Fill in the blanks in the following passage with words that make sense:

      Then, Jesus __________ his disciples up the mountain and gathering them around him __________ them saying:
      Blessed __________ the poor in spirit, for theirs __________ the kingdom of heaven.
      Blessed __________ the meek.
      Blessed __________ they that __________.
      Blessed __________ the merciful.
      Blessed __________ they who __________ for justice.
      Blessed __________ you when you __________.
 __________ glad and __________ for your reward __________ great in heaven.

      Then, Simon Peter __________, "__________ we __________ __________ __________ this down?"
      And, Andrew __________, "__________ we __________ to know this?"
      And, James __________, "__________ this __________ on the test?"
      And, Phillip __________, "I __________n't __________ any paper."
      And, Bartholomew __________, "The other disciples __________n't __________ __________  __________ this."
      And, John __________, "__________ we __________ __________ __________ this in?"
      And, Matthew __________, "__________ I __________ to the bathroom?"
      And, Judas __________, "What __________ this __________ __________ __________ with real life?"
      Then, one of the Pharisees who __________ present __________ to see Jesus' lesson plan and __________ of Jesus: "Where __________ your anticipatory set of objectives in the cognitive domain?"
      And Jesus __________.

What you have just done is a KISS Grammar fill-in-the-blank exercise designed to help students learn to recognize verbs. If I were using this in a classroom, I would have students compare and discuss their answers, thereby also raising questions of vocabulary. Then I would show them the original text. [The text was sent to me by someone who found it in a humor section on the internet. The original author is unknown, but I am sure that most teachers would love to be able to thank him or her.]

            Then, Jesus took his disciples up the mountain and gathering them around him taught them saying:
      Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
      Blessed are the meek.
      Blessed are they that mourn.
      Blessed are the merciful.
      Blessed are they who thirst for justice.
      Blessed are you when you suffer.
      Be glad and rejoice for your reward is great in heaven.

      Then, Simon Peter said, "Do we have to write this down?"
      And, Andrew said, "Are we supposed to know this?"
      And, James said, "Will this be on the test?"
      And, Phillip said, "I don't have any paper."
      And, Bartholomew said, "The other disciples didn't have to learn this."
      And, John said, "Do we have to turn this in?"
      And, Matthew said, "Can I go to the bathroom?"
      And, Judas said, "What does this have to do with real life?"
      Then, one of the Pharisees who was present asked to see Jesus' lesson plan and inquired of Jesus: "Where is your anticipatory set of objectives in the cognitive domain?"
      And Jesus wept.

      The original will probably evoke additional discussion: What is the difference between "Jesus wept" and "Jesus cried"?  Between "inquired" and "demanded"? A discussion of the repetition of "are" might lead to an exploration of George Orwell's famous "Politics and the English Language," an essay that directly compares the simple, direct style of the Bible to inflated bureaucratize. Some students will probably not have repeated "said" seven times. Why does the original? Does the repetition reflect the dreary boredom experienced by Jesus (and by teachers who often hear these same questions, over and over and over again)?

