KISS Grammar Workbooks

Level Two Instructional Materials 
(Notes for Teachers and Parents)

An Introduction to Teaching Subjects, Finite Verbs, and Complements

     The first thing we need to remember here is that pre-school children are all masters of subjects, finite verbs, and complements. With rare exceptions, everyone uses them correctly almost all the time. But because subjects, finite verbs, and their complements are the core of English sentence structure, students need to be able to identify these parts of sentences in order to understand how sentences work.
     Perhaps the major reason for the failure of most instruction in grammar is that students are taught definitions of what these are, but students are not expected to learn how to identify these constructions in their own reading and writing. Once students can identify them, there are some aspects of style and correctness that can be addressed, but perhaps the primary reason for learning to identify S/V/C patterns in KISS Level Two is that that pattern is the core of every clause. Thus, once students can identify the S/V/C patterns in a sentence, clauses (subordinate and main) become much easier to understand.

     Many teachers have noted that their students have little trouble with the exercises in their grammar books, but that when the students try to analyze their own writing, they are very confused and make lots of errors. This happens because learning to identify  finite verbs can be extremely simple or very difficult, depending on the objectives and exercises. Most textbooks give students simple definitions and then very simple sentences for exercises. If the sentences in the exercises contain only one verb, which is often the case, students will normally learn to identify the verb relatively quickly. But if the sentences contain many verbs, as the sentences that students themselves write often do, then students will often be very confused.
     The primary reason for the students' confusion is that in real texts (such as their own writing) many verbs function as verbals. Verbals are discussed in more detail below, but a simple example would be "Swimming" in "Swimming is fun." "Swimming" is a verb, but it functions as a noun, the subject of the sentence. In essence, verbals are verbs that function as nouns, adjectives, or adverbs. Real texts, as opposed to the usual textbook exercises, often contain numerous verbals that students (using the textbook definitions that they have been taught) will end up underlining as if they are finite verbs. To address this problem (and others), the instructional material for KISS Level Two is divided into four parts.
     The first part enables you to start, as do the textbooks, with simple single-verb sentences. You might want to start with the exercises adapted from Reed and Kellogg. (See September of Grade Three.) The sentences in those exercises are extremely simple, but for people who are unfamiliar with S/V/C patterns, they can be very helpful. The KISS workbooks for grades three, four, five, and six contain additional, but slightly more complex exercises. The objective of these exercises is to enable students to identify finite verbs, their subjects, and the four types of complements in the context of very simple sentences. 
     Once students have a basic feel of the S/V/C pattern, you can use the instructional material and exercises in part two to help students learn to distinguish finite verbs from verbals. Remember that the primary objective here is not to teach the students about the verbals, but simply to enable the students to ignore the verbals when they are underlining finite verbs. Part three addresses some additional complications in S/V/C patterns, such as the implied subject ("Close the door."), variations in the sequence of the pattern ("Him I adore."), and compounding (Mary and Sue play tennis and basketball."). The last part of this instructional material involves concepts that can be taught at KISS Level Two but that are not necessary preparation for the study of clauses (KISS Level Three.) These include things such as passive voice and tenses.

A Note on the Difficulty of KISS Level Two

     The instructional material for KISS Level Two is almost certainly the most difficult of all the KISS levels for students to master. Once we go beyond the typical simplified instructional material and exercises, we are asking students to identify the subjects, finite verbs, and complements in any written text. In KISS Level One, we can give students a very small list of words that function as prepositions and ask the students to start by finding those words in a text. No such limited list is available for the thousands of verbs in the language. Instead, we can start with some simple examples, but it will take students a fair amount of time and practice -- and a good number of mistakes -- to use their unconscious command of S/V/C patterns to learn to identify and label such patterns. Compared to this, KISS Level Three is easy. At that level, students simply need to look at the S/V/C patterns that they have identified and use a few rules to determine the boundaries and types of clauses. And once clauses have been mastered, KISS Levels Four and Five supply some relatively simple rules and definitions for explaining the few remaining words in any sentence that student may read or write. Mastering KISS Level Two will require time, practice, and patience.

