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Try My Grammar Camp


 
By Diane Lockman
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #97, 2011.

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Diane Lockman

When my kids were young, and I was a novice homeschool mom, I innocently embraced the idea that studying English grammar was a yearly requirement.

Each spring at the convention, I purchased grammar workbooks, and each fall the kids would diligently tackle the daily drudgery of repetitive work. Nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, and conjunctions filled their little heads while moans and groans of “Oh, Mom, not grammar AGAIN!” filled our dining room. Their shoulders drooped in defeat as their grammar work came out of the china cabinet.

Finally, after several years of maddeningly repetitive grammar drill, I had effectively quashed any love of the English language in my kids’ hearts. They hated English grammar, and it was my fault.

While the discipline and structure of traditional grammar workbooks can yield great results, and are even enjoyed by kids with a step-by-step-progress learning style, it had become clear that my kids are not that particular type! So, to accommodate their learning preferences, I embarked on a bold plan.

One morning during a particularly whiny episode, I interrupted the drill, closed the workbooks, and declared that we were taking a hiatus from grammar drill. Cheer erupted, and the kids took a play break while I began to contemplate a new action plan.

Learning to Write Like You Speak

How in the world had I let this happen? I loved the English language. Every week at the library we filled tote bags with marvelous read-aloud books full of precise, descriptive language. David and I both loved to write, and we rarely used slang in our home. The kids were exposed to proper English grammar all the time in our home. Both kids knew how to speak properly; they rarely made grammatical mistakes in their conversations.

I began to think that learning English grammar was like catching a cold. My kids had already “caught” the fundamentals of English grammar by exposure from birth, so all I needed to do was define certain key terms so that they could write like they spoke.

How could I accomplish my goal? Table all other subjects for a week, and immerse them in an intense survey of English grammar. Incorporate some games, and call it camp.

I confess that developing “Grammar Camp” was not as easy as giving the kids a workbook, but once we completed that week of camp, we never officially studied English grammar again. The kids and I had a blast, and they don’t groan anymore when they hear the word grammar.

Plan Your Time

Think of the week as modular. Each day can be broken down into units of time. You know how long your kids can sit still, so block off enough time to cover the key concepts at the table, then use the remaining time in the block for application of what they’ve just learned. Forty minutes is probably plenty of time to cover one concept. Ten-minute game breaks between modules gives the kids a chance to release some energy while physically reviewing the concepts for kinesthetic reinforcement (the games were their favorite part).

Three modules in the morning and three modules after lunch gave me a weekly total of thirty units in which to cover thirty concepts. If we started at 9 A.M., we’d be ready for lunch by 11:30, and by noon we were back to camp for another 2.5 hours.

Here’s what the schedule looked like each day:

  • Module one (40 minutes)
  • Game (10 minutes)
  • Module two (40 minutes)
  • Game (10 minutes)
  • Module three (40 minutes)
  • Game (10 minutes)

Lunch

  • Module four (40 minutes)
  • Game (10 minutes)
  • Module five (40 minutes)
  • Game (10 minutes)
  • Module six (40 minutes)
  • Game (10 minutes)

I used the whiteboard to explain a concept (10 minutes) then I gave them problems to solve (15 minutes). We reviewed their solutions together so that I could immediately correct any errors in thinking. Then it was their turn to create problems for me (15 minutes—they loved testing me). After time at the table, we played an active game to review what they had learned (10 minutes). Not surprisingly, they eagerly anticipated the games!

Plan Your Content

Make a list of all the essential terms that you want to teach. You’ve got thirty modules, so depending upon your assessment of your children’s needs and a current inventory of their grammar knowledge, you might be able to skip some concepts. For instance, if you have already spent years on nouns, and you feel that your children have substantially mastered this concept, then don’t spend any time on it. Focus on their need to learn; don’t let curriculum vendors or so-called experts dictate your content.

You’ll need to find an English grammar survey from which to pull your initial content. You could pick up a reference book at the local library or purchase a laminated “quick study” chart at the bookstore [or from us! See ad on page 27—Editor]. When deciding what you want to cover, think broadly: parts of speech, sentence structure, and punctuation. You might also want to spend a few minutes on common mistakes near the end of each module, and let them find the errors.

Here is my suggested plan for the basis of your modular syllabus:

  1. Parts of Speech - 2 days
  2. Sentence Structure - 2 days
  3. Punctuation - 1 day

During the first two days, pick twelve concepts from parts of speech:

  • Nouns
    Types (proper, common, concrete, abstract)
    Number (singular, plural)
    Gender (male, female, neuter)
    Case (nominative, objective, possessive)
    Declension
    Gerunds
  • Verbs
    Types (regular, irregular)
    Principal parts
    Tense (past, present, future)
    Conjugation
    Voice (active, passive)
    Mood (indicative, imperative, subjunctive)
    Agreement with nouns
    Infinitives
  • Adjectives
    Special properties (comparative, superlative)
    Dangling modifiers
    Participles
  • Adverbs
    Special properties (comparative, superlative)
    Dangling modifiers
  • Pronouns
    Agreement with nouns
    Person (first, second, third)
    Who, whom, whose
    Antecedents
  • Prepositions
  • Conjunctions
  • Interjections
Days three and four are dedicated to learning sentence structure. Select twelve ideas from this list:

  • Kinds (declarative, imperative, interrogative, exclamatory)
  • Patterns (subject, predicate, object, indirect object)
  • Forms (simple, compound, complex, compound/complex)
  • Clauses (noun, adjectival, adverbial)
  • Phrases (prepositional, verbal, infinitive, gerund, participle)
  • Diagramming

On day five, tackle punctuation. Select six concepts to cover:

  • Period
  • Comma
  • Semicolon
  • Colon
  • Apostrophe
  • Quotation mark
  • Question mark
  • Parenthesis

Plan Your Games

Thirty modules require thirty active games. Do not skip this part of planning! Use your imagination. What would you like to play if you were their age? You want to reinforce the concept that they just learned in a fun fashion. Run, jump, skip, roll, throw, dance, or devise a relay race incorporating several motions. Play a board game like Concentration or Bingo. Create a crossword puzzle. Roll the dice and follow a path that leads to the grammar treasure. Use chalk, clay, paint, ribbons, or poster board. Develop a scavenger hunt. Incorporate lots of action and laughter, and the kids will be begging for other camps in the future.

Assess Your Progress

I admit that it was tough to squeeze all the content into one week, but by Friday afternoon, I felt like we had made great progress. I decided that we could always do another camp later on if I saw weak areas of understanding. Relieved to be free of the dreaded daily grammar drill, the kids and I had a great time learning together, and although it was more work for me to prepare and execute, it was well worth the effort.

Plan your own “Grammar Camp,” and watch their eyes light up in anticipation of a fun-filled break from the routine!


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