      The primary argument of this book is that if grammar is to be taught effectively, we will need to use a lot more exercises comparable to the preceding one. The basic flaw in almost all current approaches is that they focus too much on terminology which is never applied. In a simple research project, college Freshmen were asked to identify the subjects and verbs in the following sentences:
I never look at the sky on a summer evening and catch a glimpse of a small aircraft without recalling in vivid detail the tragic crash two years ago. The children were playing in the yards, and the entire street was at peace.
 The results surprised me: 24% missed "look"; 34% missed "catch"; 44% missed "were"; 26% missed "playing"; and 50% missed "was." Can grammar mean anything to students, can they apply it in any effective way, when so many of them cannot identify the basic verbs in a sentence?
      This book takes a middle position between the extremes in the "Great Grammar Debate" that has lasted almost three decades. Some teachers adamantly insist that teaching "formal" grammar is useless and even harmful; others swear just the opposite. The anti-grammar tide reached its peak in November 1985, when NCTE passed a resolution against "the use of isolated grammar and usage exercises not supported by theory and research." Because little or no theory or research in support of teaching grammar appeared, the profession settled into a period in which the question was largely ignored. So was the teaching of grammar. In the last few years, however, public pressure for standards and testing has brought grammar back into many classrooms and revived the debate about how to teach it.
      What is happening, however, is that we are falling back on that same "grammar" which, even without research, most of us knew was ineffective. Publishers of traditional grammar books are flourishing, but many teachers are still frustrated as they see that the traditional textbook approach to teaching grammar isn't working. We need to stop and think about what we are doing, or we will find ourselves back where we started. We need to examine the questions of what grammar should be taught; when and how it should be taught; and, most important, why it should be taught. Having explored these questions for more than two decades, my students and I have developed a comprehensive, systematic possible solution to the basic problems. I call it KISS Grammar, for "Keep It Simple, Stupid."  (By "stupid," what I had in mind was our tendency to throw massive amounts of often inconsistent grammatical terminology at students )
      The KISS pedagogical perspective is highly influenced by the work of Jerome Bruner. Among other things, Bruner argues for "a spiral curriculum in which ideas are first presented in a form and language, honest though imprecise, which can be grasped by the child, ideas that can be revisited later with greater precision and power until, finally, the student has achieved the reward of mastery." (On Knowing, 107-8)  KISS Grammar is built around this philosophy. One linguist, for example, objected to the initial KISS presentation of prepositional phrases, noting that it is too simple and does not include phrases that include clauses. But, as will be explained below, KISS is designed around five levels that form a spiral curriculum. The levels are also designed to teach the easiest and most frequently occurring constructions first. In the first level, students are taught to identify simple prepositional phrases -- "in the house," "around the yard," "with blue eyes." In the third level, the concept is expanded to include phrases with clauses -- "They were talking about what they want to do on Friday." In the fifth level, the concept is expanded still more to include phrases with noun absolutes -- "With paint splattered all over, it didn't look like a professional job." As Bruner suggests, students cannot master all of this at one time. The simple concept needs to be presented and mastered first.
      Bruner makes another important point that probably also distinguishes the KISS Approach to grammar from almost all others: "Perhaps the most basic thing that can be said about human memory, after a century of extensive research, is that unless detail is placed into a structural pattern, it is rapidly forgotten." (Process, 24.) Most approaches to grammar focus on individual constructions. The students study them, and then leave them to go on to another construction. These pieces are never put together into a structural pattern that students can use to analyze and discuss their own writing. A KISS approach, on the other hand, teaches students to use a limited number of grammatical concepts to analyze (and thus be able to discuss) the structure of sentences. It adds constructions to the students' analytical toolbox, but the student must always use the constructions that were previously studied. In effect, the students gain conscious mastery of the "structural pattern" of English.
      Several different KISS-like approaches to grammar already exist. The most interesting of these, which will be discussed in more detail later, are A New Rhetoric by Francis and Bonniejean Christensen, and Links to Forceful Writing, by Anne Obenchain.  Although these are both excellent works, they are limited either by their intended users, or by their scope. A New Rhetoric is intended for college students and is probably too advanced for use in middle or high school. Links, on the other hand, is perfectly aimed at middle school students, but it focuses primarily on clauses -- most of the "links" are conjunctions. Having acknowledged the existence of these approaches, I need to distinguish them from the KISS Approach, which is based on KISS Grammar. KISS Grammar is a specific set of grammatical terms (concepts) which is strongly based on both theory and research and which can form the base of a sequential curriculum for grades three through eleven.