Part One: The Basics

Identifying Subjects and Finite Verbs

      It, was, I believe, Paul Roberts, my favorite grammarian, who noted that the most difficult part of teaching grammar is in helping students to be able to identify finite verbs. The instructional material provided here is probably too much for primary school students. Parents and teachers can adapt it to suit their needs, and even very young students can be exposed to some of it. Personally, however, I do not believe that it is very helpful. I have included it because it is what is found in many textbooks. There is a better way to achieve the objective, and that is simply to give students numerous examples, followed by exercises based on relatively simple sentences.
     Ludwig Wittgenstein, one of the 20th century's greatest philosophers of language, suggested what he called "ostensive" definitions. In essence, these are definitions by pointing. Consider, for example, how we all learned the concept "red." No formal definition could teach it to us. We had to see numerous examples. When, as children, we saw something that was pink, and we called it red, someone corrected us.  Teachers may find that within a KISS Approach, ostensive definitions are the best way to lead students into many of the concepts. They should, however, feel free to use any type of definition that works. And by "works," of course, I mean that the students end up able to point to any word in any sentence and say "That word is (or functions as) a ______ ."
     Last but not least on this point, we need to remember that all pre-school children have a superb command of finite verbs. They use them by the thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, every day, and, for the most part, they use them correctly. Thus the KISS objective is not to teach the students something entirely new, but rather to give a conscious label to something that the students already have an excellent command of. If the students are at all trying, it does not take much time to accomplish this objective.

Additional Suggestions 
for Helping Students to Recognize Finite Verbs

     I find suggesting that students change the tense of a passage is a great way to find the finites, since they carry the burden of tense. (I see the broken roof and the sagging walls. I saw the broken roof and the sagging walls. And so on.) It also helps to have a list of the modals, since they are invariant but are always finite. (I should go. I should have gone. The pattern of change is different.)

-- Contributed by  Craig Hancock
Helping Verbs, Auxiliary Verbs, Modals
     Grammar textbooks use these three terms to distinguish basically the same group of words that may function as parts of verb phrases. "Auxiliary" derives from the Latin for "to help," so these are simply two terms for the same thing. "Modal" relates to "modulate." Roberts states that "In general the modal auxiliaries are used to express not statements of fact but actions or events that exist only as conceptions of the mind -- possibilities, potentialities, necessities, wishes, whatever may or may not eventuate in the future." (Understanding Grammar, 171) In essence, these are questions of usage, and not sentence structure. Students, however, often do no see these words as parts of verb phrases, and thus this list may be helpful in that respect.

The S / V / C Pattern

     One of the primary reasons for the failures of most grammar textbooks is that they explain the basic sentence patterns in terms of "subjects" and "predicates." "Predicate" is an important term in philosophical discussions of what and how sentences "mean," but it results in major problems for students once they move beyond very simple sentences. Thus, in

We visited the town.
one can easily say that "we" is the subject and "visited the town" is the "predicate." But what happens when we add even a simple prepositional phrase?
We visited the town in the morning.
Most textbooks would say that the "predicate" is now "visited the town in the morning." That's fine, but what if the sentence is
In the morning, we visited the town. 
Is "In the morning" still part of the predicate? Since they never get to analyzing real sentences, most textbooks do not even address that question. For practical purposes, in other words, the "subject" and "predicate" distinction becomes not only useless, but actually confusing for students.
     In addition, the "subject" and "predicate" distinction masks the importance of complements and makes it more difficult for most students to identify subjects in multi-S/V/C pattern sentences. Suppose, for example, that the example above included a subordinate clause:

In the morning, we visited the town that was destroyed in the war. 

Most textbooks do not even discuss "predicates" in terms of sentences such as this, but their underlying logic would suggest that "we" is still the subject, and that the "predicate" is "visited the town that was destroyed in the war." That is fine for the first S/V/C pattern in this sentence, but the students also need to be able to find the subject of "was destroyed." If they follow the rule that most textbooks give them, the students will ask "Who or what was destroyed?" The answer to that is "town," but "town" is not, even in those grammar books, the subject. And, since the grammar books do not teach students to recognize S/V/C patterns, the students have no way of even understanding why "town" is not the right answer. 
     The KISS Approach, on the other hand, teaches students to recognize complements and supplies them with another very simple rule. Just as students are taught that the object of a preposition can never be the subject of a sentence, so too the complement of one finite verb can never, ever be the subject of another finite verb. You can demonstrate this to students by pointing out to them that none of them, for example, would ever say or write

In the morning, we visited the town was destroyed in the war.
Put differently, their brains all already know that the complement of one finite verb cannot ever function as the subject of another. That is why each and every student in the class would put a "that" (or a "which") after "town." The "that" (or "which") in essence renames the town and functions as the subject of the following verb.
On Teaching Complements

