15 Picture Books for Teaching Grammar and Conventions

Looking for some fun picture books to spice up your grammar instruction? Here are 15 picture books for teaching grammar in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

I’ve included Amazon affiliate links for each book. Click on the cover image of any of the texts to read more about it or purchase!

Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day (by Robin Pulver)

If You Were an Adjective (by Michael Dahl)

A Is for Angry: An Animal and Adjective Alphabet (by Sandra Boynton)

Hairy, Scary, Ordinary: What Is an Adjective? (by Brian P. Cleary)

Kites Sail High: A Book About Verbs (by Ruth Heller)

A Lime, a Mime, a Pool of Slime: More about Nouns (by Brian P. Cleary)

It’s Hard to Be a Verb! (by Julia Cook)

A Cache of Jewels: And Other Collective Nouns (by Ruth Heller)

Punctuation Takes a Vacation (by Robin Pulver)

Dearly, Nearly, Insincerely: What Is an Adverb? (by Brian P. Cleary)

Up, Up and Away: A Book about Adverbs (by Ruth Heller)

I and You and Don’t Forget Who: What Is a Pronoun? (by Brian P. Cleary)

If You Were an Apostrophe (by Shelly Lyons)

If You Were a Conjunction (by Nany Loewen)

Punctuation Celebration (by Elsa Knight Bruno)

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Looking for some picture books for teaching grammar in Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade? Here are 15 of my favorites - they cover nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, punctuation, and more!

Happy teaching!




Grammar Skills by Grade Level: a List of Grammar, Language, and Writing Conventions to Teach in K-2

Wondering what grammar skills to teach to your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade students?

I’ve got you covered! In this “grammar skills by grade level” post, I’m listing out skills to teach in each grade level, K-2!

Where did this list come from? Well, it reflects the Common Core Standards — but also what I’ve personally seen to be appropriate and helpful for each grade level.

Of course, what you teach your students will ultimately depend on your own curriculum and your own standards — and most importantly, what you see that your kids need. Every class and school is different!

So while I hope that these lists are helpful to you as a starting point, I anticipate that you’ll need to make some adjustments and adaptations.

Let’s dive in!

Looking for a list of grammar skills to teach in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade? This post has a free list of grammar skills by grade level!
Photo Credit: rangizzz, Shutterstock

Each list includes grammar, language arts, and writing conventions skills. (Vocabulary skills are not included, nor are concepts that can be included in spelling instruction, like homophones.)

Grammar & Language Skills for Kindergarten

  • Use spaces between words
  • Write from left-to-right, top-to-bottom
  • Identify “sentence” and “word” by name (use those terms)
  • Identify the period, question mark, and exclamation point by name
  • Consistently use periods to end sentences
  • With support, use question marks or exclamation points to end sentences
  • Capitalize the first word in a sentence
  • Capitalize the pronoun “I”
  • Capitalize names of familiar people (i.e., friends’ names)
  • Speak in complete sentences
  • Write in complete sentences (may need support)
  • Understand and use question words (who, what, where, when, why, how) orally
  • Use common nouns to name people, places, and things — orally and in writing
  • Use describing words to give detail — orally (adjectives, but I don’t require Kinders to know the word “adjective”)
  • Use specific action words — orally (verbs, but I don’t require Kinders to know the word “verbs,” though I may use it myself)
  • Use simple pronouns correctly — orally and in writing
  • Demonstrate understanding of and use common prepositions — orally
  • Use plural nouns with -s and -es — orally (should also attempt in writing but may not spell them correctly, especially the -es ending)
  • Produce statements, questions, and exclamations with prompting — orally (I don’t require Kinders to identify these sentence types by name)
  • Expand simple sentences by adding more details — orally, with prompting
  • Discuss differences between present and past tense verbs and use them correctly — orally, should also attempt in writing

