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The day students anticipate every year is almost here: March 4th—National Grammar Day! Ok, so maybe your children haven’t been doing a Christmas-style count down. But what a great subject to celebrate in your homeschool every day. Grammar really doesn’t need to be difficult or boring—for you or your children. You can teach it in both fun and natural ways.
1. Teach parts of speech through games
Let’s take our dear friend, The Noun. There are common and proper nouns, concrete and abstract nouns. And at this point you may think, “But I don’t even remember all of those things!” The beauty of homeschooling though is that we don’t have to. We can learn, or relearn, right alongside our children.
Begin by investing in a good grammar reference and show your children how to look up whatever term, concept, or rule you are studying. My favorite resource is More Nitty Gritty Grammar: Another Not-So-Serious Guide to Clear Communication by Edith Fine and Judith Josephson. The authors arranged terms in alphabetical order so they are easy to find. And the best part: they included comic strips to help illustrate them.
Or you can google it. This is the way my two college-aged sons find all the answers to life.
So look it up. Then together read about whatever you are studying. After that you can play a game to help your children understand the concept. Here are some ideas for teaching nouns:
- Call out objects in your home and see who can bring it back to you the quickest. Talk about how these are concrete nouns because you can use your senses to experience them.
- Cut out symbols or pictures for abstract ideas: a heart for love, a light bulb for an idea, someone laughing for happiness. Hold up each symbol or picture and have your students guess what it stands for. Or call out the idea and have your children find pictures that show or symbolize it.
- Write the names of different objects around your home or outside on index cards. Challenge children to find the object and tape the index card with its name on it.
- Get out books your kids love. They can be board books, picture books, fiction or non-fiction, even joke and riddle books—anything! Then ask them do a noun treasure hunt. Set a timer for thirty seconds and see how many nouns they can find in their books and write down on a sheet of paper or whiteboard.
- On a whiteboard or poster board make a list of common nouns down one side. On the other side have your children write a proper noun that matches it. For example, write store. Your children then write the names of one or more in your city, such as Kroger. Give a point for each one they come up with.
A few more ideas for other parts of speech:
- To teach action verbs, write some out on index cards—words like running, skipping, sitting, jumping. Have your children choose a card and act it out for the rest of the family so they can guess what the verb is. (Go ahead and add vacuuming, dusting, and cooking. You might as well get some chores done!) Or encourage them to draw instead of acting out the word for others to guess if you don’t want to make your kids clean during school.
- Want a way to entertain the kids in the car while stealthily teaching them (Yes, you too can be a Ninja Homeschooling Mom!)? Tell your kids to give “Crayola” names to describe the colors they see while driving around. We did this and I still remember my youngest describing a cream-colored car as “melted-mozzarella-cheese” cream. No, we don’t normally think of melted-mozzarella-cheese as an adjective, but that is how it is functioning because adjectives are describing words.
Adapt store-bought games
Our family recently discovered Tenzi. It is a simple game, but can be played with so many variations. In the original game, everyone playing rolls 10 dice at the same time. Each chooses a number to collect and continues rolling until all the dice show the same number. Whoever finishes first yells “Tenzi” and wins that round. Easy.
For Christmas we bought 77 Ways to Play Tenzi. On each card, a variation of the game is written. You can use the same idea. Write some “grammar variations” to use while playing such as “Do an action (verb) between each roll” or “Call out a describing word (adjective) between each roll.” Your children will have fun creating their own. Bonus: You covered some math and grammar at the same time. Ninja mom wins again.
2. Find Out-of-the-Box resources
Visit your library and you will probably find some great picture books that teach grammar. Brian Cleary has written a series, Words Are CATegorical (yes the illustrations include cats), that my boys really enjoyed. A Mink, A Fink, a Skating Rink: What is a Noun?; Under, Over, By the Clover: What is a Preposition?; Dearly, Nearly, Insincerely: What is an Adverb?—you get the idea. Adjectives, verbs, pronouns, conjunctions are also introduced in the series using rhyme, colorful illustrations, and cats. And if you have KindleUnlimted, you can read them for free.
Or you can go “old school” and learn like I did while watching cartoons on Saturday mornings. SchoolHouse Rock is available on DVD or instant streaming. This collection of animated songs will stick with your children for years. To this day I can sing Conjunction Junction, What’s Your Function. (Warning though: you may find yourself singing these throughout the day. They kind of get stuck in your head!)
3. Adapt curriculum to your children
You don’t have to throw out a grammar curriculum you love. Just be willing to make it work for your children.
Do your children dislike writing on paper? Let them do it on a whiteboard or answer orally. Are the lessons taking too long? Choose the number of exercises you want them to complete. Do they think the subject is boring? Make it more fun by racing a timer to see if they can finish before it goes off. Or let them use different colors of pens and pencils. (And yes, that is my idea of fun. I love colored pens. My new favorites are colored and erasable!)
4. Teach them to be editors
Every writer needs to learn to be an editor. Editors discover and correct mistakes in writing and every writer makes mistakes. There are some great resources like Fix It! Grammar where student’s are given a passage with errors to correct. But you don’t have to buy a curriculum.
Newspapers, published books, articles and blog posts—all of them contain errors. When your students find a mistake, encourage them to show you. You can even make it more fun and pay them a nickel when they do (or my favorite currency—M & M’s). Let them keep a jar on their desk and collect away.
And of course they will need to edit their own writing. Or a sibling’s writing if they can do it nicely.
You can even allow them to correct you. Make some mistakes on purpose and see if they catch it. Editing real writing, or speech, helps them make the connection between learning the concepts and how to apply them. Which leads us to the next suggestion.
5. Connect studying grammar to real writing
Most of us agree, we want our students to study grammar so they can be better communicators. Research shows studying it in isolation, though, does not improve writing. Children need to see the connections between what they are learning about and how it is used.
In Teach Language Arts Naturally I explain that copywork and dictation are great ways to help students see this connection. In copywork students copy a letter, word, sentence or passage from an example or book. Dictation is similar, but instead of copying, they write what they hear being read.
When students copy, they absorb grammar naturally, much like they learned to speak by hearing those around them talk. You can even choose passages that exemplify whatever grammar concept they are learning about. Talk about it, look it up in the reference, and then have them copy or write an example of it from dictation.
Maybe they won’t consider copywork and dictation fun. But if you show them the twenty textbook exercises they could do instead, they may just decide it is at least tolerable.
So Go Celebrate Grammar
Teaching and learning grammar doesn’t have to be boring for you or your children. And most people will agree, we all learn better when we have a little fun. Maybe it is time to plan a National Grammar Day celebration in your homeschool. Or simply celebrate a little everyday.