     When KISS is started in upper grade levels, there often is not a lot of time that can be spent on complements. My college Freshmen, for example, are given the S/V/C pattern and the rules for distinguishing the types of complements all in one lesson. Some of the students find this to be overwhelming, especially those students (and they are many) who start by not being able to identify finite verbs in the first place. These students' problems -- and their frustrations -- are understandable. Identifying finite verbs takes some practice, and some discipline. Although I tell students that "is," "are," "was" and "were" are always finite verbs, and thus are always underlined twice, four weeks later some students are still not underlining them twice. And if they do not identify the verb, then they cannot form a question with it to find either its subject or its complement. And once they do identify the verb, some students have trouble remembering that a subject cannot be in a prepositional phrase or be the complement of another verb. And then, of course, they need to remember the sequence for distinguishing the types of complements. (See below.) 
     I want to note here that although it is tempting to blame the students, the fault really lies with many teachers and especially with the professional educational organizations, such as the National Council of Teachers of English and its Assembly for the Teaching of English Grammar (ATEG). NCTE, for example, simply refuses even to suggest any specific concepts or definitions (for literature and writing, as well as for grammar) that students should learn, in any sequence, for any grade levels. But without such a framework, not only is it impossible to build one skill on previously learned skills, it is also extremely difficult for students to understand that the learning of one concept may be important for understanding later, more complex concepts. Thus students do not foresee any problem if they do not remember that "is," "are," was" and "were" are always finite verbs. In their experience, all instruction begins from the beginning -- it is all isolated, disconnected rules and data. ATEG does not help because its members cannot even agree on which grammatical concepts should be taught. Thus they have been unable to even begin to suggest a sequence of instruction.

     Fortunately, teachers and parents who are starting the KISS Approach in primary school can avoid all of these problems. They have plenty of time to separate KISS Level Two instruction into distinct stages. They can begin by having students identify just the subjects and verbs in simple, single-clause sentences. Once the students are comfortable with that skill, students can be asked to add complements simply as complements, without distinguishing types. Then, once the students are comfortable with using "whom?" or "what?" to identify complements as complements, they can be giving the rules (below) for distinguishing the four types of complements. When the students are comfortable with that, they can move into multiple-S/V/C-pattern sentences.

The Types of Complements
     Textbook definitions of complements are often confusing and inaccurate. For example, the fifteenth edition (2004) of the Harbrace Handbook states that "A direct object usually receives the action expressed by the verb. It appears after the verb." (15) In the first place, what is meant by "usually" and by "receives the action"? What "action" is expressed by "keeps" in "He keeps his tools in the garage"? Is this one of the exceptions expressed in "usually"? How is a student supposed to know? And if a direct object appears after the verb, then what is "Bill" in "Bill she adores"? The Harbrace example is typical, but it illustrates only part of the basic problem of the textbooks.
      The textbooks are geared toward naming and defining various grammatical constructions. I am unaware of any textbook that even claims to try to enable students to identify (and thus intelligently discuss) these constructions in real sentences from texts that the students read and write. And over the years various names have been used to identify the same, or sometimes very different constructions.
      Most textbooks, for example, try to define and "teach" a distinction among "transitive," "intransitive," and "linking" verbs. Consider, however, the following comments by Paul Roberts in Understanding Grammar:
     Transitive verbs are often defined as verbs that require objects to complete their meaning and intransitive verbs as verbs that do not. This is misleading, for it implies that transitivity resides in the form of the verb, or in the form and its associated meaning. Grammarians who adopt this view are led to say that eat in "Let's eat" is transitive, even though it has no object, because one cannot eat without eating something. It would seem to follow that sang in "She sang beautifully" is transitive, because one cannot sing without singing something, viz., a song. Yet probably all grammarians would call sang intransitive in this context. (117-118)
The preceding should give you some idea of what most grammarians mean by "transitive" and "intransitive," but more importantly, it clearly indicates that the grammarians themselves disagree. And if the grammarians cannot agree, what are students supposed to do?
      In essence, KISS basically ignores "transitive," "intransitive," and "linking" as analytical concepts. The fundamental problem in the teaching of grammar is that the terminology is too complex and simply overwhelming. I will never forget the post on the NCTE-talk list in which a teacher tried to argue that we should teach grammar and those "transient" and "intransient" verbs. If teachers cannot keep the terms straight, how can we expect students to do so? 
      As a matter of vocabulary, students should probably learn the meaning of "transitive," "intransitive," and "linking." Most dictionaries, for example, indicate transitive (vt) and intransitive (vi) verbs. The terms are also used in general discussions of language. There is, if I remember correctly, even a book titled Write Is a Transitive Verb. Within the KISS framework this is easily taught -- the verbs in S/V patterns with no complement are intransitive; the verbs in S/V/PN or S/V/PA patterns are "linking"; and the verbs in S/V/(IO)DO patterns are transitive.
     The disagreement in the naming of types of verbs is also reflected in the naming of complements. Consider the following paragraph, also from Roberts' UG:
     Linking verbs are often called copulas or copulative verbs; copula is simply a Latin version of linking. There is no general agreement about what to call the substantive or modifier which the linking verb links to the subject. This book joins those that call it the subjective complement. It is a "complement" in that it completes the meaning of the clause, and it is "subjective" because it renames or describes the subject. The virtue of this term is that it suggests the prime function of the construction -- the identification of the subject with some other word. Other terms used are predicate nominative, predicate noun, predicate pronoun, predicate adjective. The subjective complement may be a noun, a pronoun, an adjective, a phrase, or a clause. (116)
Here again the passage reflects disagreement among grammarians and a wide range of terms to denote the same (or different) things.
      One pedagogical problem with "subjective complement" is that, as Roberts defines it, "completes the meaning of the clause" is vague. In some grammars, the terms "completer" is used in place of "complements," but in these grammars adverbial phrases are included in the "completers." Thus in "They were on their way," "on their way" is considered a "completer." For students, in other words, "completes" introduces another area of potential confusion.
     A more important problem with "subjective complement" is that it combines predicate nouns and predicate adjectives (the terms that KISS uses) under one name and thus blurs an important distinction. To understand the problem, we need to step back to the broader question of why we should want students to learn about the types of complements, in the first place.
     The answer to that question is really a matter of composition and logic. Some students have serious problems with the S/V/PN pattern. They use a verb that means "equals," but they often do no mean that the subject of the sentence is equal to the complement. Or maybe they do. As students' sentences naturally become longer and more complex, more and more words come between the subject and the complement. And often the pattern slips. Did the student who wrote "My girlfriend . . . is . . . a beautiful body" really mean that? If he did, then his girlfriend should have dumped him. More likely, however, is that the pattern slipped. 
     The following sentence, written by a college Freshman, is one of my favorite examples:
The taste of a sizzling foot-long hotdog coated with tangy sauerkraut with mounds of pickle relish is a typical snack when accompanied by a tall, chilled paper cup of Coke.
The basic pattern of this sentence is "... taste . . . is . . . snack . . ." Robert's "subjective complement" might help students see the problem here, but the KISS systematic approach is probably clearer and simpler for the students. "Snack" is not an adjective (nor does it describe "taste"), so is cannot be a predicate adjective. Next, although the verb means "equals," the "snack" is not equal to the "taste," is is equal to the "hotdog."
     There are other reasons for distinguishing predicate adjectives from predicate nouns, but perhaps the most important one is that formal definitions normally begin with an S/V/PN, and not an S/V/PA pattern. No matter what field a student goes into, definitions will be important. And most instructors in other fields expect definitions to begin with an S/V/PN pattern (even if they cannot explain the grammatical terms). "A saw is a tool." is the beginning of a formal definition. "A saw is sharp" is not. Students who have been taught to distinguish predicate nouns from predicate adjectives will find it much easier to understand formal definitions.
     As a final word on the types of complements, let me note that I literally tell my college students that I do not care, and will not take points off, if they label indirect objects as direct objects. That statement will strike horror into the hearts of many grammarians, but the grammarians have been completely unable to teach students much about grammar. If they could, then students would not be entering college totally unable to identify verbs. The grammarians would want me to spend time, as they do, on very simple sentences in order to teach students this distinction. Since no student ever has any problems using indirect and direct objects, at the college level I simply do not have time for teaching the distinction.