Grammar & Language Skills for First Grade

  • Use spaces between words
  • Write from left-to-right, top-to-bottom
  • Identify “sentence” and “word” by name (use those terms)
  • Identify the period, question mark, and exclamation point by name
  • Consistently use correct ending punctuation marks
  • Use commas to write the date
  • Use commas to separate words in a list or series
  • Capitalize the first word in a sentence
  • Capitalize words in the date
  • Capitalize names of people
  • Form the abbreviations Mr., Ms., and Mrs. — in writing, with support
  • Speak in complete sentences
  • Identify the subject and predicate of a simple sentence (know terms “subject” and “predicate”)
  • Write in complete sentences (use knowledge of subject and predicate)
  • Understand and use question words (who, what, where, when, why, how) — orally and in writing
  • Use common nouns to name people, places, things, and ideas — orally and in writing
  • Correctly identify nouns (using the term “noun”)
  • Use proper nouns to name specific people, places, and things — orally (should attempt to use in writing but may not always capitalize correctly yet)
  • Use possessive nouns (i.e., “the girl’s book”) — orally (may attempt in writing but correct spelling and punctuation are not yet expected)
  • Use pronouns correctly — orally and in writing
  • Use personal pronouns (i.e., “me”), possessive pronouns (i.e. “ours”), and indefinite pronouns (i.e., “someone”) correctly — orally and in writing
  • Correctly identify action verbs (using the term “verb”)
  • Use correct subject-verb agreement in simple sentences — orally and in writing
  • Discuss the differences in meaning between the past-tense, present-tense, and future-tense forms of a verb
  • Use past-tense, present-tense, and future-tense forms of verbs correctly — orally and in writing
  • Discuss and use irregular past-tense verbs — orally and in writing
  • Correctly identify adjectives (using the term “adjective”)
  • Use adjectives to give detail and describe — orally and in writing
  • Use common conjunctions (i.e., “and,” “but”) — orally and in writing
  • With support, combine 2 simple sentences to form a complex sentence
  • Expand on simple sentences — orally and in writing
  • Use “a” and “the” correctly — orally and in writing
  • Use “this,” “these,” “that,” and “those” correctly — orally
  • Demonstrate understanding of common prepositions
  • Use common prepositions correctly — orally and in writing
  • Produce statements, questions, exclamations, and commands — orally and in writing (may or may not know names of these sentence types, although I use the terms with them)
  • Discuss the meaning of simple contractions — orally
  • Discuss how language is used differently in different contexts (i.e., formal and informal English)

Grammar & Language Skills for Second Grade

  • Identify the period, question mark, and exclamation point by name
  • Consistently use correct ending punctuation marks
  • Use commas to write the date
  • Use commas to separate words in a list or series
  • Use commas in the greeting and closing of a letter
  • Capitalize the first word in a sentence
  • Capitalize words in the date
  • Capitalize names of people
  • Capitalize names of products
  • Capitalize names of holidays
  • Capitalize geographic names
  • Form and correctly punctuate the abbreviations Mr., Ms., and Mrs.
  • Correctly form simple contractions with an apostrophe
  • Correctly form simple possessives with an apostrophe
  • Speak in complete sentences
  • Identify the subject and predicate of a simple sentence (know terms “subject” and “predicate”)
  • Write in complete sentences (use knowledge of subject and predicate)
  • Understand and use question words (who, what, where, when, why, how) — orally and in writing
  • Use common nouns to name people, places, things, and ideas — orally and in writing
  • Use plural nouns correctly — orally and in writing
  • Use pronouns correctly — orally and in writing
  • Use reflexive pronouns correctly — orally and in writing
  • Correctly identify nouns (using the term “noun”)
  • Use proper nouns to name specific people, places, and things — orally and in writing
  • Use common collective nouns (i.e., “herd,” “group,” or “crowd”) — orally and in writing
  • Use possessive nouns (i.e., “the girl’s book”) — orally and in writing
  • Use personal pronouns (i.e., “me”), possessive pronouns (i.e., “ours”), and indefinite pronouns (i.e., “someone”) correctly — orally and in writing
  • Correctly identify action verbs (using the term “verb”)
  • With support, identify “to be” verbs and linking verbs as verbs
  • Use past-tense, present-tense, and future-tense forms of verbs correctly — orally and in writing
  • Use common irregular past-tense verbs — orally and in writing
  • Use correct subject-verb agreement in sentences — orally and in writing
  • Discuss the differences in meaning between the past-tense, present-tense, and future-tense forms of a verb
  • Correctly identify adjectives (using the term “adjective”)
  • Use adjectives to give detail and describe nouns — orally and in writing
  • Use the comparison forms of adjectives (-er, -est) — orally and in writing
  • Correctly identify adverbs (using the term “adverb”)
  • Use adverbs to describe verbs — orally and in writing (may need prompting to use in writing)
  • Correctly choose between adjectives and adverbs — orally and in writing
  • Identify contractions and explain how to form them (using the term “contraction”)
  • Identify possessives and explain how to form them
  • Use conjunctions (i.e., “and,” “but”) — orally and in writing
  • Expand on simple sentences — orally and in writing
  • Combine 2 simple sentences with a conjunction to form a complex sentence — orally and in writing
  • With support, combine 2 simple sentences into 1 sentence by eliminating parts and rearranging parts
  • Use “this,” “these,” “that,” and “those” correctly — orally
  • Use common prepositions correctly — orally and in writing
  • Produce statements, questions, exclamations, and commands — orally and in writing (and identify these sentence types)
  • Discuss what dialogue is (may attempt to produce it in writing, but correct punctuation is not yet expected)
  • Discuss how language is used differently in different contexts (i.e., formal and informal English)

It’s a lot, I know! Soon I’ll have complete grammar programs for Kindergarten, first, and second grade available to help you teach all these skills. Stay tuned! 🙂




5 Tips for Helping K-2 Students Actually Apply Their Grammar Learning

It’s one thing to teach a grammar skill or a writing convention … and another for students to actually apply it!

