Get Your Grammar On!

Yes, it is March 4, which can mean only one thing: It’s National Grammar Day! Founded by Martha Brockenbrough, who also founded The Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar, the day is, of course, devoted to the celebration of all that is good and right about grammar.

Here at UW-Eau Claire, we celebrate with t-shirts, signs, cookies, and a College of Business Facebook grammar contest that awards incredibly cool prizes.

Seriously, though, for many of us teaching grammar is a struggle. In part, the struggle comes from the fact that learning (and yes, teaching) grammar is perceived as drudgery because grammar is seen as a set of rules one must learn and follow. If we continue teaching grammar in a way that reinforces this perception, our students will continue to struggle.

I would advocate that instead we teach grammar for what it is: A beautiful, flexible, adaptable tool for ensuring that business writing is clear, precise, and audience focused. I love to teach grammar in this way because I know that my students understand the why and the how of grammar and feel empowered as a result. As one of my students exclaimed after we learned to punctuate patterns of phrases and clauses in ways that subordinated, coordinated, or emphasized ideas: “Mind blown.” They also laughed at my “drop the mic” move upon combining phrases and clauses to convey three different meanings. In other words, teaching grammar, punctuation, and usage as rhetorical strategy is much more meaningful to students than teaching these topics as rules.

For example, my strategy for teaching punctuation is as follows:

  1. Teach the definitions of the following phrases and clauses:
    • Independent clause
    • Dependent clause
    • Relative dependent clause
    • Prepositional phrase
    • Verbals (infinitive, gerund, participial)
  2. Provide students with a list of punctuation patterns (e.g. dependent clause followed by an independent clause; two independent clauses joined by a coordinating conjunction, an independent clause with an embedded relative dependent clause, a prepositional phrase followed by an independent clause)
  3. Provide students with a set of ideas and ask them to combine them using one of their patterns.
  4. Punctuate sentences and discuss what the punctuation accomplishes rhetorically (e.g., the writer is giving equal weight to ideas or subordinating ideas).

Of course, including a few jokes and keeping the discussion light also helps. This week’s best joke came from a student. After I announced we would take a few moments at the end of class to look at dangling participles and how they affect meaning, one of my students said, “Are you telling us that they will just ‘hang out’ until we get to them?” It’s nice that they get into the spirit.

 

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