Teaching grammar and conventions presents a special problem for first-year composition instructors because we, scholars and practitioners in our field, know that traditionally isolated grammar lessons, such as diagramming sentences and learning the “parts of speech,” do little to improve students’ writing.
Despite this, grammar errors often constitute a serious problem for our student writers, many of whom are first-generation students or ESL students, who've not had as much exposure to Academic Standard English expectations as students at other schools. And let’s be clear about what we mean by “grammar errors”: we are not referring to the occasional dangler or comma splice but rather to major structural errors that obstruct a sentence’s clarity and interfere with readers’ comprehension.
Composition teachers thus face a dilemma: on the one hand, we know that teaching grammar in isolation does little to improve mastery of grammar and conventions; on the other hand, we work with student writers who urgently need to improve their grammar. Below, we suggest a few ways to teach grammar within the context of our students' writing.
The best solution is the most practical: Students can learn to control the grammatical features of their prose when they are challenged by revision tasks that require them to change the components of individual sentences within the context of extended discourse that they are invested in and care about.
Such tasks engage students in a process of trial and error as they work toward greater clarity and stylistic effect within individual sentences, even as they work toward making multiple sentences function coherently within a paragraph.
This approach is distinctly different from having students fill in blanks with correct answers or mark disconnected sentences in a textbook. Moreover, it is particularly effective when the sentences being revised are the student’s own, derived from her own draft of a paper still in process.
In a first-year writing class that emphasizes revision, replete with peer review sessions and writing workshops, there are ample opportunities to address grammar problems this way.
Equipping students with rudimentary knowledge of some grammatical terms and principles can expedite this approach, and here is where the explanations and exercises in this textbook may be useful.
In other words, to a great extent the grammar section of this textbook will best be used as a reference work, a compendium of concepts to be applied as need arises as teacher and students go about the work of sentence revision. The instructor will find, generally, that concepts covered early in the chapter have broader reach and applicability than those covered later.
The following are rhetorical tasks that require students to work constructively with grammatical units in meaningful, pragmatic contexts:
- Sharing errors: Before returning a set of drafts to students, the instructor uses a highlighter to mark one problematic sentence in each student’s draft. No corrections are made to the sentence. After papers are returned, students form groups of three or four. Each student shares with his group the highlighted sentence in his draft, along with the passage in which it appears, and the group collectively goes to work to diagnose the problem and rewrite the sentence correctly. A useful follow-up exercise is to ask each group to share with the class the most challenging of the highlighted sentences they corrected (or attempted to correct). If a document projector is available, the challenging sentences can be presented to the entire class and various revisions discussed.
- Combining kernel sentences: Almost any passage of prose can be transformed into a challenging sentence-combining exercise if the instructor reduces the original sentences to their kernel constituents. Students are then asked to recombine the kernels into effective compound and complex sentences. The passage can be selected for its relevance to whatever is on the agenda. For example, in a unit on summarizing, a summary from an annotated bibliography could be broken into constituent kernels; students could then be challenged to transform them into a coherent paragraph.
- Example of kernel sentence exercise derived from a teacher-written annotation of a Rolling Stone interview:
- Kernel Sentence Exercise
Chomsky, Noam. “Noam Chomsky: Anarchy in the U.S.A.” Interview by Charles M. Young. Rolling Stone 28 May 1992. p. 42. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?
- The introductory note is on Chomsky’s dual accomplishments.
- Chomsky’s accomplishments are in linguistics and political activism.
- The interview focuses on Chomsky’s critique of power in the United States.
- Chomsky discusses a process.
- In this process, ruling elites internalize and justify biases and double standards.
- The biases and double standards are intrinsic to an exploitative system.
- The ruling elites thrive on this exploitative system.
- Along the way, Chomsky comments on a range of episodes in recent U.S. history.
- The episodes range from the CIA’s destruction of democracy in Guatemala in 1954 to the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991.
