Anyone Need Help Teaching Grammar In Context?

Grammar In Context Unit

If you’re on my mailing list, you already know about the grammar unit Jennifer Williams (@jennwillteach), a fellow Oklahoma teacher, guest blogger here at reThink ELA, and #FierceWomanofOklahoma, and I are working on this summer. (If not, you really should be!) I wrote about this a few days ago, and wanted to share it here with you.

I met with Jennifer on Saturday to discuss a comprehensive grammar-in-context, 6-12 grade unit that we are constructing this summer. (We are not afraid of a huge project!) While thinking about our conversation on the way home, I started getting mad.

Here’s why.

During my first year of teaching, one of the other English teachers told me that when she graded essays, she counted off one point for every grammatical error she found. She proudly told me that some students ended up with a negative score as a result of this.

I didn’t like that idea then — at least not the tediousness of it — but I especially don’t like it now.

I have taught students with a brilliant ear for creating metaphor, parallel structure, or emotionally relevant details in their works — but who didn’t think they could write because they couldn’t spell, didn’t remember to capitalize, and didn’t know how to use a semi-colon.


I am a former newspaper reporter who has won awards at the interscholastic, collegiate and professional levels, and I’m pretty sure I never used a semi-colon in that career. I also had editors to help correct grammar and mechanics — though I’ve won awards on writing in high school in which the judge corrected corrected a few grammatical issues.

You can see my awards in the picture of my classroom below. The awards from my newspaper career are on the wall to the left.

Writing and teaching awards
The blank spot is where my teaching certificate is now that I replaced the frame, and the ribbons are for participating in 5Ks.

We should be encouraging students to write rough drafts that we evaluate for content, organization and voice. We should be encouraging students to discover their voices and provide feedback that helps them through this process.

Then, once they are done revising, we should be encouraging them work on the grammar, usage, and mechanics. Show them those are two separate processes and help them understand why grammar matters.

My kids are winning writing awards under this system.

Teaching and student writing awards
The top award is for having three students win at Oklahoma Writing Project two years ago. I had two win last year. The award on the left is the Teacher of Today from the Masonic Lodge, and the award on the bottom right is for the personal narrative I submitted in the teacher category.

All that said…

Some English teachers are a bit… ahem… cranky about being sticklers for grammar no matter what…

Here’s what I think about that…

If you’re interested in learning more about how Jennifer and I are progressing on our grammar unit, and especially if you’re interested in being a beta reader for it (You get a free copy!), join our product updates list below…

Related topics: Grammar Lesson Plans

About the author 

Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed.

I am a secondary English Language Arts teacher, a University of Oklahoma student working on my doctorate in Instructional Leadership and Academic Curriculum with an concentration in English Education and co-Editor of the Oklahoma English Journal. I am constantly seeking ways to amplify students' voices and choices.

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