      In the KISS Approach, students analyze randomly selected short passages, including passages from their own writing. Their ultimate objective is to be able to explain how any word in any sentence that they read or write is syntactically connected to a main subject/verb pattern. As they learn to do this, they gain a conscious understanding of the logic of sentence structure, and they can use this logic to discuss almost all the important questions about both errors and style. The KISS Approach bridges the gap between formal instruction and application.
      The five levels of the KISS Approach build on each other. For several reasons that will be explained later in this book, it begins by teaching students to identify most prepositional phrases. With prepositional phrases identified, subjects and verbs (the second level) are much easier to identify. Students, for example, can easily be taught not to confuse the object of a preposition with the subject of a verb.  Clauses (Level Three) are essentially subject/verb patterns. Thus, students who can recognize the subjects and verbs in a text can be given a few simple rules that enable them to untangle even the most complex sentences. Students who have mastered the first three levels of the KISS Approach will have a more solid, and more fruitful command of grammar than most current college graduates. If that sounds like an exaggerated claim, simply ask college graduates to identify the subjects and verbs, prepositional phrases, clauses, or any other grammatical construction in their own sentences.
      The last two levels of the KISS Approach (verbals and eight additional constructions) enable students to explain (and thus understand) how almost any word in any sentence is syntactically related to a main subject / verb pattern. The basic principles and constructions of the KISS Approach are described in this book, and more detailed explanations are available on the KISS web site. The web site also includes a list server for discussing specific questions.
      Teachers will probably love the KISS approach for different reasons. First, and probably most important, the basic principle of KISS Grammar is to keep the number of grammatical terms limited and well-defined. Most grammar textbooks are basically texts on grammatical terminology. Rarely, however, do they explain why students need to know the various terms. As a result of this lack of purpose, most of the terms are never learned and are basically useless.
      A second reason for loving KISS is that instruction in a KISS approach can immediately move beyond definitions to questions of correctness and style. In a traditional approach, for example, students are usually given definitions of subjects and verbs, after which they are asked to identify the subjects and verbs in twenty relatively simple sentences. Instruction then moves on to something else. Rarely are students taught how to identify all the subjects and verbs in anything that they might read or write. Then, because they are unable to recognize the subjects and verbs in their own writing, students cannot make sense of comments about subject / verb agreement or of suggestions to use stronger verbs. In part because it excludes a lot of extra grammatical terminology, a KISS approach can focus on teaching students to recognize almost all (if not all) the subjects and verbs in anything they read or write. In the process of doing this, it can, among other things, clarify questions of subject / verb agreement, include exercises on using stronger verbs, explore the question of when to use passive voice, and also help those students who use "of" for "have." Instead of teaching a little bit about a lot of grammatical constructions, a KISS approach teaches students how to apply a limited number of constructions to a lot of areas.
      Some teachers will love the systematic nature of KISS Grammar. As previously mentioned, KISS introduces clauses by building on the students' previous study of subjects and verbs. At the upper levels, KISS teaches students to use Boolean logic (basically an either/or process) and the process of elimination to identify many advanced constructions. Finite verbs, for example, are the verbs that we normally underline twice -- they are the verbs that form clauses. But verbs are used in other ways in sentences. When so used, they are called verbals, and all verbals can be explained in terms of three categories -- gerunds, gerundives (participles), and infinitives. Once students can identify finite verbs, they can be given some simple rules that will enable them to distinguish gerunds (verbs used as nouns) and gerundives (verbs used as adjectives). Any other verbal, by the process of elimination, has to be an infinitive. KISS, in other words, basically bypasses the troublesome definitions that give students (and teachers) so many headaches.
      Other teachers will like the cumulative nature of KISS Grammar. Students start with prepositional phrases, and then add subjects and verbs to their analytical toolbox. Thus, in learning to identify the subjects and verbs in a passage, the students still begin by finding the prepositional phrases. The cumulative nature of each level of the KISS Approach automatically entails review for students who are having problems.
      Still other teachers may love the fact that KISS Grammar is solidly based on many different kinds (and areas) of research and many different types of theory. A theory of grammar, for example, can describe the structural relationships within a language at a given time. A theory of natural syntactic development, on the other hand, addresses questions such as how and why does the writing of fourth graders differs from that of eighth graders. Supported by some important and widely respected research, the KISS theory of natural syntactic development provides teachers with guidelines about what grammar should be taught at which grade levels. As I will suggest in more detail later, much of the frustration with most current approaches results from attempts to teach too much too soon. If enough teachers study and extend the KISS theory of natural syntactic development, we as a profession can change many of the current state and other educational standards and improve the tests that our students have to take. (We will not be able to eliminate such testing, but we can certainly make it more reflective of what students can and cannot master -- and what they do and do not need to know -- at different grade levels.)
