In his excellent Blueprint
for Educational Change, Arthur Whimbey and his colleagues explain that
a major difference between "strong" and "weak" students is that strong
students work systematically, breaking a problem down into parts and working
through it one step at a time. Our "weak" students, in other words,
need instruction, not only in grammar, but also in working systematically.
Using the KISS Grammar Game teaches students to do this.
A General Description of the Game
Few English teachers will disagree when I say that, for most students, the study of grammar is not fun. In fact, most English teachers don't enjoy teaching it. I had been working on the problems in teaching grammar for fifteen years, when I finally remembered my high school experiences with the Mathletes. (I'm a slow thinker with a weak memory.) The Mathletes consisted of competitive teams, eight to ten team members from each of the area high schools, who met once a month to compete at solving math problems. At the competitions, team members took turns going to the center of the room where math problems were set up, face-down on tables. At the signal to start, the competitors would turn over the papers and have a specific number of minutes to solve their problem. Those who did got the points for their team for that round. The competitions were both educational and enjoyable. I wondered if I could devise something similar for analyzing sentence structure.
My first attempt resulted in the "Official" version of the game. (The "Gettysburg Address edition, below, is an example.) I chose a passage for analysis. Each sentence was put, in big bold type, on the center of a separate page, thereby creating a sequence of "rounds." On the back of each of these pages, again in fairly large type, I put the round number and the edition name. Two copies of these "question sheets" were made, one for each of two teams. Each was put in a clear, smooth sheet-protector so that students could use erasable ink markers to do their analysis on the sheet protectors. This way, the sheet protectors can simply be wiped clean and the game is ready for another competition. Next I made two copies of the "Point Values" sheets -- the directions for the competitors. Then I made a colored answer key for each round. Finally, I made an overhead transparency of each question sheet and each answer key. The game was ready.
It was near the end of a semester, and the students in my college Freshman composition course had basically finished our work with prepositional phrases, subject / verb / complement patterns, and clauses. I divided the class into two teams -- men against women, and we tested the game. In turn, one member of each team came to desks at the front of the room. At the signal to start, they turned over their question sheets, and I would put the corresponding overhead on the projector. Time limits on each round ranged from thirty seconds to three minutes. I was happy to see that while the actual competitors were analyzing their sentences, most of the rest of the class was looking at the overheads, apparently trying to analyze them. When the round ended, the two competitors took their sheets to a scoring area. I briefly put up the overhead of the answer sheet, scored what had been done, and then the next two competitors came to the front of the room.
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. I was shocked, however, 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," he said, 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.
There were, however, a few problems. The primary one was that I myself was too busy. I was able to turn over the "timer's" job to a student, but while one round of competition was going on, I found that I often had to help the previous group with their scoring. I also had to put rounds away and get the next rounds ready. This wasn't too bad if the current round had a time limit of three minutes and the previous, simpler round had only lasted thirty seconds, but when the reverse was the case I found that students were waiting for me to finish helping the scorers (and then post the totals). Also, because the rounds lasted so long, and because there were ten members on a team, students actively participated only once every twenty to thirty minutes. For the classroom, I needed a quicker, less cumbersome version of the game.
The Quicker Classroom Version
It finally struck me (slow
thinker) that I could turn in-class reviews of homework into a game. Because
the students don't need question sheets, the class can easily be divided
into two to four teams. Each team sits in its own row, and the members
take turns simply by going down the row. I put up the overhead, turn to
the first member of the first team, and we're off. That person has five
seconds to identify a prepositional phrase in the first sentence. I can
keep score on a simple sheet of paper divided into areas for each team.
If the answer is correct, I put a hash mark in the team's section of the
scoring sheet and turn to the next team. I am always liberal with the five-second
rule, but if a student takes too long, I start with "Five, four, three,
two, one," and then turn to the next team's next competitor. After I do
this a couple times, if a competitor takes too long, members of the other
teams start doing the counting for me.
A Basic Description of the Quick Version
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.
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).
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 "homework" or "participation" 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.
The Longer, Formal Version --
Although the quick version
is better for classroom instruction, some teachers may still prefer the
formal version, especially for competitions between different classes or
teams from different schools. In such competitions, more teachers would
be involved so that the tasks of scoring, timing, etc. could be shared
and easily handled. Someday, perhaps, there will be not only competitions
within classes, but also a system of school district, area, state, and
even an annual national competition. An understanding of sentence structure
is certainly as important as is the ability to spell.
Preparing a Formal "Edition"
As many teams as you want can compete at the same time. Every member of each team can compete in every round, or, as it was in Mathletes, only one member of each team competes per round. The competitors should sit at desks or tables. The seating position for each should have a washable ink pen, and a sheet with "Directions and Point Values." The following are the sheets for play at KISS Level 5. I normally print these on the front and back of a single page. You can, of course, adapt these to include only the directions for the Level at which your students will be playing.
You can click on a page to get the larger image which you may be able to print and use. (I was unable to save them such that they print as a single full page. You may want to save the images and open them in MS Word or some other program. The images in the MS Word version of this document are set on separate pages.)
The "Gettysburg Address" Edition
The following table gives you the seven rounds for the "Gettysburg Address" edition.
Print the number of "Question Sheets" for each
round that you will need (based on the number of teams that will be competing.)
Print the front on one side, and the back on the other.
Print at least one set of answer keys. (If you have a color printer, in the long run you might find it less expensive less cumbersome to print these as overhead transparencies. Put the a transparency and a blank sheet of paper into a sheet protector, and it is just as if you had printed on paper. Pull out the white sheet, and you will have an overhead ready to be used.)
