Grammar worksheets have always been a point of contention in my teaching. When I hand them out, even students who do well on them seem unable to explain the rules they’re using, which then means they have trouble applying them in their own writing.
I began to think that grammar worksheets were a waste of time.
I decided to try something new last year,and since then I have used it several times. It has worked really well, and I think it could be adapted in several ways to encompass a variety of grammar lessons.
I start by breaking grammar rules into a couple of different sections. On one day we might go over sentence fragments, run-ons, and comma splices. On another day we might go over subject-verb agreement, coordinating conjunctions, and semicolons. I try to group them in ways that similar terms will be used together (for instance, if I talk about subordinate conjunctions at the same time I talk about sentence fragments, it’s easier to explain why adding “because” to the beginning of an otherwise independent clause makes it a fragment). The most important thing, though, is that there is a clear set of different grammatical elements we’re mastering at any given time.
I go over these in a group discussion, and a few students participate and ask questions, but most of them are fairly quiet. I then provide a handout with all of the rules in one place. I ask the students if they have any questions and explain that once I give them the worksheet, I won’t answer any more questions about the rules.
Then I give them a worksheet with five sections on it. Each section deals with a different rule. I make my own worksheets, but this could also work for a pre-made assignment from the textbook. I explain that they’ll be graded individually on the score that they get (up to 20 points). However, there’s a twist. For every section the entire class gets right, they’ll receive 2 bonus points, and if the class gets every question right, I’ll give 10 more bonus points. They could get a 40/20 on this single assignment. In my class, that’s enough to make up for a missed reading response or two missed in-class assignments. It’s a pretty good deal.
They are allowed to use their handouts and their books. They can work as one big group, several small groups, or individually. I turn on the overhead projector and let them use it to talk through the worksheet as a class. If they disagree, they are free to keep whatever answer they think is right, but they’ll only get the bonus points if everyone gets that section correct.
So far, I’ve never been able to give the full 20 bonus points, but I have given several classes bonus points for individual sections that everyone got right. Most important, I can see them grappling with the rules as they explain them to one another and argue for why they think their answer is right. Even when the students get the answer wrong, the reasoning and discussion they have while getting there is valuable. As an added bonus, hearing them explain their reasoning lets me know what areas I need to spend more time talking about in the future.
My students have also gotten really enthusiastic about this assignment. They are often working down to the very last second of class and can’t wait for me to give them their graded worksheets back.
A word of caution: this assignment takes longer than I thought it would. For my worksheets (about 25 fill-in-the-blank/circle the error questions), it takes a class at least 45 minutes.
What strategies do you have for making grammar activities more effective? Have you had success with worksheets? How do you get students to discuss and apply the rules long-term?