Although the essays in the preceding section
address what KISS Grammar can do, perhaps the most important thing that
KISS can do for students is to teach them the importance of method. Although
many educators make fun of the Grandgrind approach to education (memorize
and regurgitate), they continue to use it. In K-12, math may be the only
subject in which teachers insist on “showing one’s work,” but the very
fact that math stands alone may explain why our students have so much trouble
with math. The importance of method in all areas of education is so important
that I ask you to bear with me and briefly explore the educational research
of Arthur Whimbey and Carol Dweck.
KISS Level One - The Basics
Perhaps the most difficult thing for students
to do in their study of grammar is to learn how to identify verbs. Most
textbooks define verbs as words that “show action or a state of being.”
When I was sixty, I finally guessed that “state of being” may have originated
because many of those verbs are forms (states?) of the verb “to be” --
“am,” “is,” “are,” “was,” and “were.” That makes sense, however, only after
one can identify verbs. For students, it is pure nonsense -- non sense,
as one philosopher loved to point out.
Sometimes, more is less. Traditional grammars
rarely discuss “complements.” Instead, they try to teach intransitive verbs,
transitive verbs, linking verbs, and to define predicate nouns, predicate
adjectives, indirect objects, and direct objects. Such instruction is not
effective. Intransitive verbs are verbs that do not have a direct or indirect
object. Transitive verbs have an indirect and/or a direct object. “Linking
verbs” have a predicate adjective or a predicate noun. One problem here
is that the textbooks give a sample list, always incomplete, of “linking
verbs.” Thus students are forced to memorize an incomplete list, but may
still be left wondering what type of verb “equals” is in “Two plus two
equals four.” Another problem arises with “direct objects.” They are often
defined as the words that “receive the action of the verb.” But what “action”
does “books” receive in “They have five books”? (Every grammarian that
I am aware of considers “books” in that sentence to be a direct object.)
1. Does the complement describe the subject? If so, it is a predicate adjective. If not,The preceding sequence does not give traditional definitions (thereby excluding both the distinctions in the three kinds of verbs and the nonsensical definition of “direct object”), but it always works.
It also provides students with a systematic, easily applied procedure for identify the S/V/C patterns in any text:
1. Find a verb.It’s important to teach students to work systematically. Some students will underline a verb here (without finding its subject), a complement there, etc. They never know when they are done, and they usually do a poor job. Learning to work systematically is important in all subjects (including math), and KISS Grammar can help students to learn that.
“Complement” is an important concept for another reason. The complement of one verb can never be the subject of another verb. In a sentence such as “They saw the man who wrote the book,” many students have trouble identifying the subject of “wrote.” If, however, they learn this rule, they are forced into the right answer. Because “man” is the complement (direct object) of “saw,” it cannot be the subject of “wrote.” The only other possibility is “who,” the correct answer.
The last thing that we might note here is the effectiveness of the sequence for finding the type of a complete as compared to the traditional list of “linking verbs.” “Groaned” has never, to my knowledge, been included in a list of such verbs, but in Mary Renault’s The King Must Die, students will find the sentence “The gate groaned open.” By using the KISS sequence, it is easy to see that “open” is a predicate adjective because it describes the final state of the gate.
Note! Especially in the early grades, KISS includes some exercises devoted specifically to the identification of predicate adjectives, predicate nouns, and indirect and direct objects. They are provided for people who may want or need them, but you will be doing you and your students a favor if you start with the exercises on “mixed” complements. The “mixed” exercises will more or less force students into using the sequence for determining the types of complements. You may not need to use the exercises on specific types of complements.Adjectives and Adverbs
Some textbooks spend a fair amount of time and space defining and describing adjectives and especially adverbs. But not all adverbs end in “-ly,” and some adjectives do (“friendly”). KISS focuses on the functions of words within a sentence. Thus:
If a word describes a noun or pronoun, it is an adjective.This explanation can be found in many textbooks, but it often gets lost in a mass of other material. Note that if students learn to identify adjectives and adverbs in this way, they will have little trouble in adapting the method to the prepositional phrases, subordinate clauses, verbals, and other constructions that function as adjectives and/or adverbs. (See the essay on “Nexus and Modification.”)
