Grammar is a topic which fills many children – and adults – with a growing sense of panic. However, it doesn’t have to be daunting. We love grammar and we want children to love grammar too. It doesn’t stop there though. At Young Shakespeares we believe a solid command of grammar is essential for weaving great stories and compelling essays. Yet we recognise many children find grammar boring and hard to grasp. We therefore believe our role is to make learning grammar fun.
So, how exactly do we do it? Well, read on.
Teachers approach the teaching of grammar in different ways.
Typically, an element of grammar is introduced in isolation. For instance, let’s take the humble apostrophe. In English the apostrophe can do a number of things. It can denote possession (Peter’s book). It can also show us something is missing (it’s meaning it is). Following an explanation of this ‘rule of grammar’, students are drilled through exercises to practise this new bit of knowledge.
Experience teaches us this approach works for some children, but for those children who just don’t ‘get’ grammar this method is deeply frustrating. They don’t understand why grammar is important and how it fits together. Children want the ‘big picture’ and are annoyed when they are offered detailed explanations on specific elements of grammar when they haven’t understood what it all means.
In fact, someone can speak and write great English without a formal understanding of grammar. However, a good understanding can supercharge the learning of English. It also helps in learning other languages. It’s fair to say that knowing how English grammar works is a great way to rapidly acquire other languages.
At this point, you might be wondering how it’s possible to teach a ‘big picture’ of grammar. We do this by using useful metaphors and analogies that will help children visualise how grammar works in a way that is fun and useful. They already have these models in their heads. Now they need help in pulling them out and mastering English grammar.
One of the first things we share with the children is that language began as a spoken form long before it was written. Anyway, words can only be spoken one word at a time and in English the order of words is central to its grammar. This may seem obvious. It isn’t. For instance, the words in a Latin sentence can be written in any order and still make sense. Not so in English. This rigidity of order is the first step to understanding how English is built. This structure is central to understanding English grammar.
Let’s look at another example. The human body. Is it random that our heads are at the top and our eyes are in our heads? That are feet are on the ground and that we have two arms and two feet? Our spine keeps our heads aloft. This structure of bones in the human skeleton isn’t going to be easily changed by nature. In the same way the order of words is important in English.
Is there a better way to visualise grammar. We can use the analogy of trains and building blocks to show how a simple sentence is constructed. The different possibilities of the English sentence are shown to children and then we play with this structure and reveal, first-hand, how to manipulate words in a dynamic chain of living words.
It is this recognition of the underlying pattern of words which is central to mastering English grammar. From active to passive, simple to compound to complex, we take children on the Magical Merry-go-round of Grammar. Semi-colons, colons, apostrophes will all follow, but without a general understanding of structure it simply won’t ‘fit together’.
We still have to practise these rules, but we usually play games.
Over the years we have collected a number of games which can be used to enhance and deepen a child’s knowledge of English.
Without listing them and going through them one by one, let us share one of the key barriers to understanding. In English, it is common for a word to transform from one type of words to another. A noun can turn into a verb. A verb into an adverb. An adverb into an adjective. These changes are accompanied by modifications sometimes. They can be suffixes or even a change in pronunciation. The ability to juggle words in this way, quickly and effortlessly marks how well a child has mastered English grammar.
Despite all these games and lessons that we teach we cannot avoid teaching words themselves. Hence our focus on teaching how individual words are constructed from Anglo-Saxon, Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes. Our focus is on remembering by understanding the patterns of English not on rote learning of a list of words.
Other things we do
It is vital for students to master the basics of English grammar so that they can confidently express themselves.
That said, dipping a toe into the ocean of English grammar is exciting stuff, but it’s just the start. What is important isn’t an isolated mastery of spelling, punctuation and grammar, but bringing it all together in a holistic whole. That’s the journey we want children to embark on and once they realise how exciting it can be, they’ll find their own way and make words their own.