Predicate Adjective or Part of the Verb?

     Faced with a sentence such as "The boat was tied to the pier," many of my students initially mark "tied" as a predicate adjective. Most grammar textbooks would rightfully consider "was tied" to be a passive verb, but there is also excellent logic behind the students' response. Passive verbs slide into S/V/PA patterns, or, in other words, the two grammatical concepts form a continuum. In "The eggs were scrambled to Bill's satisfaction," the scrambling," and who scrambled them, are not matters of concern. "Scrambled" describes the eggs and really functions as a predicate adjective.
     It would be much easier, of course, if we could eliminate the concept of passive verbs, and simply consider every case to be an S/V/PA pattern, but there are important stylistic questions that center on passive voice. Within the KISS curriculum design, passive voice is introduced in fifth grade, but in the process of analyzing real texts, students will run into passive verbs in second and third grades. 
     One could, perhaps, develop instructional material specifically aimed at this "problem," but second, third, and fourth graders already have enough to deal with. Given a few examples, moreover, most students quickly see that words such as "tied" and "scrambled" can be seen as part of the finite verb phrase. As a result, the KISS approach deals with the question through examples, including entire exercises that are specifically focused on such sentences. In grades three and four, these exercises focus on getting the students to recognize most cases as part of the finite verb phrase and not predicate adjectives. This prepares the students for the study of passive voice in fifth grade. [For more on passive voice, click here.]

Part Two: Finite Verbs and Verbals

Teaching students to distinguish finite verbs from verbals.

