Why Reluctant Students Need to Learn Grammar

Although some students do not like learning grammar, I feel strongly that they will have better control and confidence as writers if they know some basic grammar and grammatical terms.  Teachers and professors cannot explain fragments and run-on sentences to classes if students do not know what subjects and verbs are.  If it is OK to teach students mathematical and scientific terminology, why is it a sin to teach students grammar terminology?  I had public school teachers who insisted that their classes learn grammar well, and that helped me a lot when I learned Spanish and linguistics.  As a college professor and writer who has published six books, I rely on my knowledge of grammar every day of my life.

One way that I teach grammar is by excerpting real sentences from my students’ papers after I have graded them.  I do not identify which students wrote the problematic sentences.  We analyze the clauses as a class and suggest possible revisions.  Because the students themselves wrote the sentences, they are motivated to learn how to improve them.  I also ask students who have difficulty with grammar to come to my office for individual tutoring and to bring me their rough drafts so that I can troubleshoot with them.  Working on a one-to-one basis with students on their own sentences and paragraphs is the best way to help them understand grammar.

While current educational trends insist that all class activities be entertaining with fun and games, I find this attitude anti-intellectual.  Grammar may not be fun to learn, but it is essential knowledge.  Do people have lots of fun when learning the basic principles of chemistry, algebra, and geometry?  No, but students need to know these fields.  Medical doctors have to memorize all of the parts of the human body.  Is that fun and games?  No, but I would hate to have a surgeon who does not know which organs, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels fill my abdomen.  I do not think that teachers can make every aspect of learning into entertainment, and I think that if we try to do this, we are teaching students to avoid and dislike learning for its own sake.

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