Games (& Smiles)
Crystal Bowser, who is home schooling her eleven-year-old son in Springfield, MO., sent me the following:
These are the activities I've created and when I'm using them [KISS ideas] for the next month or so. We created a preposition memory game. Kendall made a set of cards, and I did too. When one of us makes a match we have to call out the prep. and put it in a sentence. He has played this already many times. Next week he will begin underlining them in a nonfiction book that doesn't contain dialogue. Week three, he will have enough written work created to begin on his own writing. Week four, he will learn about the prep. phrase and use the same book and his own writing to begin enclosing these with parentheses. This should take us several months to complete. At the end of each month I will use one of your Aesop's Fables (level 1) as a test. The next book will contain dialogue; I just thought it would be easier to start without it.A simple card game that a student finds enjoyable is certainly more fun than memorizing a list of prepositions -- and probably much more effective since the game involves using the "matched" prepositions in sentences. I never would have thought of this, but now, with Ms. Bowser's permission, it is on the KISS Instructional Matrices. There are, I am sure, many more interesting and enjoyable activities, either already developed, or that we can develop. Let's take the frowns out of teaching and learning grammar!
Having students memorize definitions, lists, etc. is derided by some teachers and loved by others. As usual, the middle attitude is best. Learning sometime progresses much faster if fundamental ideas are memorized. The limited memorization required within the KISS Approach is discussed in the next chapter, but some teachers may find it desirable, for example, to have their students memorize the preposition song, which is sung to the tune of "Yankee Doodle."
I first became aware of the "Preposition Song" when someone put out a request for it on NCTE-Talk. I do not know the name of the person who responded with it, nor do I know its original source. If, by chance, it is copyrighted, please let us know so that we acknowledge its creator. The person who contributed it to NCTE-Talk noted that her? 16-year-old students "love this."With on for after at by in
against instead of near between
through over up according to
around about beyond into
until within without upon
from above across along
toward before behind below
beneath beside down under.
There are many short tips or tricks for helping students to identify parts of speech and/or constructions. Many of these involve identifying prepositions or recognizing verbs. They are interesting, and often helpful, but also hard to find. For the past two years, for example, I have been an on-line guest in Dr. Ben Varner's summer grammar course at Colorado State University. This summer, one of his students, Sheila Harper, noted that
In eighth grade my English teacher taught me how to identify prepositions in a short lesson: "of" and any words that fit into the blank in one of these sentences were prepositions (or words that explained the relative position of two objects in space or time): "The squirrel ran __________ the log(s)", or "I dropped my books __________ class(es)." For me, that simple explanation and quick rule-of-thumb took away the mystery of prepositions."The House of Prepositions" is a similar aide. It is simply a drawing of a house with the various words that can function as prepositions placed around it ("over," "under," "on," etc.) I first became acquainted with the "House" in my first Russian language text. Since then I have seen similar drawings that use an airplane instead of a house.
Pamela Dykstra, who teaches basic writers at South Suburban College, a community college in South Holland, Illinois, suggests the value of reading aloud, not just to help students recognize grammatical constructions, but also to help them feel stylistic differences. The following is from an explanation she sent to the ATEG list server:
I believe that hearing selected sentences read aloud – while reading along silently – helps students internalize the rhythm of varying sentence patterns. While reading along silently, students are also able to see and hear how punctuation connects and separates ideas. I use this approach when teaching sentence patterns, but I’m wondering if this would also work for longer passages. For example, each semester I read aloud – and then have students read aloud with me – an excerpt from Bertrand Russell’s autobiography ("Three passions, simple but overwhelmingly strong, have governed my life: the longing for love, the search for knowledge, and the unbearable pity for the suffering of mankind...."). My students love it. I have used it to talk about essay structure, but I wonder if I should stay with this piece longer. Would it help to have students study and then mimic the sentence patterns? And would it help to have students copy it!?When asked to elaborate on this, she sent the following, on how she explains the reading/writing connection to her students:
Have you even listened to one of your favorite CD’s and found yourself humming the next song before it even begins? How did you know what the next song would be? You didn’t sit down and try to memorize the notes; you picked up the rhythm of the song because you heard it over and over again. Learning language involves a similar process. We learned to talk by listening to others talk. We picked up (internalized) how words are put together – learning , for example, to say "down the street," not "street the down." If we were read to as children, we also heard how ideas are put together in sentences. We learned the patterns of writing, the sounds of sentences.The analogy will probably work at most grade levels, and reading passages aloud, emphasizing the relevant grammatical constructions, may give both the teacher and students some opportunities to ham it up, thereby adding a little fun to the lesson.
