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Last Revised: January 26, 2018

An Ideal Sequence for KISS across Grade Levels

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     These books are being significantly reorganized. One of the criticisms of traditional grammar instruction is that it teaches grammar without connecting it to students' reading and writing. KISS has always tried to do this, but for three reasons I'm dividing most of the units in all of the books into two parts. The first parts (in blue backgrounds in the books) provide the grammatical instructional materials and exercises. A second part (in yellow backgrounds) primarily focus on "Vocabulary, Reading, and Writing." (In this part, items in red are planned but not in the current books.)
     My first reason is that not all users will want the materials in the second parts. The change will enable them to download only the material that they want. My second reason is that the divisions will enable me to focus on the first parts (the instructional materials) first--and thus provide a complete set of instructional materials first. The third reason is that I intend to include a lot more material on critical reading and writing in the second parts. (If you are not aware of it, I spent 45 years primarily teaching Freshman Composition, and I don't like the textbooks for that course either.)

The study of grammar is a science.
The teaching of grammar is an art.

Links to the Workbooks

B 1 B 2 B 3 B4 B 5 B 6 B 7 B_8 B_9 B 10 B_11 B 12
The Codes for the Teachers' Answer Keys


The Workbooks
What This "Ideal Sequence" Is
Time Required
The Types of Exercises


    This is a design (and instructional materials and exercises) for a more comprehensive curriculum sequence for grammar, reading, and writing for grades one to twelve than the "Grade Level" books are. In developing the third book, I realized that the first two can be better developed to integrate reading and writing. So I will probably revise the first two.
     Because this is a multi-year, cumulative sequence, you might want to get a copy of "The Teachers' Reference to KISS Grammar Constructions, Codes, and Color Keys." It is an MS Word document. Click here to get it. If you cannot open MS Word documents, click here for how to get an MSDoc reader. I should note here that it takes a few minutes to download some of these documents.

What This "Ideal Sequence" Is

     This sequence is a suggested curriculum plan for teaching grammar and improving literacy, especially reading and writing skills. It needs feedback, especially from classroom teachers, and, ultimately, classroom teachers (working together across grade levels) should have the final say in states' standards--and on how to teach to them.. 
     Ideally, grammar assignments should be based on works that the students are reading, but different works are read in different schools. Some of both the analysis and the writing assignments should be easily adapted to other works, and, ideally, teachers (or students) could make relevant grammar assignments (on clauses, appositives, etc.) based on other works so that teachers could use them in future years.

     Perhaps the most important aspect of KISS is the sequence of instruction. More than one fourth grade teacher, for example, has written to me seeking help in teaching subordinate clauses. Most students, they say, cannot understand clauses. I understand the teachers' problem--my college students have the same problem. But the fundamental problem is that a clause is based on a subject / (finite) verb pattern. Students who cannot identify the subjects and finite verbs in what they read and write will have major problems understanding clauses. In most cases, it is very important that students master the ability to identify one construction (automatically, and in randomly selected sentences) before they add others. Exceptions to this are noted in the Teachers' Guides for each book. 

     One final group of comments here. Some people are going to say that this sequence is overly ambitious, that our students will not be able to master it. Those who say this are stuck in the Grand Grind vision of the nineteenth century -- teach and learn the "facts." What they really mean is isolated facts. In The Unschooled Mind: How Children Think and How Schools Should Teach, Howard Gardener argues that we should be teaching for "understanding," not just facts. John GATT, in much of his work, has argued that if we teach students to think (and not just memorize) students will do a lot more than we currently think that they are capable of. In Finnish Lessons, Pass Sahlberg claims that a large part of what resulted in Finland becoming an educational model is that their curriculum plans focus on cognitive understanding. As a result, he includes a section on "Less is More." (In some respects, by the way, this is the KISS principle.) Last but not least, much has been done about what we know about cognitive learning. Victor Beans and his colleagues believe that these new insights are so important that they put a good book about it on the web for free. (And it is really "free." Like the KISS site, you can get it without signing in or anything else.) It's called Applying Science of Learning in Education: Infusing Psychological Science into the Curriculum (2014) [The free pdf is available at: ]
     The question of students with learning disabilities has also been brought up. I do not know much about this, but from what I have heard, such students benefit by well structured, sequential instructional plans. (Years ago I was told that a school for the deaf was finding the KISS Approach very helpful.) I am hoping to hear from specialists in this area, but first KISS has to be brought to their attention.
     The point of the preceding paragraphs is that if we teach students to understand and be able to intelligently discuss what they are learning, students can learn a lot more in a lot less time.


     The lack of standards and coordination from K to 12 in our public schools severely hurts students. Skills build upon skills, but no public school teacher can currently assume that her or his students can, for example, identify the subjects and verbs in their sentences and thus build from there.
     Note that unlike the Common Core, this proposed sequence can be considered a set of clear standards, standards that parents, teachers, and students could all understand. In addition, unlike the Common Core's vague objectives, these standards can easily and accurately be assessed. I also strongly suggest that at least twice each year, starting in third grade, students should statistically analyze a short selection of their own (or others') writing, using the concepts they have already studied. Among other things, KISS integrates English and math.