     Finite verbs are not easy to define. Perhaps that is why even many experienced English teachers do not know what they are. (Ask some.) This does not, by the way, suggest that teachers are stupid. The problem is that the professors who teach the teachers, and the people who write the textbooks, are more interested in teaching the names of constructions. They do not even attempt to help K-12 teachers learn how to analyze the sentences that students read and write. Thus, instead of using the term "verbals," the professors (and the textbooks) focus on the three types of verbals -- "gerunds," "participles" (KISS "gerundives"), and "infinitives." This "Divide and Confuse" strategy keeps power and money in the hands of the professors and textbook publishers, but it does not help the teachers and students.
     For teachers and students, understanding the distinction between finite verbs and verbals is essential. because verbs are used in sentences in many different ways. A finite verb is a verb that makes a sentence an acceptable sentence. Put differently, finite verbs are the core of clauses; verbals are not. Thus, in order to learn to identify clauses (KISS Level Three) students should learn how to distinguish finite verbs from verbals.
     Verbs that are used in other ways in sentences are called "verbals." Verbals are the focus of KISS Level Four, so at Level Two your objective should be to enable students to find the finite verbs (which they will underline twice) and to ignore the verbals. This is not extremely difficult to do, but it will probably require a fair number of short exercises that focus on the problem.
     The instructional material for this objective has three parts:

An Introduction to Finite Verbs and Verbals
     The Noun Test
     The "To" Test
     The Sentence Test
A Summary Sheet of the Tests
The "Introduction" gives students a brief general explanation. The three "tests" provide explanations and examples of ways to make the distinctions. The "Sentence Test" usually covers the examples in the "Noun" and "To" tests, but the "Noun: and "To" tests are easier to remember and to apply. Thus the KISS exercises are also separated, with some devoted specifically to the Noun Test, some to the "To" Test, and some to the Sentence Test. This separation should help teachers help students master one test at a time.

     It would be wonderful if these three tests covered every possible case, but life is not that simple. A conservative, educated guess would be that they will enable students to identify 95 + % of the verbals in what they read and write, but they do miss some things. Consider, for example, the sentence: 

They made Sam and Sally go to school every day.
Since students will rightly see "Sam and Sally go to school every day" as an acceptable sentence, they will probably identify "go" as a finite verb. To see that it is not, we need to apply an additional test (which we might call the "Substitution Test"). If they were to substitute a pronoun for "Sam and Sally," every student would substitute "them" -- "They made them go to school every day." And "Them go to school every day" fails the sentence test. You can, of course, add this test to the instructional material yourself. As of now, however, my sense is that such cases are relatively rare. Thus, rather than add instructional material for relatively rare cases, it is probably better to focus students' attention on the majority of cases, and to expect students to make mistakes with such rare cases.

Two Notes of Caution: 
     First, before you begin using these exercises, you should be sure that the students are fairly comfortable with identifying the finite verbs in the "basic" exercises, exercises in which there are few, if any, verbals. Students who cannot do so will probably find these exercises extremely confusing and frustrating.
     Second, since, in context, every verb is either finite or a verbal, the instructional material on the "tests" explains almost everything in KISS Level Four. It is, however, one thing to explain gerunds, gerundives and infinitives, and something quite different to expect the students to remember all these terms and details. Unfortunately, it is very easy to get caught up in teaching the three kinds of verbals. I simply want to emphasize, therefore, that the objective here is to enable students to identify the finite verbs, not the verbals.

Part Three: Some Additional Complications
Varied Positions in S/V/C Patterns
      The fifteenth edition (2004) of the Harbrace Handbook literally defines direct objects as coming after the verb (p. 15), but that is not always true. It is true that they usually appear after the verb, so some students are confused when then appear before it. If they use the KISS procedure for finding complements, students should not have any real trouble, but this short bit of instructional material may add to their confidence. It may also, of course, encourage them to occasionally vary the patterns of their own sentences.
Understood "You"
     Some students can figure this out on their own, but the instructional material should make it clear for all students. Traditional grammars refer to these sentences as "Imperatives" or the "Imperative Mood." Some grammars simply use the term "Commands." Obviously, you can, if you wish, teach students these names, but remember that the primary problem in the teaching of grammar is an overabundance of terminology.
     Most textbooks teach definitions and constructions rather than concepts. As a result, they often have separate explanations and exercises for identifying compound subjects, compound verbs, compound direct objects, compound clauses, etc. Rarely, however, do they suggest that any construction can be compounded. KISS includes numerous exercises on compounding because it is a fundamental aspect of natural syntactic development. As you will see, however, once students understand the basic concept, most of the KISS exercises are related to questions of style and logic.

