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Fluent Grammar

By Michael Maloney
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #62, 2005.

Measuring and improving English grammar proficiency.
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Michael Maloney


As students begin to engage in learning language arts curriculum, they are generally expected to learn writing skills. In order to understand the composition of the English language, they usually become involved in the study of grammar. In order to consistently construct meaningful and correctly structured sentences and paragraphs, students need an understanding as to how sentences are constructed. They need to know that sentences have punctuation. They must learn that the first word in every sentence begins with a capital letter and that sentences end with some kind of end mark. They need to be aware that different words in sentences do different things and that there are rules for using different word types.

Students need to know how to determine the various parts of sentences. They need to be able to classify each of the words in the sentence. They have to be able to discriminate between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, prepositions, and other parts of speech.

Developing Fluency

At some point we need to determine how well the students understand and apply the grammar rules for parts of speech. The simplest measure of competence is to measure their performance for a fixed period of time and compare their performance to some known standard.

Teachers who use Precision Teaching techniques to teach grammar rules have checked the scores of thousands of language arts students over the past three decades and have set some standards for determining fluency for parts of speech in sentences.

Creating the Worksheet

Typically the student is given a worksheet consisting of forty to fifty simple sentences. The student is given one minute to read the sentences and mark the various parts of speech in as many sentences as the time allows. A student who reads fluently can read sentences silently at 300 plus words per minute. To provide enough material, the worksheet needs to be comprised of at least 300 words.

Subject and Predicate. The student is instructed to make an oblique slash between the subject and the predicate in each sentence. The number of sentences the student can complete will be determined by their reading speed and their knowledge of the subject/predicate rule. Students who are fluent readers and know the rule well will reach the 300-word mark.

Three men / ran quickly into the burning house.

Nouns. The student is then given one minute to cross out as many nouns as they can find in sentences. Students who have reached a fluent standard can cross out 80-100 nouns in one minute with no more than two errors.

Three men ran quickly into the burning house.

Verbs. The student is then asked to circle the verb or verbs in as many sentences as possible in one minute. The standard for fluency is 80-100 nouns per minute with no more than two errors.

Three men (ran) quickly into the burning house.

Adjectives. The student is then asked to discriminate adjectives in the sentences by underlining each adjective.

Three men ran quickly into the burning house.

Adverbs. The student is then instructed to put a check mark on every adverb that they can find in the sentences in one minute. The standard for fluent performance remains at 80-100 words per minute.

Three men ran quicklyv into the burning house.

Keeping the Data

Simple tasks like teaching parts of speech and measuring the student's progress will generate observable data indicating progress and/or problems. At the end of each one-minute timing, the correct score and the error score should be recorded. The recording of results procedure allows the student and the parent to see the progress achieved and the distance yet to go to reach fluency. It also allows for early intervention when no progress is being achieved.

Using Different Input and Output Channels

Each student is different and each has input and output channels of communication which they prefer to use. Some students will progress quickly if they read the sentences and mark the worksheet with a pencil. Some students are not very adept when using a pencil; they would prefer some other output channel. These students may work more efficiently if they touch each part of speech and identify that part of speech verbally. Trying the task in different ways will help determine which input and output channel works best for each student. The standards remain the same.

The student can work on the same worksheet until they have reached the standard for each part of speech. Then they can be given a second different worksheet, which contains another 40-50 sentences. It is always interesting to compare their first score on the initial worksheet with their first attempt on subsequent worksheets. Generally speaking they show huge jumps in their scores. Before long they are demonstrating fluency in very few attempts on any new material.

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