- Chomsky assesses the prospects for positive change in American society.
- He expresses optimism.
- He contends that the 1960’s were a watershed decade.
- In the 1960’s many Americans became aware of the duplicity of their rulers.
- They also became aware of their own democratic power to challenge a corrupt status quo.
- Chomsky ends with characteristically dour humor.
- He says that our leaders “know that people are basically decent. In fact, that’s the only reason for all the fabrication.”
Answer Key: The teacher's original annotation (students' annotations will vary):
Chomsky, Noam. “Noam Chomsky: Anarchy in the U.S.A.” Interview by Charles M. Young. Rolling Stone 28 May 1992. p. 42. EBSCOhost, ezproxy.gsu.edu/login?
After an introductory note on Chomsky’s dual accomplishments as both a linguist and political activist, the interview focuses on Chomsky’s critique of power in the United States. Chomsky discusses the process by which ruling elites internalize and justify the biases and double standards intrinsic to the exploitative system on which they thrive. Along the way, he comments on a range of episodes in recent U.S. history, from the CIA’s destruction of democracy in Guatemala in 1954 to the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991. Assessing the prospects for positive change in American society, Chomsky expresses optimism, contending that the 1960’s were a watershed decade when many Americans became aware of both the duplicity of their rulers and their own democratic power to challenge a corrupt status quo. He ends with characteristically dour humor: our leaders “know that people are basically decent. In fact, that’s the only reason for all the fabrication.”
- Paraphrasing: A good lesson in paraphrasing emphasizes not only changing the diction of the original passage but also the sentence structure. The grammatical acumen required is of a high order because the student begins by taking apart a perfectly good sentence and must then reconstruct it (perhaps combining it with part of an adjacent sentence) in a form that is at least as effective as the original.
- Cloze exercises: These can be used to target specific grammatical problems, for example, errors in verb tense or structure words such as conjunctions and conjunctive adverbs. Teachers can devise their own cloze exercises by selecting an appropriate passage and replacing targeted words with blanks. Students are challenged to fill in the blanks using context clues. A good cloze exercise, devised from an extended, cohesive passage of exposition, functions as more than a simple sentence-completion exercise. By engaging the student in the “flow” of successive sentences, it requires the exercise of grammatical competencies similar to those required by writing.
- Modeling: With a little practice teachers can learn to spot passages or even single sentences from writers both published and unpublished that are worthy of modeling exercises. Parallelism, for example, is often best taught by imitation; sometimes a template with structure words provides help.
Public discourse today is stupefaction on steroids, a smothering flood surging through screens endlessly arrayed on walls, suspended from ceilings, installed in consoles, and cradled in our hands – swamping consciousness in a deluge of solipsistic self-regard.
Craft your own imitation of this sentence using the template below:
__________________ is/are _____________, [noun phrase with modifiers] [past participle][prepositional phrase], [past participle][prepositional phrase], and [past participle][prepositional phrase] – [-ing participial phrase].
My aunt’s hand-crafted cakes are triumphs of culinary art, confections of batter mixed from the best ingredients, baked to perfection, frosted with care, and decorated with consummate skill – delighting the eye as well as the taste buds.
Answer Key to Exercises in Chapter 5
- Subject: gym
Prepositional phrase: until nine o’clock tonight
- Subject: We
Prepositional phrase: to the store
- Subject: student
Prepositional phrase: with the most extra credit
- Subject: pickup truck
Participial phrase: going way too fast
- Subject: Anita
Participial phrase: winning the race
Prepositional phrase: with time to spare
- Subject: People
Participial phrase: working for that company
Prepositional phrase: about the merger
- Subject: Soundtrack
Prepositional phrases: in languages from around the world
- Subject: Juan
Participial phrase: studying intensely
- Subject: dog
Participial phrase: soaked with rain
Prepositional phrase: all over the room
- Subject: man
Participial phrase: offering profuse apologies
Participial phrase: strewn on the floor
Exercise 2 Note: Answers may vary.