Time Required


     Most of the analytical exercises should take students no more than ten minutes, usually no more than five. If they take longer, the student is probably not working systematically. I've had a student tell me that he spent three hours on a short exercise on prepositional phrases. It turned out, however, that instead of using the given instructional material and following the directions, he (and others) spent a lot of time looking in books and on the internet for "more information" about prepositional phrases. (This suggests that students have been trained to expect to be given answers rather than to figure out the answers themselves. That is also the problem they have with math.)  In addition, he did not work systematically. The directions for each exercise are numbered, and you should encourage students to follow them, working one sentence at a time. Students who do this usually "get it" without much time or effort. Other students mark a subject in one sentence, a verb in another, and wander about aimlessly. Among other things, KISS should teach students not only how to work systematically, but also the rewards of doing so. ("Homework" is in quotation marks because the exercises can also be done in class. I am, however, a firm believer in homework.)

In class

     My estimates for time required in class are usually double the homework time, but that all depends on the teacher and students. Teachers may simply want to put the analysis key on an overhead (or computer projector) and let the students check their own. The teacher would only have to answer questions. Having individual students give their analysis takes longer, and if you want to occasionally spend an enjoyable entire class period, you can review an exercise by having the students play the KISS Grammar Game.
     Teachers should NEVER collect and grade homework unless they want to do a spot check and assign only two sentences from an exercise.

The Types of Exercises

     Various exercises on punctuation and capitalization are spread across every grade level. The most interesting of these consist of short passages from real texts from which the capitalization and punctuation have been stripped. Students are asked to "fix" it. In class they can discuss their different versions and compare them to the original.


     The best way to improve students' vocabulary is to have them read, read, read. Currently, of course, most of them do not do that. (Interestingly, in Finnish Lessons, Pass Sahlberg notes that Fins have always loved to read. He's worried that younger people are reading less.) Teaching vocabulary is itself a complex question, but for now, the planned "Vocabulary" sections include exercises on synonyms, antonyms, fill-in-the-blanks with interesting verbs, abstract and concrete words, and word families prefixes, suffixes, and roots.

Writing Assignments

     You will find writing assignments scattered through all the grade levels in relation to grammar assignments. These include sentence combining (and de-combining), revision to add details, various other stylistic exercises, and plain writing assignments, including learning how to use a thesis, how to outline and organize a paper. From sixth grade on, there is a comparison/contrast project that can include a writing assignment. The "Writing a Research Paper" projects begin in grade ten. For those of you who do not know, for forty-five years I have taught Freshman Composition at the college level. From my perspective, in addition to problems with vocabulary and sentence structure, the primary problems of weak writers are details and organization.
     Starting in grade two, there is a "Literature and Writing" project. I love these for a number of reasons. [See the "The KISS Approach to Teaching Writing."] This "Ideal?" sequence allows me to consider students general mental development as well as their natural syntactic development. And, since teaching writing has been my career, I've added "Additional Writing Assignments" starting in grade three. These start out with simple narratives (organized by time.) Spatial organization is added in grade five, and "natural division" in grade six. "Natural division" is a broader concept that includes the somewhat standard "five paragraph essay." Teachers have been arguing about the "5pe" for decades, usually on a poor either/or basis. In KISS, the basic level is a four to six paragraph essay. (Not every idea fits into three body paragraphs.) Some teachers, again with an either/or mindset, argue that teaching such organization shackles the students. My view is that not teaching it cuts off the students' legs. As with grammar in KISS, students will be given published essays to read in which they can see for themselves how professionals use--and go beyond--these basic formats.

Statistical Studies

     Beginning in third grade, these books will include two statistical projects for each year. In each, students will be asked to analyze a passage from one of their peers. These passages are taken from state DoE writing samples, and are being statistically analyzed as "Statistical Studies of Natural Syntactic Development: An On-going KISS Project." Third graders, for example, will be asked to determine the average number of words per main clause in that sample. They will also be given a simple graph the average of each writer in the KISS project. This gives them a fairly objective context against which they can view their own writing. 
     In other words, they can write an essay on the same prompt (or on something else) and then each student can analyze his or her own writing, to see how their writing compares. (Students will need help with the analysis--when I had my college students do this, we spent a class period in which the students analyzed their own writing with the help of their peers--with me there to answer questions.) Then each student could make a graph that shows the length of each of their main clauses, and the teacher can give the class an anonymous graph of the averages of each student in the class--this would give students another, probably more relevant, context for their own writing.
     The purpose of this is to give students a sense of the norms. If these projects continue across grade levels, students can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of being below or above the norm. For a simple example, too far below the norm means that the writing is too simplistic--immature; too far above the norm means that the writing will be difficult for other to read.
     My college students analyzed subordinate clauses per main clause. During a group workshop, one student came up to me and said that he and his group could not find any subordinate clauses in his sample. I checked, and they were right. I suggested sentence-combining exercises, but at the college level a student is unlikely to do sentence-combining on his or her own. This KISS sequence includes combining and de-combining exercises in every book--for every year. 
     Another student had subordinate clauses within subordinate clauses within subordinate clauses within a main clause. He asked if that is possible. I looked at him and said, "Well, there's nothing wrong with the sentence, so it must be possible." In his case, I suggested some de-combining exercises. I have, by the way, given students sentences from other students' papers and asked the students to de-combine them. Most students could not do it correctly--they ended up with very mangled sentences. They couldn't do it because they did not understand how the parts of a sentence fit together. That is primarily what KISS teaches.
    In sum, statistical stylistics force students to look at their writing closely, give students a non-subjective sense of how their writing compares with that of others, and it integrates grammar, writing, and math.

Thank you for considering KISS!