Monday, November 19, 2012

Breaking It Down- Grammar

Many people have the attitude that you don’t really need to study much Grammar. 

I disagree. Often when I write something that doesn’t make a lot of sense I will look at the Grammar of the sentence. That is where I usually find my mistake. Grammar is the logic of language. If nothing else, it trains our minds to think logically about what we say and how we say it, but I do use it in my writing.

You cannot depend on the computer telling you the correct answer because it does not understand what you are saying. After all, they only know what the programmer knows and he is not in your head. I have had many times my machine has told me my grammar was wrong when I know it was right and vice versa. The way the computer wants me to word things often makes no sense. Proper grammar is important to making your writing, and even your speech, sound intelligent and make sense.

Rules for Grammar
Always and only capitalize the first letter of a sentence, the word I, and proper nouns (The only exception I know of to this rule is when you are YELLING).
Every sentence must have ending marks: a period for declarative (makes a statement) and imperative sentences (gives a command), a question mark for interrogative sentences (asks a question, interrogates, just like the police), and exclamatory gets an exclamation point. Chant I made up: Declarative states. Interrogative asks? Imperative tells. Exclamatory YELLS!
Always put quotation marks around direct quotes, (Bobby said, “Go tell Sue I am here.”)
Put a comma between items in a list, (Get your blue, red, green, and purple socks for me.) or anywhere you pause in a sentence (Pull their spelling words, when they are old enough, from their own writing.)
Add ‘s to show possession (Bob’s bike) or just if the word ends in an s sound (Jesus’ teachings).
Noun and verb tense must agree. A verb gains an s when it becomes singular; the opposite of a noun. (Three cats hit the ball. [plural noun, plural verb] That cat hits the ball. [singular noun and verb])
A noun is a person, place, thing or idea (something you can feel, generally) Common nouns are unspecific (boy, dog, house) Proper nouns are specific (John, Spot, The White House.) Proper Nouns are always capitalized.
A pronoun takes the place of a noun (he, she, him. It, me, them, who? Which? That?)
A verb is an action word (run, jump, sit) or a state of being (is, are, am, was, were, be, being, been) or a helper (has been, will have, could have.)
An adjective describes a noun. (a, the, blue, tall, fast, etc.) A Proper adjective is derived from a proper noun (Egyptian cotton).
An adverb describes a verb, adjective, or adverb, usually ends in ly. (slowly, surely, quickly) They tell how, where, when, and to what extent. (indeed, however, and therefore are adverbs)
A preposition is a word that adds more information to a sentence. It is always followed by a noun (eventually). (in, into, to, toward, upon, with, without, under, on, etc.) forming a Prepositional Phrase (preposition to noun.)
A conjunction connects two parts of a sentence or a list of words. (and, but, or, however,)
An interjection is a word used to show strong feeling. (Hey! Ouch! Duhh.)
A gerund is a verb that is pretending to be a noun. (Cooking is fun.)
A contraction is a blending of two words into one (do not = don’t. You put the apostrophe were you remove a letter.)
A participle is a verb that shows action but is used as an adjective (never a predicate) as in “I love used cars.” Love is the verb, used is the participle.
Every sentence must have a subject (noun) and a predicate (verb). Sometimes the subject is “understood;” (You) “Go to the house.”
The object comes after the verb and tells what the action is being done to, (Sue hit the ball.) An indirect object is the noun that answers the question for whom or to whom or for what or to what (“He made Sue a sandwich.” Sue is the indirect object, sandwich is the direct object.)
A predicate adjective is an adjective that complements the subject and follows a linking verb (Horses are big.)
A predicate noun is a noun that modifies or refers to the subject but follows a linking verb (She is a writer.)

An infinitive is a verb usually with the word "to" that is acting like a noun, adjective, or adverb. (He refuses to look at her [to look is the direct object])

 Pull bad punctuation, capitalization, or wording from their work and have them correct it. Have them write the relevant rules into their notebooks in a rule section.

There are many good texts to teach Grammar. 

I liked First Lessons in Language for 5-7 year olds (though many people skip Grammar at this age without negative consequences). 

Harvey’s Grammars, Abeka, Bob Jones, Rod and Staff are all good programs for older children (nine or ten and up). 

One I have used is a book called Grammar and Diagramming Sentences by The Garlic Press. It goes into all the parts of speech and explains things very well. It is for high school students, but I slowed the pace down and used it for my older three children (after I went through it myself!)