- Pets are not allowed in Mr. Taylor's building; however, he owns several cats and a parrot.
- Texting and driving has caused countless car accidents; consequently, the state legislature recently outlawed texting while driving.
- Chinua won the local spelling bee, and he is going on to the district contest.
- Amphibians are vertebrates that live on land and in the water, but flatworms are invertebrates that live only in water.
- Ashley carefully fed and watered her tomato plants all summer, so the tomatos grew juicy and ripe.
- When he lost his car keys, Simon attempted to open the door with a wire hanger, a credit card, and a paper clip; finally, he called the manufacturer for advice.
Exercise 3 Note: Answers may vary.
- Since a snowstorm disrupted travel all over the east coast, there will be long delivery delays this week.
- Because my neighbor had his television volume turned up too high, I banged on his door and asked him to keep the noise down.
- While Jessica prepared the potato salad and sauteed vegetables, Ashley marinated the chicken.
- After Romeo poisons himself, Juliet awakes to find Romeo dead and stabs herself with a dagger.
Exercise 4 Note: Answers may vary.
- Heroin is an extremely addictive drug, and thousands of heroin addicts die each year.
- Shakespeare's writing is still relevant today since he wrote about timeless themes that include love, hate, jealousy, death, and destiny.
- Gay marriage was first legal in the six states of Iowa, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Main, and other states followed their example.
- Prewriting, which includes outlining, brainstorming, and idea mapping, is a vital stage of the writing process because it helps you organize your ideas.
- After Mitch drank a strange potion that transformed him into a cat, he ate an entire bag of cat food while his cat watched him hungrily.
Exercise 5 Note: Answers may vary.
- R. Being absent hurts a student's grade, so he or she should be in class every day.
- R. Hurry with your breakfast, or you will miss the bus.
- R. Several girls expressed concerns about course selections; therefore, changes were made.
- R. Jim practiced the violin daily because he wanted to excel in music.
- F. I had a severe case of the flu last year and spent the first three days of my illness in bed.
- F. Because I was sick of my bed, I decided I would lie on the sofa and watch television.
- F. I would get up only to take care of the necessities of life.
- F. When I was suddenly conscious again, the wind howled outside, the house was damp and chilly, and my fever soared.
- F. I panicked because I was sure that I had died.
- F. I was running a temperature between 102 and 107.
- R. Voting is a privilege and should not be taken for granted.
- R. Be ready for any emergency: plan ahead.
- R. What has happened to the economy? Many Americans want the answer to this question.
- R. A friend is always willing to help; friendship is invaluable.
- R. He arrived at the office late and then realized he had left his laptop at home.
- R. Be careful with your answer because your grade could be affected.
Exercise 6 Answers may vary.
- The young lady on the telephone was walking the dog.
- I heard on the evening news that there was a robbery.
- Uncle Louie bought a running stroller he called "Speed Racer" for the baby.
- With his powerful foot, the explorer stopped the boulder rolling down the mountain.
- We are looking for a babysitter who doesn't drink or smoke for our precious six-year-old.
- The teacher served the children cookies wrapped in aluminum foil.
- The mysterious woman holding an umbrella walked toward the car.
- We returned the sour wine to the waiter.
- Driving home from work, Charlie spotted a stray puppy.
- I ate nothing but a bowl of cold noodles for dinner.
Exercise 7 Answers may vary.
- I was bent over backward, so the posture was very challenging.
- Reading Kierkegaard's Either/Or, I find it difficult to make decisions.
- Walking in the dark, I knocked a picture off the wall.
- Playing my guitar in the bedroom, I saw the cat dart under the bed.
- Planning for the soccer tournament, the coaches realized the time was short.
- Living in Mexico, I learned Spanish easily.
- Driving to the veterinarian's office, I heard my dog whine nervously.
- When Gotham's crime rates sky-rocketed, I moved to a quiet village.