KISS Level Two - Expanding the Basics
Phrasal Verbs, the Importance of Meaning, and Alternative Explanations
I love the sentence “Put on your thinking cap!”
in part because it demonstrated to me that many grammarians, including
those who write textbooks, don’t think. In English, many verbs are actually
phrases with words that look like prepositions at the end of them -- “put
on.” Grammarians give these verbs a variety of names, of which “phrasal
verbs” is one. The grammarians, however, don’t try to teach students to
use their knowledge of grammar to analyze real texts. Instead, they “discuss”
Distinguishing Finite Verbs from Verbals
Verbals are verbs that function as nouns, adjectives or adverbs. In order to identify clauses, students need to learn to distinguish verbals from finite verbs -- the verbs that form clauses. I am unaware of any pedagogical grammars that even attempt to enable students to do this, perhaps because “finite verbs” are almost impossible to define to people who do not understand grammatical tense and person. Here again, therefore, more (the term “verbal”) is actually less complicated and process (method) is important. To teach students to distinguish finite verbs from verbals, make them learn the three “tests”:
1. The Noun Test -- A verb that functions as a noun (a subject, a complement, or the object of a preposition) is not a finite verb. (Do not underline it twice.)Remember that the details of verbals are the focus of KISS Level Four. Here, your objective is simply to enable students to know which verbs to underline twice and which not to. It will take a little practice, but the tests almost always work.
KISS Level Three - Clauses (Subordinate and
The Definition of a Clause
A clause is a subject / finite verb / complement
pattern and all the words that chunk to it. Make students memorize
and use that definition. There are no exceptions to it. Any part of a clause
can be compounded, and, as you will see if you examine random sentences,
subjects, verbs, and/or complements can all be ellipsed (left out). But
for students who have learned to identify S/V/C patterns, clauses are relatively
easy to master if they use the definition and another method—another
KISS introduces the term “clause” in KISS Level
Three with exercises on compound main clauses. You will find exercises
on compound main clauses in many different sections of the KISS materials--for
an interesting reason. Students’ inability to sense main clause boundaries
results in three of the most discussed punctuation errors -- comma-splices,
run-ons, and fragments. And most of these errors reflect thought on the
students’ part -- and failure in current instruction. These errors often
result from the students’ sense that there is a logical relationship between
the two sentences that are spliced or run together. (A “comma-splice” denotes
joining two main clauses with just a comma; a “run-on” denotes running
one main clause into another with no punctuation that separates them.)
Most traditional instruction tends to tell students to “fix” their errors
by using a period and a capital letter. Doing so, however, hides the very
logic that resulted in the error. In most cases, these errors are better
fixed with a semicolon, colon, or dash. Thus KISS starts with compound
main clauses AND the logic behind their being compounded.
1. If a sentence has only one S/V/C pattern, put a vertical line after it and go on to the next sentence.The instructional materials include a list of words that can function as subordinating conjunctions.
Distinguishing the Types of Clauses
In the KISS Approach, clauses, like almost every other construction, are distinguished by their functions. Consider, for example, the sentence
Kara saw John playing soccer in the park where she was playing baseball with her friends.Because students are expected to learn how to distinguish finite verbs from verbals in KISS Level 2.1.6, they should realize that “John playing soccer” is not a finite verb, and thus this sentence has only two S/V/C patterns:
Kara saw John (DO) playing soccer in the park where she was playing baseball (DO) with her friends.If they follow the procedure, students should recognize “where” as a subordinating conjunction. Thus “where” will be the first word in a subordinate clause. If students are paying attention to meaning (which is a major aspect of the procedures), they should also realize that “with her friends” goes with “was playing.” Thus (even if they do not recognize “with their friends” as a prepositional phrase) they should see that the last word in this clause is “friends.” Therefore they should put an opening bracket before “where” and a closing bracket after “friends.” In this sentence, the cKara saw John (DO) playing soccer in the park where she was playing baseball (DO) with her friends.lause further identifies, and therefore chunks to “park.” Because “park” is a noun, the clause is adjectival.
Note that if the sentence were “Kara saw John playing soccer where she was playing baseball with her friends,” the “where” clause would chunk to “saw” and/or “playing” and thus function as an adverb.
Again applying the definition of a clause, the first word of the “Kara” clause is “Kara,” and the last word, since the “where” clause chunks to “park,” is “friends.” And since every sentence must have at least one main clause, this must be it. A vertical line after “friends” thus completes the analysis of clauses in this sentence. Learning and applying the procedure will enable the students, with some practice, to identify adverbial, adjectival, and the various types of noun clauses.
The question for teachers here is “Should you start with separate exercises on the various types of clauses (adverbial, etc.), or should you start with mixed exercises--exercises that include all three types of clauses. In the grade-level books, KISS presents a group of mixed exercises first. These are followed by groups of exercises on the various types of clauses, should your students need them.
Untangling Embedded Clauses
The other slope of the curve is learning to untangle embedded clauses. Consider the following sentence, written by a fourth grader:
I was putting the bacon (DO) in the microwave [when my sister asked Alice (IO) and me (IO) [how high she should put the eggs (DO) on]]. |Beginning at the end of the sentence, the “how” clause functions as the direct object of “asked,” and is therefore part of the “sister asked” clause. The “when” clause functions as an adverb to “was putting,” and “I was putting bacon” is the S/V/C pattern of the main clause.