Multiple Patterns in One Sentence

Pronouns as Subjects [See also: "Personal Pronouns."]
     Because pronouns basically function in any way that a noun can, KISS does not devote much attention to them. But as soon as students start to explore real texts, they will run into multiple S/V/C patterns in one sentence, and a fair number of these patterns will have pronouns in the subject slot. Given the sentence
We visited the town that was destroyed in the war.
some of my students followed the rules that they were taught in school and claimed that "town" is the subject of "was destroyed." When some of their classmates pointed out that "town" cannot be the subject of "was destroyed" because it is the complement of "visited," I was somewhat surprised to see that most of the class was stumped -- they simply did not see "that" as a possible subject, even though it is the only possible word left. Thus we can probably make life simpler for students by making this point explicit and giving them a few simple exercises to reinforce it.
     Almost all of the classification of pronouns in the instructional material is based on Paul Roberts' Understanding Grammar (NY: Harper & Row, 1954, pp. 46-89). Roberts devotes a fairly large amount of space to the classification and discussion of pronouns, including distinctions between "relative," "interrogative," and "demonstrative" pronouns. He also discusses the debate about whether "his" and "her" are pronouns or adjectives, and questions related to "case" -- for example, the "who" "whom" distinction. He begins, however, with "Problems of Definition" (53-56), and, as with most grammarians and their textbooks, much of the discussion is primarily of interest to grammarians.
     Every preschool child, for example, knows perfectly well how to form questions with "Who," "Which" and "What." Is there any value in requiring students to remember that, when they are used to form questions, these three words are called "Interrogative Pronouns"? Since research suggests that students are bewildered by the massive amount of typical grammatical terminology, it would seem that such a requirement may do more harm than good. The same is true, I would suggest, for "relative" and "demonstrative." Native speakers of English have no trouble using these pronouns correctly, and thus forcing the students to learn names for these categories appears to be not only an exercise in uselessness, but also counterproductive.
     The question of grammatical "case" is significantly different. Many students do have problems with the use of  "who"/"whom," "I"/"me," etc., but I have never seen any evidence that an approach through formal definitions has any effect on how people use these words. The reason for that is that the problem itself results from two causes, neither of which is open to influence through formal definitions. 
     One of these causes is simply the habit of informal usage. No theoretical explanation of "case" is going to stop some people from saying "Me and Bill went to the store." Most people who would currently write this hate grammar anyway, and they are certainly not about to seriously listen to a discussion of nominative, genitive (also called possessive), and objective case, when they have not even learned to identify pronouns in the first place. On the other hand, my students who have this problem do realize that putting themselves first ("Me and Bill") might make them appear to be selfish. Their peers also acknowledge this, thereby putting more pressure on the violators to put "Bill" first. These students also acknowledge that they should be able to drop "Bill" and still have an acceptable sentence. When they try that, they themselves note that "Me went to the store" is not acceptable English (unless one is Cookie Monster).
     The other primary cause for pronoun case errors is that the students have never been required to study the structure of real sentences. Put more simply, "he," "she," "they, "who," etc. are used for grammatical subjects; "him," "her," "them," "whom" etc. are used for "object" slots -- indirect and direct objects and objects of prepositions (and thus are called "objective case"). In other words, students who make mistakes usually do so because they cannot tell whether the word in question functions as a subject or as an object. The KISS Approach, of course, is directly aimed at enabling students to do just that, and as students regularly underline "who" and as subject and label "whom" as an indirect or direct object, or as the object of a preposition, they will themselves see the problem when a "whom" shows up in a subject slot. Indeed at that point students might actually be interested in the formal study of grammatical case. Current instruction, however, is futile and frustrating in that it simply teaches the categories and then drops them.

     Note that the instructional material is not totally accurate in regard to prepositional phrases. Subjects can be in prepositional phrases -- if the verbs that go with them are in the phrase also -- in other words, if a clause is the object of the preposition:

They were talking {to [whoeverwould listen]}.

Some grammarians have pointed to this problem as a reason for saying that the KISS Approach will not work. But the problem is not at all serious. As students analyze randomly selected sentences and short texts, approximately one prepositional phrase in every two hundred will have a clause as its object. And in the KISS Approach, students should be told that they are expected to make mistakes. Besides, a 99.5% accuracy rate is an "A+" in any school classroom. And when they get to clauses in KISS Level Three, students will have little trouble with clauses that function as objects of prepositions.

Ellipsis [Instructional Material]

     Because they focussed on individual constructions rather than on the analysis of sentences, traditional grammars paid little attention to ellipsis. Out of sight; out of mind. The newer, transformational grammars demonstrated the importance of ellipsis, which they refer to as "reduction." In the 1970's, researchers on the natural growth of of syntactic complexity used the transformational concepts to suggest that reduction is a major instrument for increasing sentence complexity. As a simple example, the young child's "The house is on the corner. It is big." becomes "The big house is on the corner." In effect, the "It is" in the second sentence is reduced (ellipsed), and the important information ("big") is embedded in the first sentence.
     For primary school children, ellipsis is important only if you want them to be able to explain the few sentences they will meet that have ellipsed finite verbs. In other words, you can skip it if you want to. By middle school, however, students' sentences are becoming complex enough that students should have at least some exposure to the concept. At KISS Levels Four and Five, ellipsis is very important. As the instructional materials explain, gerundives, appositives, post-positioned adjectives, and noun absolutes can all be easily understood as ellipsed clauses. At these levels, ellipsis is also important for understanding stylistic differences.