- I chose a romance novel from the pile of books next to the bookshelf.
- I was chewing furiously when the gum fell out of my mouth.
Exercise 8 Answers may vary.
Shopping in the grocery store, I bought a loaf of bread for my sandwich. I wanted to make a delicious sandwich, so I spread the mayonnaise thickly. I placed the cold cuts on the bread and placed the lettuce on top. I cut the sandwich in half with a knife and turned on the radio. As I bit into the sandwich, my favorite song blared loudly in my ears. As I hummed and chewed, my sandwich went down smoothly. I smiled, planning to make another sandwich just like it, but next time I would add cheese.
Exercise 9 Answers may vary.
- Mr. Holloway enjoys reading and playing his guitar on weekends.
- The doctor told Mrs. Franklin that she should either eat less or exercise more.
- Breaking out of the prison compound, the escapees moved carefully, quietly, and quickly.
- Deal with a full inbox first thing in the morning or in intervals throughout the day.
Exercise 10 Answers may vary.
- To pay for a new car I would rather work at a second job than get a loan.
- In the workplace your appearance is just as important as your behavior.
- The firefighter talked more about his childhood than his job.
- India's food is far tastier than Britain's.
- Jim's opponent was as tall as he was and far heavier.
Exercise 11 Answers may vary.
- The cyclist owns both a mountain bike and a racing bike.
- The movie offers not only plentiful action but also an important lesson.
- My current job is neither exciting nor meaningful.
- Jason would rather listen to his father than me.
- We are interested in neither your vacuum cleaner nor your carpet cleaning service.
Exercise 12 Answers may vary.
- Baby sharks, called pups, can be born in one of three ways.
- The world's largest ocean, the Pacific, extends from the Arctic to the Southern Ocean.
- Michael Phelps, a champion swimmer, won eight gold medals in the 2008 Olympics.
- Speculating that the two would have a lot in common, Ashley introduced her husband, Jim, to her colleague, Dan.
- Cacao is harvested by hand and then sold to chocolate-processing companies at the Coffee, Sugar, and Cocoa Exchange.
- baked OR will bake
- have wanted
- has argued OR had argued (depending on context)
- will have set
- has walked
- has offered OR had offered (depending on context)
- He prepared the food while I was watching.
- Jinsoo will be speaking at the conference.
- Harry was traveling to Egypt last July.
- My foot aches, so I know it will be raining.
- Fatima will be talking a lot when I see her. (Note: "will be seeing her" is awkward.)
- I am yawning a lot because I feel tired. OR: I yawn a lot because I am feeling tired.
- to kiss
- to go
- to eat
- getting dressed
I may go to France on vacation next summer. I might visit the Palace of Versailles. I will drive around the countryside. I could imagine myself living there; however, I will not move to France because my family would miss me very much.
- My dog and cats chase one another all the time.
- The books in my library are the best I have ever read.
- Everyone is going to the concert except me.
- My family is moving to California.
- There are the newspapers I was supposed to deliver.
- When is the movie going to start?
- My sister and brother clean up after themselves.
- Some of the clothes are packed away in the attic.
I feel that I am the ideal candidate for the receptionist position at your company. I have three years of experience at a company that is similar to yours. My phone skills and written communication are excellent. These skills and others that I have learned on the job help me understand that every person helps make the business a success. At my current job, the team always says that I am very helpful. Everyone appreciates when I go the extra mile to get the job done right. My current employer and coworkers feel that I am an assett to the team. I am efficient and organized. Are there any other details about me that you would like to know? If so, please contact me. Here is my resume. You can reach me by email or phone. I look forward to speaking with you in person. Thanks, Jane Fellini
- traffic = non-count
- Forgiveness = non-count
- apples = count and plural
- cameras = count and plural
- history = non-count
- A camel
- The pastries or no article
- The politician
- The actor’s performance
- A goal or The goal
Stars are large balls of spinning hot gas like our sun. (no article needed) Stars look tiny because they are far away. Many of them are much larger than the sun. Did you know that the Milky Way galaxy has between two hundred billion and four hundred billion stars in it? Scientists estimate that there may be as many as five hundred billion galaxies in the entire universe! Just like a human being, a star has a life cycle from birth to death, but its lifespan is billions of years long. A star is born in a cloud of cosmic gas and dust called a nebula. Our sun was born in a nebula nearly five billion years ago. Photographs of (no article needed) star-forming nebulas are astonishing. (8 corrections)
- my hers
- The pronoun “she” should be “he.”
