Teaching Grammar Doesn't Work

One of my best writers, a student with stories to tell and an ear for parallel structure, emotionally relevant details, and surprise endings, sat next to me one day at a table in my room as he worked on revising an essay I would later publish in the reThink ELA Social Justice Writing Project. As we talked about his history with writing, he told me he never thought writing was something he could do because he forgets to capitalize, can’t spell very well, and doesn’t know how to use a semicolon.

Yet I know his previous teachers taught grammar extensively through programs such as Shurley Grammar, our school's textbooks, and tons of worksheets.

And he's not alone. Every year, I (and teachers across the country) have students show up in class who write without obvious punctuation, sentence construction, or capitalization skills. Some of them can't remember what a noun or verb is. Many of them are over it. They don't care.

How did this happen?

Research shows that traditional grammar drills make student writing worse...

One landmark study conducted by Findlay McQuade, “Examining a Grammar Course: The Rationale and the Result” published in the October 1980 issue of English Journal, indicates teaching grammar can be detrimental to student writing. McQuade taught an Editorial Skills class and then gave an end-of-instruction essay exam to his students. His findings were illuminating.

“The essays in the second set, on the other hand, are miserable. Their principle method of organization is a series of afterthoughts, and their sentences are awkwardly and I believe self-consciously constructed to honor correctness above all other virtues, including sense.”

Even worse, students subjected to these techniques often don't care any more. They think that because they can't internalize grammar concepts, they are bad writers and have nothing to say in writing. They are done trying to learn how to improve their writing.

Engage students in Grammar Conversations!


Each unit is focused on a specific grammar tool for students to apply to their writing. We include the tool and questions to start conversations.


We've chosen specific lessons for each year based on common standards so students can build their toolbox in a logical progression..


Students immediately apply grammar concepts to writing they have produced, to writing their peers have created, and to mentor texts you provide. They see grammar as writers, instead of just students.


You can't do this alone. We're building a community of English teachers who want to change grammar instruction so students are engaged and learning how to use the grammar tools we know and love.


Jennifer Williams, M.S. is a 14-year veteran high school English teacher with 7-years experience teaching Pre-AP/AP. She holds a Master's degree in Teaching, Learning, and Leadership (with an emphasis in Curriculum) and a graduate teaching certificate.

Michelle Waters is the president and founder of reThink ELA, LLC. She is a high school English teacher with 8 years experience, and a former award-winning newspaper reporter. She has also published articles and short stories in peer reviewed journals and online magazines.

What does Grammar Conversations Include?

Fewer concepts each year

When you teach all the grammar concepts every year, students remember none of them. Focus on a just a few each year and let students practice in their own texts and that of their peers!

Application in student writing

When you teach all the grammar concepts every year, students remember none of them. Focus on a just a few each year and let students practice in their own texts and that of their peers!

Done for you slideshow

When you teach all the grammar concepts every year, students remember none of them. Focus on a just a few each year and let students practice in their own texts and that of their peers!

Printable concept posters

Sometimes students just need a quick reminder as they're editing their work. Hang these posters in your room for a quick visual reminder.

Updates throughout the year

Unlike textbooks or worksheets, we incorporate ideas we discover in our classes and from teachers like you.

Built-in online community

We are working to build a community of teachers striving to change how grammar is taught in school. Join us!

Preview Grammar Conversations

What Our Customers Have to Say

I have tried traditional methods and review methods, but none of them seemed to be effective. Michelle and Jennifer said so many things that had me nodding my head and saying, "YES!" as if I were in church! One of the things that really struck me was that we, as teachers, need to make sure students know that our writing is about the MESSAGE.


English Department Head, Cherokee High School


6th Grade

$30 per year
1 license per teacher

7th Grade

$30 per year
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8th Grade

$30 per year
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Or our high school units

9th Grade

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10th Grade

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12th Grade

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11th Grade

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We also offer bundles...

Middle School Bundle

$75 per year
6-8 grades
1 license per unit per teacher

Junior High Bundle

$75 per year
7-9 grades
1 license per unit per teacher

High School Bundle

$100 per year
9-12 grades
1 license per unit per teacher



Grammar Conversations is built on the idea of students applying their rules in their own writing. We provide you with the mini-lessons, posters, conversation starters, and your students provide the raw material — their own writing. You all then work together to apply the grammar concept during the editing process.

If you need your students to generate writing in your class, consider providing them with daily quickwrites.


The grammar rules (tools) that we provide in each unit are based on the Common Core State Standards and the Oklahoma Academic Standards (since that is where we are located). We have provided simple explanations for each concept and several examples of its usage.

Naturally, your students will differentiate their own writing. If you find that some of your students struggle to produce any writing, you might consider partnering or grouping them with students who do write and they can assist in peer editing using the concepts. I recommend partnering students who struggle with these concepts with students who are patient with them.


Unlike physical items such as books or office supplies, our products are delivered to you digitally. Once you've downloaded our products, which may include PDFs, PowerPoint files, images, and access to our customer areas, you can't return them. For this reason, all reThink ELA LLC sales are considered final and nonrefundable.

That said, we understand that sometimes circumstances are out of our control and a refund may be in order on a limited, case-by-case basis. We will consider requests that fall into the following categories within seven days of purchase:

  • Duplicate purchase — You order the same product twice.
    You order a grammar unit and then accidentally order the same one again. Or you order a bundle and then realize that you already had one of the products in the bundle.

  • No File Download — You have not downloaded the file (which we will verify).
    You order a grammar unit for 6th grade, but discover that you're moving to a new school over the summer and will be teaching 5th grade.

If you experience any of the following issues, we will be happy to work with you to solve the problem.

  • Issue with resource files — If one or more of our files are damaged, we will repair the file and send you a new one.
    You download a PDF file and it is corrupted. We will send you a new file and upload a corrected one to your customer area.

  • Faulty description — We go out of our way to ensure that we describe exactly what you will receive and show you previews of what we provide.
    You discover that we stated you would receive 18 posters, but there are none. We will provide you with the 18 posters we promised.

Subscription cancellations — If you have purchased a product that includes a subscription, but realize you do not need the subscription any more, we'll cancel it at any time. You will continue to have access to your customer area and files until the subscription expires.
You purchase the 7th grade unit this summer, but discover in May that you'll be teaching 8th grade the following year.

If you need a subscription cancellation, or believe your refund request falls into one of the areas listed above, or you need help making use of your resources, please login to your customer area and let us know what product you purchased and a description of your concerns.

Need licenses for several teachers?

Request access to our new School Accounts. Purchase the number of license you need for each reThink ELA product and assign them to your teachers in your own dashboard.

Purchase orders accepted!

Not convinced that Grammar Conversations can help?

Still not sure? Subscribe to our reThink Grammar email professional development for more details on how Grammar Conversations can change your students' writing lives.