Palimpsest Patterns

     A "palimpsest" is a parchment or clay tablet which has been used more than once, the earlier writing having been erased. KISS defines a syntactic palimpsest pattern as one S/V/C pattern "written" over another. Such patterns are infrequent and usually idiomatic, but the concept does help explain the meaning of some sentences. An interesting example appears in the following sentence from Andrew Lang's version of "Thumbelina":

There the mouse lived warm and snug, with a store-room full of corn, a splendid kitchen and dining-room.
Since most people would consider "warm" and "snug" to be adjectives, and not adverbs, we can explain "the mouse lived warm and snug" as the pattern "the mouse lived" overlaid on "the mouse was warm and snug."
     For people who want to avoid the "Expletive" concept, the palimpsest pattern provides an explanation for the relatively rare cases in which the expletive is followed by a verb other than "to be" ("is," "are," "was," "were," etc.) Consider, for example, the opening sentence of "Little Red Riding Hood":
Once upon a time there lived in a certain village a little country girl ....
One way of explaining this is to consider "there" as the subject and "girl" as a delayed subject. Another, however, is to consider this as a palimpsest pattern with the pattern "There lived ...." as under (or over) the pattern "There was ... girl."
     From the perspective of understanding natural syntactic development,  palimpsests may be very important. The general concepts of such development suggest that clauses may be compounded, and then reduced, embedded, and subordinated. Thus, for example,
A fake vampire jumped out. He was laughing.
might become
A fake vampire jumped out and was laughing.
As students gain more control of focus, one verb may be subordinated:
A fake vampire jumped out who was laughing.
As students gain more control of subordinate clauses, they begin to cut the useless words, reducing this to a gerundive:
A fake vampire jumped out laughing.
In some cases, however, development may be more direct. The clause with the stronger verb is simply laid over the clause with the weaker verb. In this case, "A fake vampire jumped out laughing." may be seen as a palimpsest pattern with the "He was" simply overwritten.

Additional examples:
A little back from the high road there stands a house which is called ‘Hemgard.’ 

Part Four: Optional Concepts

Passive Voice

Expletives (Optional Concept)

     The basic KISS perspective on expletives is explained in the KISS Differences. This concept could probably be totally deleted from pedagogical grammars. In a sentence such as 

There's a nice man.
the KISS alternative simply considers the "there" to be the subject and the subject in the "expletive" explanation ("man") to be a predicate noun. I added "expletive" to the KISS Toolbox when I was working on an exercise based on "Sing a Song of Sixpence" because it seemed to make the explanation simpler. As I look at it now, however, the sentence that led me to that conclusion is not really a normal sentence: "Along there came a big black bird / And snipped off her nose.
     I accept the "expletive" as an explanation from the rare student who has been taught and remembered it. Most of my college students have been taught grammar so uselessly and poorly that they do not remember the meaning of any grammatical terminology. Indeed, the most pedagogical grammars are so poorly thought through that they end up being useless. Thus most such grammars discuss "it" and "there" as expletives, but I have yet to see one that includes "here." But if "there" is an expletive in "There's a nice man," should we not also consider "here" to be one in "Here's a nice man."?
     Note that another alternative explanation for both "there' and "here" would be to consider them to be adverbs. 

Personal Pronouns [See also: "Pronouns as Subjects."]

