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How Then Do We Teach Grammar?

Both traditional grammar instruction and writing involve words, phrases, and sentences. We have falsely assumed for decades that traditional grammar instruction will improve student writing.  Focusing on one discipline does not explicitly translate into achievement in the other. 

I view it much like learning to swim and learning to dive.  Both involve a human body, water, and energy.  But practicing diving will not make one a better swimmer.  Further, the sheer time investment to perfect a dive means time not spent swimming. 

So it is with grammar and writing. The time given to one means less time improving the other. 

Writing Improvement Occurs Through Writing.  

The place to beginning improving your students' writing is not with formal grammar study, but to develop a writing rich environment where students experience opportunity to write in a variety of styles, utilize the writing process, and are exposed to the practices known to improve student writing. For the homeschool parent, the simplest way to increase daily writing is to utilize a writer's notebook

Once we are writing with our children, we can improve grammar, usage, and mechanics within our writing through the use of mini-lessons.


"A mini-lesson is a brief explanation of something that may be helpful to students."
Teaching Grammar in Context
Constance Weaver

Mini-lessons are concise, often less than five minutes, of instruction that will help the student solve a problem in their writing.  Students are not given follow up grammar exercises, but rather apply the new information directly to their writing and continues to write.  

A key component of the mini-lesson is need.

The parent teaches a concept to the student when the information is needed .  Weaver challenges teachers to be "kid-watchers" to determine when and about what topic to teach a mini-lesson.

This system for teaching grammar is ideal for the homeschool setting where the student-teacher ratio allows individualized attention.

Using the mini-lesson approach, the parent helps the child tackle more complicated writing gradually. When the student attempts to write dialogue, the parent can teach a mini-lesson on the proper ways to punctuate written conversations.  If the child is adding detail to his or her writing, the parent can offer a mini-lesson on adjectives and their use in writing descriptions including comma use when listing words in a series. 

Teaching grammar within the context of writing assumes the teacher will be actively engaged with the student and an active learner themselves.

Parents wanting to teach grammar in this natural way should familiarize themselves with the following resources:  

By becoming familiar with the format of these resources and their contents, parents can in turn direct their student to the information needed to improve their writing. The homeschool parent who lacks confidence in this area should seek outside help from someone comfortable in indentifying problem areas in the student's writing.  

Bear in mind however, just as writing consistently improves student writing, the same is true for the homeschool parent.  A parent who wants to utilize the best practices for teaching writing will be the parent who engages in writing activities right next to the student.