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 __________
Blessed __________ you when you __________.
__________ glad and __________ for your reward __________ great
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.]
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
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
And, Bartholomew said, "The other
disciples didn't have to learn this."
And, John said, "Do we
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
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"
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
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.