     Fourth graders can certainly be introduced to personal pronouns and the distinctions of first, second, and third person. Practically speaking, however, students should probably do one or two exercises on personal pronouns every year, simply so that they do not forget. In reality, this is more a question of vocabulary than of sentence structure -- students really do need to know what is meant by first, second, and third person.
     As is suggested in the instructional material, many students will be expected to write papers without using first person pronouns. I must admit that during my first twenty years of teaching Freshman composition, I rarely, if ever, discussed personal pronouns. Then some of my previous students came back to me and complained. In a Civil Engineering course, a student received a paper back and was told to rewrite it without using "first person." What, he wanted to know, does that mean? And a student in Human Services came back to complain that her grade for a paper was lowered a full letter because she had used first person when she wasn't supposed to -- why hadn't I prepared her for that? 
     These are good, valid questions, and they started me thinking. In my "Introduction to Literature" course we regularly attempt to deal with "point of view." It is a standard literary concept that focuses on the mind behind the words in a story, or, in other words, what can we know about who is telling the story. Important distinctions in point of view are "first" and "third" person narrators. Can students understand point of view if they cannot understand what is meant by "first" and "third" person?
     Finally, and perhaps most important, there is the question of the use of "I." Students in my composition classes regularly ask if they can use it -- many of them have been told that they can or should not. In the current dismal state of instruction in grammar, their previous teachers' injunctions against "I" are understandable -- the students are not taught to identify the three classes of personal pronouns, but they can certainly identify "I." Thus the teachers do the best they can and simply forbid the use of "I," the most commonly used first person pronoun. Unfortunately, that does not stop the students from using "me," "mine," "we," and "our," so the students will still get into trouble if another teacher tells them to write a paper without using first person. And a total prohibition of first person (including, of course, "I") is simply invalid. The problem of first person pronouns is not that simple.
     The prohibitions of first person appear to have two primary sources. The first is scientific and technical writing. Writing in many disciplines is supposed to be "objective" -- about the data, method, etc., and not about the writer's subjective opinions. This raises a host of philosophical questions about the nature of "objectivity," but as English teachers we should simply accept the fact that the editors and teachers in these fields prohibit the use of first person. Our job, our responsibility, is to teach students what this means and then to help students learn how to eliminate first person when they need to.
     The other source of the prohibitions is closer to home. Many students, even at the college level, pepper their papers with "I think....," "I know ...," "I believe....," etc. Prohibiting "I" results in the disappearance of such sentences, but it avoids the real problems and may even harm some students. I make absolutely no claim to being an expert in this area, but I have heard, from several sources, that the use of "I" is a developmental question. Some students need the "I" as a crutch. Simply prohibiting the "I" inhibits their ability to write. So we take away the "I" and then wonder why the students can't write very well. There is a better way of dealing with the problem.
     First of all, there is probably no need, before high school, for assignments that totally prohibit the use of first person. Four years of high school is plenty of time for students to learn how to totally eliminate it when they need to do so. Second, we need to help students distinguish the functions of their "I" statements. There is a major difference between

I went to Washington and visited the Museum of Natural History.
I think [believe, know, etc.] the rose in the story is a symbol of love.

The first sentence establishes the writer's credentials for discussing the Museum. In most contexts, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it, and there is much to be said in its favor. The second sentence, on the other hand, demonstrates that the writer does not know what an essay or paper is -- any essay or paper is, after all, a statement of what the writer thinks, believes, knows, etc. Good writers do occasionally use such phrases, but they do so to indicate that they are presenting what they recognize to be a relatively weak point in their argument. The "I think...," "I believe...," "in my opinion," etc. is like a flag that says to the reader, "O.K. I'm not stupid. I know that this point is weaker than my other arguments. But it is relevant and supports my position."
     What this means, of course, is that students who pepper their papers with such phrases are often suggesting that the whole paper is weak. And if the writer is suggesting that the whole paper is weak, why would anyone else want to take the time to read it? Most students will understand that, and therefore want to learn how to avoid such uses of first person. In most cases, it is usually simply a matter of crossing out the "I think..." or "I think that ...." Perhaps the best way to help students, therefore, may be to let them use first person in their drafts and then, when appropriate, teach them how to eliminate first person -- when desirable or necessary.

Tenses of Verbs

"No grammatical problem is more difficult than that of tense."
-- Paul Roberts, Understanding Grammar, 131.
Subjunctive Mood

Some Comments on "Objective Complements"

      The KISS view of "objective complements" is explained in "The KISS Differences." Here I simply wish to suggest your options in handling this concept. In essence, some verbs appear to take two complements:

Billy called Bobby a liar.
The sound made me afraid.
Most grammars call the second complement in sentences such as these "objective complements." If you think you can do so without confusing your students, you can easily add "objective complements" to your students' analytical toolbox.
     KISS, however, is intentionally minimalist in terminology -- it proposes the fewest terms possible for teaching students how to explain any word in any sentence. Because, in more complex cases, "objective" and "subjective" complements are defined differently by different grammarians, KISS simply eliminates them, but the KISS explanation of the phenomenon is based on ellipsed infinitives, a Level Four construction.
     If you are having students analyze randomly selected sentences, what should you do when such double complements show up? The KISS response is 1) for purposes of grading, ignore whatever the students do with them,  2) in the process of reviewing homework, simply tell students that the construction is an "advanced" one that they will study later, and 3) if the students appear interested, explain the concept but do not expect the students to master it, i.e., do not test them on it. This advice should work whether you decide to use either the KISS explanation or objective complements. The most important point here is that students need to master the fundamental concept first (in this case basic complements), and only after they have mastered it should we begin to expect them to master the more complex variations of it.

This border presents
Marc Chagall's (1887-1985) Russian 
I and the Village (1911 Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY)
from Jim's Fine Art Collection http://www2.iinet.com/art/index.html
[for educational use only]
Click here for the directory of my backgrounds based on art.