The easiest way to keep track of all of this stuff is probably in a large 3-ring notebook. Put the "Point Values" sheets first, then all the question sheets for Round 1, followed by the Answer Key to Round 1. Then Round 2, etc. As a game is played, keep the notebook open. What you need will be on the right side. As you finish with materials, you can easily slip them in order into the left side. At the end of the game, put the "Point Values" sheets back in front, and close the notebook. A bunch of damp paper towels can be used to clean the question sheets (for the next game) while they are still in the notebook.
For a formal game, there should be at
least two, preferably three officials -- a Moderator, a Timer, and at least
one Scorer. (If necessary, the Timer's job can be handled by the Moderator.)
The Moderator's job is to keep the game moving. Question sheets for round
one can be put (sentence side down) in the competition area before each
round. Each team's competitive work area should also have a copy of the
"Point Values" sheet. Each team sends a member into the competition area.
Before a competition begins, the teams must agree on a scoring system -- amateur or expert. In amateur competitions, incorrect marks on the sheets are ignored. In expert competitions, incorrect marks result in the loss of whatever number of points the mark would have been worth.
The amount of time that competitors should be given for a round depends, of course, on the skill of the students, and on the complexity of the sentence they will be analyzing. Students who are just beginning to deal with subordinate clauses, for example, will need more time to find and mark them. Teachers may therefore want to adjust the provided Timing Suggestions. The following table gives suggestions for the "Gettysburg Address" edition":
In developing the game, I calculated times for each round using the following system.
Round 2 (Subject / Verb / Complement Patterns): To the total for Round 1, add ten seconds for every S/V/C pattern.
Round 3 (Clauses): To the total for Round 3, add ten seconds for every clause (subordinate and main) beyond the first.
Round 4 (Verbals -- Gerunds, Gerundives, Infinitives): To the total for Round 4, add fifteen seconds for every verbal.
Round 5 (Eight Additional Constructions): To the total for Round 5, add ten seconds for each of these constructions.
The suggested timing values are, in my experience, liberal enough to allow even poorly prepared students a chance to gain points for their team. And, if an overhead of the question sheet is provided for the people who are not actively participating in the round, the times are short enough so that these people do not become bored.
The Answer Keys to the editions of the KISS Grammar Game are based on the grammatical concepts as explained in the KISS approach to English grammar. The objective of the KISS approach, however, is to enable students to consciously understand and explain the structure of any English sentence. As will become apparent to anyone who works with the KISS approach, there are often two or more possible explanations of a particular construction, all of which should be considered acceptable.
Often a word or phrase can be explained as an adjective to one word or as an adverb to another word. In the sentence She saw him in the store., in the store can be either an adverb to saw or an adjective to him. I strongly encourage teachers to accept either answer as correct. At this level of specificity, people see (or don't see) the connections differently. If a student "sees" in the store as an adjective to him, but does not "see" it as an adverb to saw, telling that student that he or she is wrong will simply frustrate (and turn off) the student. This problem does not occur with great frequency, and, at times, it may be worth while to have the class discuss -- and even vote on -- the options. Such discussion is worthwhile because it will almost always get into questions of meaning, and it will also enable students to see that the other class members -- not just the teacher -- agree or disagree. [In "official" play, the "officials" determine whether or not alternative explanations are acceptable.]
Teachers are, of course, welcome to modify the game as they see fit. Some teachers may want to accept "there" and "it" as expletives. The "official" KISS explanations do not include them, but I accept them as answers if students have already learned them and are comfortable with them. Suppose, for example, that we were dealing with the sentence There are two people waiting to see you. The "official" explanation is that There is the subject, people is a predicate noun, and waiting is a gerundive modifying people. This explanation enables the KISS approach to eliminate the expletive as a construction. But if a student offers it, I will accept the explanation that There is an expletive, people is the subject, and are waiting is the finite verb.
Some students are not comfortable with the very possibility of alternative answers -- they want "the RIGHT answer." I point out to them that, in life, there is no RIGHT way to scramble eggs. Any way that gets the task done satisfactorily can be considered right. In analyzing sentences, the task is to understand, and be able to explain and discuss, how words are connected to each other. Because different people see things differently, there will often be more than one right answer. As students come to understand syntax, and as they begin to see that there are more opportunities for them to be right, they become comfortable with the possibility of alternative answers.
Supplemental Notes for the "Gettysburg Address" Edition
Although the answer keys include notes on constructions that can be explained in more than one way, some teachers might like additional explanations. Some of the sentences, of course, need none, but others can be explained in a surprising number of ways, all within the rules of KISS grammar.
We are deciding what to do.Round Three
Because "that this nation might live" explains why they "gave," it is obviously adverbial to "gave." For a more 'ambiguous example of Lincoln's use of a "that" adverbial clause, see Round Seven.
Students playing at Levels Three and Four (Sub Clauses; Verbals) will have a problem with the function of the final "that" clause. ["Delayed Subjects are explained in Level Five.] Simply ignore whatever they mark as its function. If they ask, I simply tell them "It is a Delayed Subject, which we will study in Level Five." Not only do they seem satisfied by my explanation, many of them remember -- and can recognize -- the construction.
(A) That is the man [who did cartwheels.]Just as "who" is a subject in (A) and "whom" is the DO of "saw" in (B), so "about whom" chunks to "spoke" in (C). The pronoun, in other words, has a double function. It chunks within its own clause and it chunks that clause to a word outside the clause.
An argument can be made that "under God" chunks to "shall have." It can also be considered a post-positioned adjective: "nation, *which is* under God,..."
Additional Teaching Suggestions