- OK, no pronoun error
- The pronoun “they” should be deleted.
- OK, no pronoun error
- Jeff is a dependable person who will never let you down.
- I rode a roller coaster that was scary.
- At the beach, I always dig my feet into the sand, which protects them from the hot sun.
- Jackie is trying not to use so many plastic products, which are not good for the environment.
- My Aunt Sherry, who has never been in an accident or gotten a ticket, is teaching me how to drive.
- his or her -- nobody
- he or she -- anybody
- its - crew
- him or her - someone
- its - family
- its - school
- himself or herself - student
- its - singing group
- his or her - no one
- Its -- flock
- Suddenly, the dog ran into the house.
- In the blink of an eye, the kids were ready to go to the movies.
- Confused, he tried opening the box from the other end.
- Without a doubt, green is my favorite color.
- Hesitating, she looked back at the directions before proceeding.
- Fortunately, the sleeping baby did not stir when the doorbell rang.
- Believe it or not, the criminal was able to rob the same bank three times.
- Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are all booked with meetings.
- It was a quiet, uneventful, unproductive day.
- We'll need to prepare statements for the Franks, Todds, and Smiths before their portfolio reviews next week.
- Michael, Nita, and Desmond finished their report last Tuesday.
- With cold, wet, aching fingers, he was able to secure the sails before the storm.
- He wrote his name on the board in clear, precise, delicate letters.
- I asked my neighbors, the retired couple from Florida, to bring in my mail.
- Without a doubt, his work has improved over the last few weeks.
- Our professor, Mr. Alamut, drilled the lessons into our heads.
- The meeting is at noon, unfortunately, which means I will be late for lunch.
- We came in time for the last part of dinner, but most importantly, we came in time for dessert.
- All of a sudden, our network crashed, and we lost our files.
- Alex, hand the wrench to me before the pipe comes loose again.
- My brother, Nathaniel, is a collector of many rare, unusual things. He has collected lunch boxes, limited edition books, and hatpins at various points of his life. His current collection of unusual bottles has over fifty pieces. Usually, he sells one collection before starting another. (5 commas)
- Our meeting is scheduled for Thursday, March 20. In that time, we need to gather all our documents together. Alice is in charge of the timetables and schedules. Tom is in charge of updating the guidelines. I am in charge of the presentation. To prepare for this meeting, please print out any emails, faxes, or documents you have referred to when writing your sample. (5 commas)
- It was a cool, crisp, autumn day when the group set out. They needed to cover several miles before they made camp, so they walked at a brisk pace. The leader of the group, Garth, kept checking his watch and their GPS location. Isabelle, Raoul, and Maggie took turns carrying the equipment while Carrie took notes about the wildlife they saw. As a result, no one noticed the darkening sky until the first drops of rain splattered on their faces. (8 commas)
- Please have your report complete and filed by April 15, 2019. In your submission letter, please include your contact information, the position you are applying for, and two people we can contact as references. We will not be available for consultation after April 10, but you may contact the office if you have any questions. Thank you, HR Department. (6 commas)
- I did not notice that you were in the office; I was behind the front desk all day.
- Do you want turkey, spinach, and cheese; roast beef, lettuce, and cheese; or ham, tomato, and cheese?
- Please close the blinds; there is a glare on the screen.