As an adult, if you want to improve your writing, you must read. When we read, we unconsciously pick up the sound of sentences, just as if we were listening to music on a CD. When experienced writers write, they hear their words in sentences. If you read consistently and often, you will find that when you write, you will begin to hear your ideas in sentences. The more you read, the better writer you will become.
My students like the CD analogy.
Word Families: Prefixes and Suffixes
As teachers, we often complain that students don't (can't?) rewrite sentences to make them either clearer or more concise. Part of the problem, however, may be that we as teachers do not spend enough time (if any) on showing students the family relationships among nouns, verbs, adjectives and adverbs. What we are expecting often requires students to change a noun into a verb, etc. ("He gave a good description of the thief," vs. "He described the thief very well.") Because many students simply do not see these family relationships, it may be a good idea to have them do a few exercises with word families. Have them take a verb or a noun (describe, receive, paint, help, accuse, etc.) and list all the verbs, nouns, adjectives, and adverbs that they can think of that use the same root. Also have them write a short sentence using each word in their lists. As always, having students share their results will reinforce the instruction.
The Word-Family of "Describe"
A recent discussion on the ATEG list reminded me that work with word families may also help students with some of their spelling problems.V- describe Parents describe their children in glowing terms.
N- describing: Describing a person is not easy.
description: My descriptions are not always clear.
describer: As a describer, I probably leave much to be desired.
descriptiveness: Nabokov’s descriptiveness tempts the imagination.
Adj.- describing: He wrote a book describing his experience.
described: The accident described in the paper occurred here.
descriptive: She wrote a very descriptive essay.
describable: But then, the scene she chose was very describable.
Adv.- descriptively: Still, she writes very descriptively.
Prefixes, Suffixes, and Verb Phrases
George Hellman, who does technical translations and communication for Hughes Network Systems, suggested an idea that students might learn from and enjoy discussing. He wrote:
Conventional theory suggests that the spaces between verb elements, for example, "have [space] been [space] going" are due to the fact that the quotes enclose three independent words. I disagree . . . I think the spaces are insignificant, and the "modal auxiliaries," etc. are actually prefixes and suffixes. I am encouraged to think this because these affixes do not accept synonyms. For example, "I have gone" cannot be uttered "I possess gone."In later correspondence, he suggested that phrasal verbs can be considered the same way. We can, he noted, look at "down" in "going down to the river" as a suffix. Some linguists would disagree with this view, but others would agree. For students, Hellman's observation actually simplifies grammar because it points out a common underlying structure (or principle) in affixes and in two characteristics of verb phrases. Like the linguists, students can agree or disagree, but they will be doing so from a new perspective on auxiliaries and other phrasal verbs, without having had to learn the complex terminology of linguistic systems. Perhaps the most important point of such a discussion for students is that it will give them a deeper understanding of all of these constructions. Because linguists themselves disagree on many points of grammar, for students, it is the thought invested, not the "answer," that counts.
Another discussion on the ATEG list server reminded me of the importance of copying exercises for young and "remedial" students. Art Whimbey, an educational researcher whom I greatly admire, strongly advocates such exercises, and, although I do not push them as strongly as he does, I know that they have their place. My reservation, quite simply, is that often the exercises are not developmentally appropriate. An appropriate exercise, for example, would be to give third grade students models that include prepositional phrases with multiple objects. In addition to (perhaps) expanding the students' command of prepositional phrases, such exercises might also improve their ability to include specific details in their writing. Instead of "They were talking about the animals at the zoo." we might get "They were talking about the monkeys, giraffes, and seals at the zoo." Teachers and students should probably also discuss aspects of the grammar and details in the models to be copied, preferably before the students do the copying. The brain is faster than the hand. Thus, if students have discussed the prepositional phrases, or the subjects and verbs in a passage that they are now copying, their brains will have time to think about what was discussed.
Kevin Gave reminded
me that Reed-Kellogg diagramming (and other methods) can be useful tools
for some teachers and students. He also noted that my explanation of diagramming
in TGLA actually presents a variation of the original Reed-Kellogg rules.