A new favorite in the homeschool community is Analytical Grammar. 

The Story: Mrs.Finley was hired to teach 6th, 7th, and 8th grade Language Arts in an Alaskan Jr High. She was required to teach Grammar, Spelling, Penmanship, Literature, and Composition in one class a day per grade, half of them on the first floor, half on the second. 

The district didn’t think Grammar important enough to provide her with more than one set of books which meant her carrying them up and down stairs every day. 

She realized with that attitude, the grammar she taught them would likely be all the Grammar they would get until college. 
Her solution? She wrote up her own work sheets that taught all you ever need to know about Grammar in three years while leaving plenty of time for all the other things she had to teach. She refined them over a number of years and when the local private schools began to beg for them, she began to sell them.

You buy a (reusable) teacher’s answer key for you and a work-text for each child when they reach 6th grade (both are in 3-ring binders). You can also purchase a video of the author teaching each lesson, which I did but have yet to need. 

The work-text is very self-explanatory/teaching. The student simply works their way through 1/3 of the book each year for three years. After that, all he needs is to do a review lesson (separate book) every other week. 

The work-text can be kept as a college reference book, too! It literally covers every part of grammar any non-English major would ever need.
She does offer a prep curriculum for younger children (4th and 5th grade), but on the advice of a homeschool forum I have had my younger ones simply do a MadLib each day; the one subject they are upset if we have to miss! Both children in this age group right now are learning their parts of speech wonderfully!

After using AG for a time, I realized that, as good as it is, my kids were needing more practice. So I have returned to a workbook I have used off and on throughout the years. It is working well and I intend to stay with it for now: 

 Daily Grams/Easy Grammar teaches you to memorize the prepositions, then in each lesson start by crossing out all the prepositional phrases, then underlining the subject once, the verb twice. Once those prepositions are out of the way, other parts of speech are much easier to recognize!) 

There are two books for each elementary level; Easy Grannar and Daily Grams. 

Daily Grams has the child practice capitalization, punctuation, parts of speech and combining simple sentences into one sentence each day, 180 days per book/year. 

Easy Grammar is closer to traditional format for a grammar book with the same number of lessons.

Both sets of books are clean and easy to work in. No pictures, no sidebars. Just plain black and white pages with large print.

 Older grades combine the two books into one per year.

The problem I have run into in the past was that I, like most homeschoolers, don't actually do 180 days of seat work school a year. Yes, the schools are in session that long, but that counts field-trips, sick days, etc. so even in a brick and mortar school, a child wouldn't do the whole book in a year but miss a number of lessons. I have decided to simply have them work all the way through each book and when they finish I will buy whichever book is for whatever age/grade they are. This will mean skipping grades in the series, but really the only thing that changes much is the reading level. The overall depth only increases gradually, so this shouldn't be a problem.

If you don’t want to buy anything, you can invent sentences starting with “Mike ran,” to start with, and get more complicated. I have just used the sentence they give as the title for their Bible picture. 

First, teach your child to capitalize the first word in the sentence and no other (except proper nouns and the word I). 

When they are fairly consistent with this, you teach them about putting periods, question marks, and exclamation points at the end of every sentence. 

Got that? Cross out the prepositional phrases. 

Then Identify all the nouns; then all the verbs, and so on, until they can identify every word in the sentence as some part of speech. 

You may need to buy a good high school or college level Grammar text so you can find these rules yourself (I did!) or get familiar with good grammar sites on the internet. 

Next, teach them that the nouns that come before the verb in a sentence are the subject (two nouns? Compound subjects.). 

The verb and what follows is called the predicate (Two verbs? Compound predicates). 

The nouns after the verb are called the object (Two nouns after the verb? Oh, you get the idea.) 

The part of the sentence from the preposition to its noun is called the prepositional phrase. 

Two sentences joined by a conjunction and functioning as one are a compound sentence (I went to the store and then I came home.)

Diagramming is like algebra for writing. It shows the logical construct of our language and ultimately can help your child to sound more intelligent verbally and orally. I do believe it is an important part of being a well-educated adult.
There are two ways to diagram; the new way in the first box or the old fashioned way in the second. I go back and forth between the two or even do one and then the other for the same sentence. The first can often prepare a child to do the second easier.


  • Learn proper capitalization and punctuation.
  • Identify each word in a sentence by part of speech.
  • Diagram.
  • Write rules.

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