- Unbelievably, no one was hurt in the accident. (OK no semicolon needed)
- I cannot decide if I want my room to be green, brown, and purple; green, black, and brown; or green, brown, and dark red.
- Let's go for a walk; the air is so refreshing.
- Don't give up; you never know what tomorrow brings.
- Our records show that the patient was admitted three different times on March 9, 2018; July 13, 2018; and November 16, 2009.
- Allow me to introduce myself: I am the greatest ice-carver in the world.
- Where I come from, there are three ways to get to the grocery store: by car, by bus, and by foot.
- Listen closely; you will want to remember this speech.
- I have lived in Sedona, Arizona; Baltimore, Maryland; and Knoxville, Tennessee.
- The boss's message was clear: lateness would not be tolerated.
- Next semester, we will read some well-known authors, such as Vonnegut, Miller, and Orwell. OK – correct.
- My little sister said what we were all thinking: "We should have stayed home."
- Trust me; I have done this before.
- Yasmin said, “I don't feel like cooking. Let's go out to eat.”
- “Where should we go?” said Russell.
- Yasmin said it didn't matter to her. OK – no change
- “I know,” said Russell, “let’s go to the Two Roads Juice Bar.”
- “Perfect!” said Yasmin.
- “Did you know that the name of the Juice Bar is a reference to a poem?” asked Russell.
- “I didn't!” exclaimed Yasmin. “Which poem?”
- “‘The Road Not Taken,’ by Robert Frost," Russell explained.
- “Oh!” said Yasmin. “Is that the one that starts with the line, ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood?’"
- “That's the one,” said Russell.
- "What a beautiful child! She has her mother’s eyes."
- My brother’s wife is one of my best friends.
- I couldn’t believe it when I found out that I got the job!
- My supervisors informed me that I wouldn’t be able to take the days off.
- Each of the students’ responses was unique.
- Won’t you please join me for dinner tonight?
- Which hairstyle do you prefer -- short or long?'
- I don't know -- I hadn't even thought about that.
- Guess what-- I got the job!
- I will be happy to work over the weekend -- if I can have Monday off.
- You have all the qualities that we are looking for in a candidate -- intelligence, dedication, and a strong work ethic.
- I wanted to ease my stomach ____dis____comfort, so I drank some ginger root tea.
- Lenny looked funny in his ___mis_____matched shirt and pants.
- Penelope felt ___un_____glamorous at the party because she was the only one not wearing a dress.
- My mother said those _____anti___aging creams do not work, so I should not waste my money on them.
- The child's __non______standard performance on the test alarmed his parents.
- When my sister first saw the meteor, she thought it was a ____un____natural phenomenon.
- Even though she got an excellent job offer, Cherie did not want to ____re____locate to a different country.
- With a small class size, the students get to ___inter_____act with the teacher more frequently.
- I slipped on the ice because I did not heed the __pre_____cautions about watching my step.
- A ___non_____combatant is another word for civilian.
- refer + ed = referred
- refer + ence = reference
- mope + ing = moping
- approve + al = approval
- green + ness = greenness
- benefit + ed = benefited
- resubmit + ing = resubmitting
- use + age = usage
- greedy + ly = greedily
- excite + ment = excitement
Exercise 41 (many wording possibilities exist with this exercise)
I felt very clumsy and awkward when I got up to give my speech. As I walked toward the podium, I struck my knee on a chair, and I felt very uncoordinated. On top of that, I kept saying "like" and "um," and I could not stop fidgeting. I was so nervous about being up there. I feel like I've been practicing this speech for hours, and I still made mistakes. It was ten minutes of me rambling about how we sometimes have to do things we don't enjoy doing. My speech was clearly proving my point. My speech was so unpolished I'm surprised that people didn't howl. My teacher said not to worry, though. Everyone gets nervous his or her first time speaking in public, and she said, with time, I would become more professional in my speeches. I wonder if I have the courage to do it again.