My objections to a heavy focus on Reed-Kellogg diagramming are explained
in TGLA, but some basic work with such diagrams may be helpful,
especially for students working with S/V/C patterns and clauses. The question
is will students be able to use such diagrams to analyze the sentences
in their own writing? If not, are the diagrams worth the effort?
Many teachers have devised their own systems for diagramming basic sentences and/or structural patterns within sentences. One that I found interesting is by Laurence Kriegshauser, O.S.B., who uses it with seventh graders at Saint Louis Priory School. The system starts with a simple Subject/Predicate, adds adjectives and adverbs, then prepositional phrases, etc. Father Kriegshauser describes his approach in "A Basic Seventh Grade Grammar Course." The article, which has been reprinted in full on the web, includes frequent references to how the students enjoy and appreciate this approach to grammar.
In another article in Syntax, also available on the web, Robert Einarsson, who teaches at Grant MacEwan Community College in Edmonton, Canada, suggests that diagrams may be more helpful when they illustrate only the relevant point being studied. In "Embedded and Aligned Phrase Structures," he explains the helpfulness of simple diagrams that indicate what prepositional phrases modify. Perhaps the most important aspect of his article is the explanation of the difference between "embedded" and "aligned" phrases:
Although some grammarians may consider such instruction as too simplistic,
they miss what Einarsson notes -- the explanation (and practice with it)
is an excellent introduction to the structural principle of embedding
vs. "alignment." According to Einarsson, " Once they have mastered these
two fundamental structural relations, it will not be long before students
can incorporate whole clauses, for a really informed view of the sentence."
After using Einarsson's idea, I found that my students were surprised that a construction can "jump over" another construction (as in the "aligned" phrases). Such "jumping" is rarely discussed in traditional textbooks, and it is not typical of the, as Mellon noted, short simplistic sentences in traditional exercises. It is, however, typical of the longer, more complicated sentences that students actually read and write. Einarsson's diagrams may provide an important conceptual bridge between basic recognition of constructions and the ability to use those constructions in analyzing real texts.
Showing students more than one way of diagramming sentences may be beneficial because it will demonstrate that there is more than one way of looking at grammar. The trick is to not let the rules for the diagramming itself overshadow the objective, the ability to analyze any sentence that the students read or write.
Some teachers and students enjoy creating "living diagrams." I first became aware of such diagrams at an ATEG conference presentation by Wanda Van Goor, who teaches at Prince George's Community College, in Maryland. She has students get up in front of the class. One student represents the verb, another the subject, etc. The students hold hands or touch (shoulders) to represent the relationships among the various parts of a sentence. Such exercises can be effective instruction, and good ice-breakers. Mary Ann Yedinak, at Sycamore School in Indianapolis, uses a similar exercise with her middle school students. She says,
Basically, the students stand as part of a diagram. For example, imagine standing with your arms out at your sides and your knees rather knock-kneed. You take your right arm up at a slight angle. Snap the picture. It looks like the diagram for an infinitive. Extend your wrist instead of keeping it straight, and it looks like a gerund. The students love creating posters for their living diagrams after this. They use the camera, the scanner, words cut from magazine, or a drawing part of Word on the computer.Not everyone may feel comfortable with "living diagrams," but teachers who do should use them. In addition to teaching some basic concepts, they help students overcome that boring, textbook-based attitude toward grammar.
Once students have a initial
command of a concept, they can be asked to go on a "Treasure Hunt" to find
and bring to class one or two examples of the given concept. They can find
these in newspapers, magazines, books, or whatever else they choose, as
long as they can bring it to class. The desired "Treasure" should be limited
and thought-provoking. Asking students to find an example of a prepositional
phrase for every preposition will probably result in boredom and frustration.
A much better choice would be to ask students to find one example each
of Einarrson's "Embedded" and "Aligned" prepositional phrases. To find
examples of a phrase for every preposition, students basically just have
to look for the words -- and they will have trouble finding some of them.
To find "Embedded" and "Aligned" phrases, on the other hand, students will
have to consider the meaning of the sentences. Another advantage of these
exercises is that they push students toward considering grammar beyond
the typical grammar text exercises.
Having the students share and discuss their finds can be both educational and enjoyable. Suppose, for example, that the assignment was to find a sentence with compound verbs in a short joke. Using washable ink pens, students could copy their "treasure" onto an overhead transparency and underline the compound finite verbs (or even all the finite verbs in the joke). Students could present and "explain" their jokes all during the same class period. It would, however, probably be more fun, more educational, and less time-consuming, if the treasures were spread out, with one or two students sharing what they found at the beginning of each class period (while the teacher is taking attendance, handing out, or collecting papers, etc.). The students would learn not only from the numerous examples, but also from their own act of teaching.
