Search form

Good Grief,
It's Grammar Time!

students writing


Are grumbles all you hear when teaching grammar? Try a fresh approach -- a few new "hooks" your students will remember -- and check out a bunch of grammar sites on the Internet that will placate even the loudest grammar grumblers!

Grammar! Can't live with it; can't live without it.

As an English teacher in a middle school, it is incumbent on me to teach that most dreaded of subjects. But I've found that there ARE ways to make it a little less odious.

Trying to humanize grammar as much as possible, I give students "hooks" to help them remember the rules. Let me share a few with you.

  • When I teach the progressive tense, I spin a tale about a family on my block, the ING family. All in this family have the same last name. There is the dad, workING, the mom, inventING, and the children, learnING and studyING. The progressive family includes the present progressive, is or are studyING, and the past progressive, was or were studyING.
  • When I teach the perfect tense, I tell my class about my husband who, fortuitously, is named Ed. I spin a tale about a perfect person I know who is named ED, and that all in this family also have the same last name. The dad's name is workED, the mom inventED, and the children learnED and studiED. The perfect family includes the present perfect, have or has workED, and the past perfect tense, had workED. Then we go on to discuss "dysfunctional families," the irregular verbs.
  • When I teach indefinite singular pronouns, I draw a chart on the board. After students have become familiar with the four words on the chart, they will know sixteen indefinite singular pronouns. The chart looks like this:
    an(any) body
    no one
    every thing
    some other
    If one word on the left can be combined with any word on the right, an indefinite singular pronoun is formed. Anybody, anyone, anything, and another are all indefinite singular pronouns. I found it is definitely easier for my students to remember four words than sixteen.
  • When introducing transitive and intransitive verbs, I draw a giant letter T on the board and a giant letter I. Then I try to hang a direct object (DO) and an indirect object (IO), looking like little DO and IO apples on the tips of the T. I can fit one on each end; however, when I hang direct and indirect object apples on the ends of the capital I, I tip it over, spinning a tale about how the puny letter I can't support the objects' weight.

In my teaching, I try to use visual aids or tell stories humanizing grammar, trying to make learning it enjoyable. Zipping through the concepts, I try not to spend any more time than I have to, but still cover all the concepts that need to be covered.


I also review standardized tests my students will be taking in high school: the SAT and ACT College Board Exams, the PSAT National Merit Scholarship Exam, and English SAT Achievement tests, to get an idea of what grammar skills my students will be expected to know well by the time they finish high school. Those are the concepts I most emphasize.

Regardless of the exam, I've found that skill in English is essential.

  • For National Merit Scholarships, the PSAT English score is counted twice and the math score once.
  • The ACT College Board Exam includes English, reading, math, and science. In essence there, too, verbal ability counts twice.
  • If a student chooses to attend a selective college that requires SAT Achievement Tests, the school usually requires that the student take an achievement test in English, math, and his area of specialty.
  • The SAT College Board Exam also relies heavily on verbal ability.

When I reviewed those tests, I found that several concepts were emphasized more than others. The concepts I found emphasized most often were:

  • Correct use of commas, semi-colons, apostrophes, quotation marks, and hyphens in sentences.
  • When to use a possessive pronoun and when to use a contraction: it's vs. its.
  • Correct use of who vs. whom especially when whom is part of a prepositional phrase in the beginning of a sentence: To whom should I give this?
  • Use of subject pronouns vs. object pronouns especially with linking verbs and in compound prepositional phrases: It is I. Keep this between you and me.
  • The use of his/her or they with indefinite pronouns: Will everyone please pass up his or her paper?
  • Correct verb usage in sentences with neither/nor and either/or conjunctions: Neither Tom nor the boys go. Neither the boys nor Tom goes.
  • Correct use of which, who, or that in sentences.
  • Avoiding dangling modifiers and misplaced modifiers: Do you know what I am speaking about?
  • Use of active voice, verb consistency, and parallel construction in sentences. Avoiding redundancy.
  • The rhetoric sections of these tests frequently emphasize the ability to identify main idea and author's bias.
  • The ability to identify a logical order for sentences or paragraphs in a long passage is also essential.
  • I frequently saw questions concerning the proper use of affect and effect.

As the school year goes on, I emphasize to the students when I think a grammar or rhetorical concept is really important and when it is one students need to know. I take my job very seriously. Whether it be through cajolery or storytelling, I try to get across to my students essential concepts. Just as middle school teachers are influenced by how much or how little the teachers our students had before us taught, so too must we be concerned with what skills our students need to know in order to do well in the classes they have after us. Middle school teachers cannot teach in isolation.


If you and your students are hooked up to the Internet, you'll have access to dozens of Web sites that focus on grammar! Be sure to check out some of these sites:

  • Common Errors in English - This site lists common errors in word usage in the English language. Each example provides a sample of wrong usage and the correct usage.
  • 11 Rules of Writing - A "concise guide to the most commonly violated rules of writing" from a teacher of a writing course for college freshmen. The site provides examples for each of the 11 rules and links to additional Internet grammar resources.
  • Schoolhouse Rock - Watch episodes from the popular series on the official Schoolhouse Rock Web site. The site includes grammar-focused tunes like "Unpack Your Adjectives," "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, Get Your Adverbs Here," "Conjunction Junction," and "Busy Prepositions."

Article by Glori Chaika
Education World®
Copyright © Education World


Links last updated 11/17/2016