by Dr. Ed Vavra
Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Pennsylvania College of Technology,
& Editor of Syntax in the Schools, the newsletter of ATEG
The Quicker Classroom Version
The objective of KISS Grammar is to enable students to understand -- and explain -- the function of any word in any English sentence. The objective of the KISS Grammar Game is both to motivate students and to turn some of the necessary drills into thrills. I don't blame you if you don't believe the preceding statement. I would not have believed it myself a few months ago. Having prepared an edition of the Advanced version of the game, I tested it in some of my classes with college Freshmen. It was men against women, with one member of each team up front at a time, competing at analyzing sentences. I was shocked when one of the men came up to the front of the room and started rubbing the back and shoulders of the man who was about to compete. He was "warming him up" so that he would be in shape to get as many points as possible. Since then, many students have commented favorably about the game, and one noted that she did not realize how much grammar she did understand until we played the game. As I have often suggested, one of the problems in traditional teaching of grammar is that we rarely focus students' attention on what they DO know. Apparently, the KISS Grammar Game does that.
The rules of the KISS Grammar Game may seem complex at first, but they simply follow the sequence that I teach students to use in analyzing sentences. If students begin by analyzing all of the prepositional phrases, then go to S/V/C patterns, then to clauses, and then to the more complex constructions, everything falls into place a lot easier. The game simply follows this sequence, awarding points along the way. The Formal version of the Game has its advantages, but although it deals with KISS Grammar, the game itself is not so simple to prepare. Two copies of each sentence (in sheet protectors) plus the Answer Keys -- that is a lot of stuff to make and carry around. The Quicker Classroom Version is much simpler. All it requires is that the sentences to be analyzed be on overheads and that the instructor has a washable ink pen.
A Basic Description of the Game
The class is divided into two or more teams, and a sentence to be analyzed is on the overhead projector. The first member of the first team has five seconds to identify a prepositional phrase in the sentence. If he or she gets one correct, the team gets a point and the instructor puts parentheses around the prepositional phrase. The first member of the next team then has the same opportunity. This process continues until all the prepositional phrases in the sentence have been identified. The person who identifies the last prepositional phrase ("last" meaning last to be identified, not last in the sentence) gets a bonus point for stating that there are no more prepositional phrases. If he or she does not make this statement, the next team may get the bonus point by beginning their turn by making the statement. Once this statement is made, the team whose turn it is identifies a finite verb, its subject, etc. , or, if the class is only working on prepositional phrases, it starts on a new sentence. Whereas an incorrect answer simply results in the next team's turn, an incorrect bonus attempt results in the team's losing a point.
I strongly suggest that the analysis always follow the sequence:
then all subject / verb / complement patterns,
then all clauses,
then all verbals,
and, finally, the seven other constructions.
Defining a "Turn" in the Game
There are numerous ways to define when a team's turn ends, and obviously teachers can do so any way they choose. But to make the game pedagogically effective, turns should be kept as short as possible. One could, for example, define a "turn" as continuing until the competitor makes a mistake. The problem with this is that weaker students will tune out. When it is their turn, they will make a mistake and get no points. Then they will have to wait forever as Sam and Suzzie each rack up twenty points. BORING! It is much better to keep turns limited to one correct answer with possible bonus points. (See the discussion of point values.)
Suggested Point Values
(Feel free to modify these in any way that works.)
Level One: Prepositional Phrases
An Entire Prepositional Phrase* = 1
Level Two: Subject / Verb / Complement Patterns
A Finite Verb Phrase = 1 per word in the phrase
Its Complement(s) (excluding clauses) = 1 each (if compounds)
Level Three: Clauses -- Subordinate and Main
A Subordinate Clause = 1
Bonus Points for Infinitives
In playing the game, my students became confused by infinitives. Some students lost their turn by referring to infinitives when they were supposed to be identifying prepositional phrases. Others tried to identify infinitives as finite verbs. Students therefore asked if there were some way to "get those infinitives marked and out of the way." We resolved this problem by making the identification of infinitives bonus points. The first player to start identifying prepositional phrases in a sentence can earn bonus points by identifying any infinitives. Any infinitives not identified remain as potential bonus points until the analysis of the sentence is finished. Infinitives are "marked" by putting an oval around them.
class be ready for them, Levels Four and Five would continue in the same
basic manner. In Level Four, a point would be awarded for identifying a
verbal (gerund, gerundive, or infinitive). The next turn would consist
of identifying the verbal's function. The next, identifying its complement.
Level Five consists of identifying the Eight Additional Constructions (Nouns
Used as Adverbs, Appositives, Interjections, Delayed Subjects, Direct Address,
Noun Absolutes, Retained Complements, and Post-Positioned Adjectives).
Using the Game
Obviously, the game can be played just
for the fun of it. I have, however, found the game to be a real motivator,
not only for homework, but also for attention in the classroom. In my college
Freshman composition classes, I usually give students four or five passages
which they are supposed to analyze for homework. (Click
here to link to this section of that course.) We would review that
homework in class, using an overhead. One student would be selected to
analyze a sentence while I made the marks on the overhead. While this student
was working, much of the class was not paying particular attention, and
it was not unusual to have long waits while a student who was not prepared
figured out what to do.
If, as I do, you are going to use team scores
for grades, how you establish the teams is important. My grade program
produces random lists of the students in the class, and I simply divide
these lists into three, four, or five teams. In class, I simply reseat
the students into rows by team, and "turns" start at the front of the room
and go down the row. I have, however, been known to fudge when making teams.
My grade program can also produce "Ranked" lists, i.e., the students in
a class are listed from highest average grade to lowest. Sometimes I will
create teams by teaming the student at the top of the list with the student
at the bottom and one from the middle, etc. I have also been known to create
teams entirely from the top, from the middle, and from the bottom of the
lists. (This occurs most often when the students at the bottom of the list
are there because they haven't even been trying to do anything, and the
students who are at the top are there, not because they are smarter, but
because they have been studying.)
When I first thought of playing the game
this way, I told students that the members of the winning team would get
a course bonus point. I soon realized that that was a bad idea. Once a
team is too far behind, they lose interest. Now, the grades are based on
points. The members of the team with the highest score all get a 100. The
grades of everyone else are based on how their team's score matches that
of the winning team. Thus, if the winning team has a score of 50 and the
second place team has a score of 48, the members of the second place team
each get a grade of 48/50, or 96. This method of grading encourages the
team with the lowest score to keep trying -- the more points they get,
even if they lose, the higher their grade will be.
Making Your Own Editions:
Selecting and Preparing Passages for the Game
One of the keys to my success with the
KISS Approach to Grammar is that I constantly emphasize to students that
they are not studying grammar in isolated sentences -- they are studying
the grammar of sentences in context. Often, they are in passages written
by the students' peers. Even when sentences are put on an overhead one
or two at a time, as they are in the Formal version of the game, they are
sequential sentences from a paragraph. The
passages I am currently using are available on the net. One of the
advantages I have found in using passages written by students is that,
in the process of playing the game, I can point out to students different
stylistic patterns. For example, some students will have three or four
compound sentences in a paragraph; others will have none. Some students'
passages will have heavily embedded subordinate clauses; others will have
almost no subordinate clauses. In discussing these differences, students
begin to see that they can see stylistic differences in writing.