The various "treasures" to be searched for are limited only by our imagination. In working on prepositional phrases, students might be asked to find one example of a prepositional phrase that begins with "to" and a "to" phrase that is not prepositional (i.e., an infinitive). Or they could be challenged to see who could bring in the longest "string" of prepositional phrases from a published source -- under the book on the bookcase by the window with the yellow curtains. If they are learning about S/V/C patterns, students could be asked to find one pattern with a zero complement, one with a predicate adjective, one with a predicate noun, and one with an indirect and direct object. On clauses, they could be asked to find an example of two main clauses joined by a colon and/or an example of a subordinate clause within a subordinate clause. And, if sharing these with the class becomes too time-consuming, students might spend 15 minutes sharing them within small groups. Treasure Hunts are important not only because they help students learn to identify specific constructions, but also because they get students thinking in terms of applying the grammar that they are learning to real texts, texts chosen by themselves.
If you read the Introduction
to this book, you have already seen a KISS fill-in-the-blank exercise and
some suggestions about how they can be used. Most teachers think of fill-in-the-blank
exercises as those error-oriented, choose between "has/have" worksheets.
The usefulness of such exercises is questionable, primarily because either
the sentences are too simple or because the students have not been taught
to understand the underlying sentence structure that determines which option
should be used. The KISS Approach to 'fill-in-the-blank" exercises is to
provide students with a coherent text in which certain parts of speech
have been replaced by blanks -- the students fill in the blanks with words
that make sense to them. These exercises, which assist students in learning
to consciously recognize certain parts of speech, can also be a lot of
fun if the students' versions are shared with the class.
With my college Freshmen, I have used the following passage based on the opening paragraph of Eudora Welty's "A Worn Path." The original is:
It was December -- a bright frozen day in the early morning. Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods. Her name was Phoenix Jackson. She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side to side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock. She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.Students were given the following:
Directions: Read the passage first to get a general sense of its meaning. Then fill in the blanks with the appropriate part of speech. (P = preposition) You can change "a" to "an" or vice-versa.
It was December -- a (adj)____________ (adj)____________ day (P)_____ the (adj)_______________ (noun)_______________. Far out (P)_____ (adj)_____________ (Noun)__________________ there was an (adj)____________ (adj)_______________ woman with (adj)____________ (Noun)_____________ tied (P)___________ (adj)__________________ (adj)__________________ (Noun)___________________, coming (P)________ a (Noun)____________________ (P)_________ the (Noun)______________. Her name was (Noun)_______________ (Noun)_______________. She was very (adj)________________ and (adj)________________ and she walked (adverb)____________ (P)________ the (adj)_____________ (adj)____________ (Noun)______________, moving a little (P)________ (Noun)_____________ (P)______ (Noun)______________ (P)_________ (adj)___________ steps, with the (adj)_____________ heaviness and lightness (P)________ a (Noun)_________ (P)_____ a (adj)_____________ (Noun)________________. She carried a (adj)________________, (adj)_____________ cane made (P)_______ an (Noun)_______________, and (P)__________ this she kept tapping the (adj)_______________ earth in front of her. This made a (adj)____________ and (adj)_____________ noise (P)______ the (adj)___________ (Noun)___________, that seemed meditative like the (Noun)___________ of a (adj)____________ (adj)_________________ (Noun)__________________.
Students developed the following: [Number 4 was particularly well-received when read aloud in class.]
1. It was December--a cool dark day by the big lake. Far out in the cool darkness there was a small plump woman with green flowers tied into her grungy black hair, coming down a foot from the neck. Her name was Helen Kelbaughski. She was very polite and nice and she walked slowly through the dark sleazy woods, moving a little towards the lake with caution and with careful steps, with the much [sic] heaviness and lightness of an animal with a dying hunger. She carried a long, black cane made from an alloy, and through this she kept tapping the dark earth in front of her. This made a dusty and scraping noise through the wooded area, that seemed meditative like the mountain lion of a cool dark forest.
