You have most likely spent a lot of time thinking about your writing instruction. You may have been told exactly how many minutes of writing time you get each day or encouraged to get students writing as quickly (and as long) as possible to start preparing them for the rigorous expectations of the district or state assessments. But what about teaching grammar and language skills?
According to research, grammar and language instruction is critical for students. While we often focus on this for English Language Learners, students who are native English speakers need opportunities to learn grammar, too. That is because it offers learners the building blocks that can allow them to begin to understand and play with language more effectively, thus becoming stronger oral and written communicators.
Fitting everything into your writing block is HARD!
You’ve played around with different structures for your writing block. Perhaps you've bought a book or two. You are also reading this post which means you’ve at least thought about how you’ll balance all those ELA standards.
You may have even wondered how you'll fit teaching grammar and language skills into the already-crammed schedule. The time goes so fast, and your reluctant and struggling writers already barely get any words on the page. How can you cut their writing time even more?
So how do you know when it’s the right time to bite the bullet and actually explicitly teach grammar…and how do you do it without losing your much-needed writing time?
The 4 signs you need more explicit language instruction
If you've watched your students continue to struggle, you might be wondering if you should have found more ways to explicitly teach the foundations of the English language a long time ago.
You might also be wondering if it's time to take the plunge and transition to a Daily Language Spiral to make sure you get the chance to explicitly teach grammar and language skills.
But when is the right time to get started teaching grammar and language skills?
Here are 4 telltale signs that it’s time for you to start explicitly teaching and practicing the basic foundations of language with your students. If you find yourself nodding your head yes to any of these, it’s time to make a change.
1. Your students still don't capitalize the beginning of a sentence or use periods.
If your students are still struggling to remember to capitalize and punctuate sentences, they're missing the foundations of sentence construction. You're probably also noticing they forget to capitalize proper nouns or maybe insert random capital letters into words.
This is a definite sign your kiddos need some explicit instruction and practice and you need to find time for teaching grammar and language skills.
2. Their compositions are full of sentence fragments and run-on sentences.
Understanding sentence construction is a foundation for language. However, many students aren't familiar with the building blocks of sentences – subjects and predicates.
This makes it difficult for them to revise their work on a number of levels. They struggle to identify if they've written a complete sentence, lack variety in their sentence length, and often have numerous run-on sentences.
If you notice these gaps in your students' writing, it is likely time to build in more consistent practice identifying sentence parts and composing a variety of different sentences.
3. You’re met with blank stares when you use idioms or similes in class.
Many students lack exposure to figurative language. While this may seem like a minor issue, this can become a barrier to understanding in conversations and text. It can also limit students' abilities to create visually stimulating compositions.
If you notice that your students struggle with understanding figurative language. They likely need more exposure and practice using it.
4. You haven’t taught spelling in…..well, it’s been a while.
English spelling is confusing! There are so many rules, and it borrows from so many other languages that students need explicit instruction to help them navigate. This is especially true for students who are struggling readers and writers.
If you find you're not having the opportunity to fit spelling into your schedule consistently, you might notice your students are making the same spelling errors over and over.
Sending home practice is just not enough. Rainbow writing and other fluency techniques aren't helpful when students don't understand the rules of spelling.
So there's a problem… now what?
Maybe you found yourself nodding as you read through those four signs.
Or maybe you didn't even need to read them because you already knew you needed to spend more time teaching the foundations of language and grammar with your students.
What now? Well, there are a few things you can do.
Find more time for teaching grammar and language skills
- Carve out 20 minutes from your ELA block to teach a grammar or language skill.
- Analyze your student data to identify the top 3-5 issues and pull small groups to start reteaching.
- Try to teach these skills individually through writing conferences.
I also have a Daily Language Spiral, which is perfect as morning work or a warm-up during one of those small transition times in your day. It is designed to take 10-15 minutes a day and address all those issues I mentioned.
It makes teaching grammar and language skills simple and easy, and it is designed to build student mastery without requiring you to revamp your entire writing block.
If you want to help your students become better writers this year without having to make huge adjustments to your schedule, this might be the right time for you.
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