I am a grammar nerd. I liked diagraming sentences in junior high, but I am well aware my students have no idea what diagramming a sentence means, nor do they need to diagram one to communicate. I still believe I need to teach grammar in order for my students to become proficient communicators, and the longer I teach, the more I realize I need to vary the way I present grammar. Giving notes or talking through a PowerPoint is fine sometimes, but that can not be the only way to introduce and explain language structure.
Last November my school sent me and some colleagues to a Differentiation Assessment workshop, and I picked up Betty Holla's book. Her book has some good ideas on how to present material and informally assess students, and I modified the “Snowball” activity today during a mini-lesson on past participles.
Here is what we did:
Individually students read several sentences with past participles and answered leading questions on what they read. They had to speculate on how the participles were formed and explain how they were used in the sentences. (The examples used participles as adjectives.) I walked around the room praising the students who were on target & giving hints to the ones who were having problems seeing the pattern or who didn’t understand the questions. The next step in this grammar lesson was to have students share their answers with their partner. I did my best to make sure that a peer explained the correct answer to students who were having problems understanding. As a whole class, we went over the answers together. I clarified concepts, put specific examples on the board, and gave them the irregular participles.
OK. Here is the “snowball” part. I asked my kids to pretend they were a teacher and asked them to write three questions that would measure their “students'” understanding of past participles. They put their name on the top right hand corner of their paper, and then wadded up their “quiz” into a paper “snowball”. I had the kids throw their “snowball” to the opposite side of the room from where they sat. My students had to grab whatever snowball was close to them, and then answer the questions. They wrote their name on the bottom right hand corner. I collected their “quizzes” and read through the questions & answers. It gave me a very good idea of who understood the concept. I highlighted any “quiz questions” that didn’t make sense, and any answers that were wrong. Tomorrow I will quickly follow up with those kids individually while the class works on a vocabulary review activity.
A few students did not like having to figure out the grammar themselves. Few were confident in their answers until I gave them positive feedback (and then, they glowed!). I think ALL of them loved throwing the “snowball”.
I’m very curious to see what the retention of this grammar concept looks like tomorrow and next week. This activity took the whole bell when you include the follow up worksheet. I know that I could give them this information on a Power Point and it would not take this much class time. I also figure that by the end of class today my students have been exposed to, explained, heard and/or saw this grammar point at least six times in a few different modalities.
How do you vary grammar presentation in your class? What are your thoughts on time spent on “discovery” learning vs. traditional presentation?