2. It was December--a cold dreary day in the small town. Far out in the wild country there was an old crippled woman with silver bells tied to her large black shoes, coming towards a bridge over the lake. Her name was Betty Greg. She was very tall and skinny and she walked hunching over the large black shoes, moving a little in time to the sound of tinkling steps, with the awkward heaviness and lightness of a body with weighted shoes. She carried a dull, black cane made of an oak, and with this she kept tapping the brown earth in front of her. This made a soft and rhythmical noise along with the belled shoes, that seemed meditative like the bells of an old catholic church.
3. It was December--a very cold day throughout the empty park. Far out from the trees there was a very beautiful woman with dark glasses tied around a skinny neck, coming from a house in the park. Her name was Joan Herlihy. She was very slim and neat and she walked swiftly through the "dark" ominous park, moving a little from side to side with quick steps, with the obvious heaviness and lightness of a person with a physical handicap. She carried a big, brown cane made from a _____, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her. This made a repetitive and echoing noise in the empty park, that seemed meditative like the sounds of a beautiful red woodpecker.
4. It was December--a cold dreary day in the run down neighborhood. Far out in a distant galaxy there was a loony goony woman with bad spells tied with terribly smelling porkchops, coming from a spacecase in the north. Her name was Banana Head. She was very crazy and weird and she walked pervertedly through the entire bizarre galaxy, moving a little with leaps with jumps with cocky steps, with the terrible heaviness and lightness with a wacko in a similar galaxy. She carried a huge, gigantic cane made in a factory, and with this she kept tapping the small earth in front of her. This made a funny and distinctive noise on the small earth, that seemed meditative like the drown of a junky burned out engine.
These exercises are fun for a change of pace. They can be assigned as class work or homework, but they are most effective if at least some of the students' versions are read to the class. Because they have all tried to fill in the blanks, students appreciate hearing what others have done, admiring the imagery of some of their peers, and laughing at the imaginations of others. Discussions also range into questions of characterization, establishment of the setting, and tone. Creating these exercises is not easy. I have made several that were flops. The main problem is in finding the right balance for blanks -- creating enough so that students' imaginations can fly, and yet leaving enough solid text to keep the students on track. If there are too many blanks, many students simply give up.
Perhaps even more effective and interesting is to have the students themselves create such exercises for each other (and for later use by you). Have each student, for example, select a short passage that they find interesting (50-100 words) and, either for homework or in class, have them hand copy the passage replacing all the finite verbs with blank lines. Then set them up in small groups to check each other's work, making sure that only finite verbs have been replaced by blanks. (Do this in class so that you can answer any questions they may have.) Then give them time, if needed (either in or out of class), to make clean copies of the exercises. Distribute the exercises from one group among the students in another. (The students in the other groups should not have seen the verbs in the originals.) Have them do the exercises, and then give the completed exercises back to their creators. The creators can then either discuss the results within their own group, or they can write a short response to the exercise. Their discussion and responses should include comments about why they prefer the verbs in the originals -- or in their peer's work, thereby making this an exercise in vocabulary as well as in the identification of finite verbs.
KISS 'fill-in-the-blank" exercises are particularly helpful at the beginning of work on a KISS level. In Level Two, for example, finding subjects and complements is a matter of following a few rules and questions with "who" and "whom." The students' most difficult problem is in learning to recognize the verbs, which is precisely what this exercise helps them with. For students who are working in a multi-year KISS sequence, these exercises can be used as a form of review. For example, students who are returning from summer vacation and about to start verbals (Level Four), might be asked to create some "fill-in-the-blank" exercises in which blanks replace subordinate conjunctions. Their creations can then be used with students in the previous grade.
High school and college teachers
whose students have access to computer labs may want to have their students
use the CASA program, available for free on the KISS web site. CASA
(Computer-Assisted-Syntactic-Analysis) teaches students to recognize prepositional
phrases and basic S/V/C patterns. The program automatically checks students'
work as the students earn passes through six "rooms." When they are finished,
they can get a print-out that indicates how many of the rooms they completed.
The program keeps track of the time each student spends on it. Students
who can already recognize prepositional phrases usually complete the program
in a half-hour or less. Most students take between two and three hours.
A few have taken as long as twelve. In essence, the program keeps them
working until they have learned the material. I grade their work entirely
on the basis of how many "rooms" they have completed. How long they took,
and how many mistakes they made have no bearing on the grades. Before I
developed this program, I had trouble getting most of my college students
to do the handouts. As a result, when we moved on to S/V/C patterns, many
of the students had problems. Surprisingly, most of my students complete
the CASA program and thus find the rest of the work that we do to be much