      Last, but perhaps most important, KISS is based on a psycholinguistic theory of how the human mind processes -- and thus makes sense of -- the words that we read or hear. This theory can be explained to students by using a psycholinguistic model, a model that explains to students why the grammar they are studying is important. In effect, the model explains why errors are errors and why different writing styles have different effects on readers. No longer need the English teacher be the grammar cop.
      Although some teachers may love KISS Grammar for one or more of the preceding reasons, most teachers will probably love it because it is easy and enjoyable to teach. In a KISS approach, the teacher is a guide, not a policeman. As a guide, moreover, the teacher is not expected to have all the answers. (Later in this book I will even argue that a teacher's primary response should be "I don't know" even when the teacher does know.) As a profession, we need to acknowledge the fact that most teachers have been poorly prepared to teach grammar and to discuss the grammar in their students' writing. At the same time, however, once in their classrooms, teachers are expected to have all the answers. This has put teachers in an impossible situation that can only result in frustration.
      KISS offers a way out. Teachers will, of course, have to master the basic terrain. That terrain includes prepositional phrases, subjects and verbs, and clauses. For teachers who need it, the KISS web site offers a self-paced course (with answer keys) that will enable any teacher to become comfortable with that terrain. It also includes a growing number of exercises for different grade levels (with answer keys) which teachers can use as they begin to work with a KISS approach. Soon, however, teachers who are willing to accept the role of guide (rather than authority) will find themselves enjoying with their students the exploration of randomly selected texts, including their students' writing.
      The KISS approach includes still another important advantage for teachers -- it requires very little time and preparation. Once teachers are comfortable with the basic terrain, the essential class preparation consists simply of preparing copies of short hand-outs and selecting and making double-spaced copies of short texts for the students to analyze as home or class work.  And, as I will explain in more detail later, homework should not be graded. It should be reviewed and discussed in class. Every few weeks, depending on how teachers are fitting this instruction into their overall schedule, teachers might want to give a two or three sentence quiz to see how much the students have mastered. Some teachers will, of course, want to develop additional materials, suggestions for which fill the last part of this book. Overall, however, the KISS Approach reduces the amount of time that teachers have to spend on preparation and grading.
      Several teachers have told me that they were not allowed to teach grammar because their administrators had been informed of the research that supposedly shows that instruction in grammar is useless and possibly harmful. Part I therefore briefly reviews that research and points out some of the problems with it. (For teachers who need or want it, the KISS web site has a much more detailed discussion.) Teachers have often also asked me if there is any research that supports the teaching of grammar. Such research, which is also examined in Part I, does exist, and it all supports a KISS approach to teaching grammar.
      KISS theory and research are closely interwoven. Part II (on theory) literally builds on research studies by Kellogg Hunt, Roy O'Donnell, and Walter Loban on natural syntactic development. But the research of these three men (and their colleagues) applies to any approach to teaching grammar. It demonstrates that the study of clauses should begin in (not before) seventh grade and that the study of appositives and participles should probably be delayed until ninth or tenth grade. These implications are not well-known, but they are fundamental to any attempt to improve instruction in grammar. The third part of the book reviews exercises, tips, and techniques that can be used in any approach to teaching grammar. Part Four is an introduction to the KISS Approach.
      Some readers may wonder about my credentials for writing a book such as this. They are primarily a question of perspective and experience. My degrees are all in Russian Language and Literature, but I became interested in teaching writing, and, once I started doing that, I became interested in the causes of the many mangled sentences that crossed my desk. I started looking for answers. Someone once noted that my background -- not in English, and not in linguistics -- gave me a unique perspective. I was reminded of this again this summer.
      For the last two summers, I have been a "guest" in Dr. Ben Varner's on-line English Grammar course at Colorado State. This summer, a bright student named Peyman Javadi, having learned of my background in Russian, asked if there is a difference in the teaching of English and Russian grammar. His question made me realize that there is a fundamental difference -- Russians do not have to learn (or teach) the parts of speech. Russian (like Latin) is an inflected language -- the endings of words clearly indicate which part of speech they are. Russians probably study some of the fine points  of these word endings, but they never get hung up on definitions of "noun," "verb," etc. It is, I would suggest, in these definitions that most attempts at teaching English grammar stall. Whereas native Russian students can fairly quickly get into questions of sentence structure, English-speaking students usually can't get past the Eight Parts of Speech. Among other things, this book suggests a way to do this. Try it. I think you'll like it, maybe even love it.