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2.3: Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Grammar- Building Your Case

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    • Christina Branson, Robert Ian Jones, Jon Parrish Peede, and Summer Boyd Vertrees

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    Prescriptive vs. Descriptive Grammar: Building Your Case


    TTW = The Teacher Will

    TSW = The Student Will

    Course, Student, and Modality:

    1. This lesson is intended for an upper-level undergraduate class on grammar and advanced writing.
    2. This lesson could be incorporated into lessons on information literacy and the use of generative AI to advance discussions about social justice issues.
    3. This lesson is planned for face-to-face courses.

    Time Frame: ·

    This lesson will last approximately 45 minutes and will occur after 30 minutes of class discussion and a lecture on the evolution of American English and how dominant cultures define and shape so-called “proper” written and oral language.


    1. TSW will work individually or in groups to develop a position on when to use prescriptive or descriptive grammar and how such societal rules were developed. They will provide their response in a long paragraph or basic outline during class.
    2. TSW will discuss in groups the strengths and weaknesses of their positions.
    3. TSW will use generative AI to support or oppose their positions.
    4. TSW will discuss the potential benefits and shortcomings of generative AI.

    AI Tool and Other Materials/Supplies:

    1. Access to the Internet for teacher and each student.
    2. Access to multiple generative AI for teacher and each student.
    3. Printed and digital copies of articles and access to the video.

    Rationale for Implementation of AI:

    1. Students should graduate from college having employed generative AI in real time to extract information to inform their decision-making.
    2. Students should graduate from college with a practical understanding of how generative AI can be used to guide and deepen conversations around societal issues.

    Overview of Learning Activities and Tasks

    1. TTW will discuss English grammar and power dynamics, especially the restriction of grammar education for enslaved Africans, free people of color, and African Americans in the postbellum era. The class will discuss prejudice against African American Vernacular English (AAVE) in the context of Prescriptive and Descriptive Grammar.
    2. TTW and TSW will discuss major concepts in three articles and a video assigned earlier in the week: “What is ‘Correct’ Language?” by Dr. Edward Finegan; “If Black Language Isn’t Language, Then Tell Me, What It Is?” by James Baldwin; “Black English Matters” by Chi Luu; and “Stephen Spector on Grammar and the English Language” on YouTube.
    3. TTW will divide students into groups to discuss prescriptive and descriptive grammar. They will separate to develop a rough paragraph or basic outline about their position.
    4. TTW will transition and introduce generative AI.
    5. TSW will ask generative AI programs prompts about “proper” grammar for 5-15 minutes.
    6. TTW and TSW will discuss the AI responses and where or not they are culturally responsive.
    7. TTW will tie comments back to the Baldwin essay and other assigned content.

    Criteria for Success

    Students should end this activity having: (1) strengthened their understanding of how dominant cultures define and shape so-called “proper” written and oral language, (2) explained their position on when to use prescriptive and descriptive grammar, and (3) employed generative AI to support and oppose their stated position.