Let’s be real: teaching grammar is about as difficult at rocket science and can evoke the same feelings of pulling teeth sans anesthesia. Grammar! Grammar! Grammar! Recollections of diagramming sentences may dance in our head, or “Identifying Parts of Speech” Exercise Worksheets wash up to the shores of our educational brain like lost messages. Is grammar obsolete? What function does knowing the parts of speech or the differences between adverbs and prepositions provide us as we grow older? Should we not focus more on syntax?
I have wrestled with these questions a long time; no matter what their answer is, the pathway is paved by determining how your learner learns. Right now, I am working with a Mexican-American student who speaks only Spanish at home; however, his English is quite good. I can tell he is having difficulty establishing and maintaining the differences between particular parts of speech. Questions like: what kind, how many, to what extent, when, where, whose, does the word have an object, is it an action or linking verb, etc. become jumbled in his head. When going over particular parts of speech (I am doing this because it is required by the “State” for his “Exam”), he is physically disturbed with having to remember so many questions to figure out parts of speech (What’s a pronoun again, why do we use them?).
Tomorrow, he is taking an assessment on Parts of Speech. He will be asked to identify certain underlined words in a paragraph: nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, interjections. Having messed about yesterday with prepositions and adverbs, I feel confident that a working establishment of meaning is happening. In other words, the learner needs more review and more practice, and more “messing about.”