills. By writing more frequently, you are building their association between grammar and writing. Also, emphasizing writing more than grammar in the classroom enforces the idea that language learning is not simply memorizing rules.
Design your lessons with your students in mind
Each time you evaluate student writing, jot down a few sentences from each student’s paper that contain errors. A good warm-up activity is to make a worksheet based on student errors and go over them as a class. Remind students that everyone makes mistakes, even the teacher, and that each student has one error represented in the worksheet. After students have practiced correcting these errors, they can return to their writing to revise and improve.
It is also beneficial to keep an error journal for your class. After you finish reading an assignment from your students, make note of the common frequent errors among your students. These lists that you make should help inform your daily lessons to target the grammar your students still have not mastered. By keeping the journal over time, you can see how your students have improved and how you might need to adjust your curriculum for next year.
Design your rubric with grammar in mind
Typically speaking, students will write formal papers using only the grammatical structures with which they feel comfortable. Rather than taking risks, students stay on the safe side and use simplistic sentences. To push them to practice using the more complex structures that you’ve been teaching in class, design your rubric to include specific points addressing which kinds of grammatical structures you would like to see.
One approach is to tell students a minimum number of structures for each writing. For example, you might assign students a narrative essay in which they must use at least five examples of past perfect. Alternatively, you may wish to be less legalistic and implement a point system which rewards students for using target grammar. If you have been reviewing sentence variety, you can assign students to write a paragraph in which they get one point for every simple sentence they use, five points for every compound sentence they use, and ten points for every compound/complex sentence they use. Remind students that often essays are awarded higher points for using more complicated structures, so they should begin this practice now.
Use pictures to elicit writing
Some grammatical structures are difficult to bring out in expository writing. For example, the present progressive is used quite infrequently compared with present simple. As a way to elicit a wide range of tenses, you can use pictures in your writing classroom. Depending on the particular grammar structure you are teaching, pictures give writers the freedom to practice virtually any tense. For present progressive, you can ask students to describe what is happening in the picture. For present perfect, you can show a picture of a person and ask students to write down life experiences of this person. For advanced students, you can ask them to predict that person’s future using future simple and future perfect progressive.
One of the biggest disservices we can do to our students is fail to give them practical situations to apply their grammatical knowledge.
Without successful writing strategies to use the grammar, grammatical structures are quite useless on their own. These useful strategies will encourage both you and your students that integrating grammar and writing is easier than it sounds.