Students will need some practice with untangling clauses like these. In the instructional books, you will find a group of exercises on these placed before the group on additional noun clauses, simply because embedded clauses are more frequent than are clauses that function as subjects, predicate nouns, or objects of prepositions. (Exercises on noun clauses used as direct objects--perhaps the most frequent use of subordinate clauses--immediately follow the group of mixed clauses.)
Remember that the grade-level workbooks are intended as an example of how KISS can be taught and for your convenience. If you are working on clauses with fourth graders, you might want to ignore the workbooks and use the set of nineteen sample essays written by fourth graders. The instructional materials and the procedures will still work, students can learn to recognize clauses simply from the texts of their peers, and you can expect them to make mistakes with the “Advanced Questions.”
KISS Level 3.2 - Advanced Questions about Clauses
The “Advanced Questions” probably involve less
than five percent of the clauses you will find in randomly chosen texts.
Teachers should probably browse the instructional materials and a few examples
of these, but they should focus on Level 3.2 only after students have a
fairly firm mastery of Level 3.1. The grade-level books do introduce the
“So/For” (Level 3.2.2) question in grade four, simply because many of the
stories third and fourth graders read include “for” as a conjunction. Note
also that in the grade level books, fourth grade is basically devoted to
KISS Level 3.1, and fifth grade to KISS Level 3.2.
KISS Level Four - Verbals (Gerunds, Gerundives, and Infinitives)
In KISS Level 2.1.6, students learn to distinguish
finite verbs from verbals so that they will not underline verbals twice.
The remaining instruction in verbals (understanding the three types, their
subjects, and their functions) is left to KISS Level Four because an understanding
of clauses is more important than an understanding of verbals. Note also
that if students cannot recognize finite verbs, they will try to explain
them as verbals.
1. Look for gerunds first. Gerunds always function as nouns.This procedure eliminates the cumbersome (and often incomprehensible to students) definition of an “infinitive.” Many, but not all infinitives can be identified by the “to” that marks them, and some tenses of infinitives end with participles. You will find, however, that these tenses appear relatively infrequently.
Another important part of instruction here is the exercises you use to teach students to identify the various verbals. As always, KISS presents a section on “Mixed Verbals” first. If the students use the procedure just described, they should be able to learn to identify the types and functions of almost any verbal in any text fairly quickly -- without a special focus on gerunds, gerundives, or infinitives. The students, after all, already know the functions. Gerunds can function in any what that a noun can (subject, direct object, etc.) Gerundives always function as adjectives, and infinitives can function as adjectives, adverbs, or in any way that a noun can. True, they can also function as interjections, but students who have learned to identify interjections should even be able to realize when an infinitive is functioning as an interjection.
The section on mixed verbals is followed by sections that focus on gerunds, on gerundives, and finally, on infinitives, and these three sections include two or three exercises that do focus on identification, just in case you feel that your students need them. In most cases, I suggest you skip the ID exercises, but these three sections also contain exercises on style, logic, sentence-combining, and punctuation which you may want to use.
The sections on infinitives are the longest, with eleven exercises, the first three of which are devoted to mixed exercises on infinitives. Of the three types of verbals,, infinitives have the widest range of functions -- subjects, predicate adjectives, predicate nouns, direct objects, objects of prepositions, appositives, interjections, delayed subjects, and, of course, adjectives, and adverbs. There is also the question of ellipsed infinitives, as in “They made Judy president.” You may want to have your students do the mixed exercises, but be frugal (of time and energy) in determining to use all the exercises in this section.
KISS Level Five - Noun Absolutes and Seven Other Constructions
KISS Level Five was originally designed as
a “mop-up” operation that includes eight constructions. If you are trying
to teach KISS in a single year, you will almost certainly not be able to
do a good job and include these constructions. But if you spread KISS across
several years, you can include many of these constructions earlier in the
instructional sequence. Indeed, the noun absolute is the only construction
that must remain at KISS Level Five--the end of instruction. That is because
the noun absolute is a noun plus gerundive (KISS Level Four) construction.
If you try to teach noun absolutes before students can recognize gerundives,
you will confuse many of your students. Note that throughout the KISS Approach,
instruction is cumulative, and students should always be expected to identify
prepositional phrases, S/V/C patterns, clauses, and then verbals. They
will recognize verbals because they are the verbs that the students have
not underlined twice. They will recognize many noun absolutes because they
are a noun plus gerundive construction that they have not chunked to the
rest of the sentence, as in “Yet here she was now, her pale profile
outlined against the moonlight.”