I mean, how many times have you talked about capitalizing the beginning of a sentence—and then still seen your students forget to do so in their writing?!

Getting kids to apply their grammar learning isn’t easy. It takes time and careful intention. But it IS possible! In this post, I’ll share my five top tips for getting kids to apply their grammar learning to their writing.

Tired of the missing capital letters and periods? The incomplete sentences? If you want your students to actually apply their grammar learning to their writing, try these five tips! I wrote the post for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade teachers, but the concepts still apply for the older grades.
Photo Credits: ESB Professional, Shutterstock

Tip #1: Show students how grammar concepts apply to real reading and writing.

I’ve talked about this extensively in previous posts, but in case you missed it — the research shows that grammar is best taught in the context of reading and writing instruction.

Kids need to see how authors use capitalization, punctuation, and other grammar rules in their work. And they need support with applying those same skills to their own writing.

Traditional grammar drills and sentence editing are not effective instructional methods. If we want our students to apply their learning, we have to show them real-life examples of grammar and conventions in texts. And we have to get them to practice those skills in their own writing.

For more tips on how to do that, check out this post and this post.

Tip #2: Make sure students understand the WHY, not just the HOW.

At first glance, the study of grammar and conventions seems mostly about memorizing rules. You always need to capitalize a sentence. You always need a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence. The subject and verb need to be in agreement. Etc.

But in reality, there are REASONS why these conventions exist!

For example, ending punctuation marks tell us a) that a sentence is finished and b) how we should read the sentence. They contribute to the meaning of the text!

Another example: there’s a reason why we have past and present tense forms of verbs—so the reader or listener knows when something happened!

When we present a grammar or conventions concept to students, it’s important that we first focus on the WHY (Feigelson, 2008).

Why is this convention important? What does it accomplish for us as readers and writers?

We can also apply the “why” to our conversations with kids about their writing.

Instead of saying, “You need a period at the end of this sentence,” we can say, “Where do you want your reader to pause and take a breath on this page?”

When kids understand why they need to use a certain convention, they’re more likely to actually use it in their own writing.

Tip #3: Provide editing practice AFTER you teach students about the convention—not during the initial instruction or instead of the initial instruction.

Even though our grammar instruction should be closely tied to our writing instruction, we need to hold off on editing practice for a bit.

We should wait to provide editing practice until after students have learned about the convention and had some opportunities for practice that don’t involve editing (Anderson & La Rocca, 2017).

And this makes sense, right? We have to build a foundational understanding before our students can really apply the skill.

If we want to teach our students about using apostrophes in contractions, for example, we want to show them examples of correctly-formed contractions. We’ll want to point out examples in published texts. We’ll model how to create contractions and have the kids create a few of their own to practice.

Then—and only then—our students might be ready to edit their own writing, looking for contractions and inserting apostrophes.

In a nutshell: it’s hard for kids to see errors in their own writing, and it’s even harder if we haven’t provided enough appropriate instruction in a concept before we ask them to make corrections to their writing.

Tip #4: Give kids opportunities to see the convention used correctly in multiple contexts. Give kids practice editing for the convention in multiple contexts.

Published texts (like the books we read during read-alouds or shared reading) are great for showing kids examples of conventions and grammar rules used correctly.

But we have to show them more than one example for the idea to really “stick!”

And when we ask our kids to edit for a specific convention, we can’t expect them to practice once and then be able to do it independently from then on. We need to give our kids supported opportunities for editing practice in multiple contexts—multiple pieces of writing (Anderson & La Rocca, 2017).

Tip #5: After you introduce a grammar skill or convention, don’t immediately add it to an editing checklist.

I guess the theme of Tips 3-5 are “give them time!” 🙂 It just takes time for students to really master a concept. It’s not reasonable to teach them a skill one day and then expect them to use it correctly in their writing the next day.

It’s great to have a growing and changing editing checklist, but we have to give our kids enough time to master a skill before we make them “responsible” for it by adding it to the checklist.

Conclusion

If your kids are struggling to apply the grammar skills and conventions that you teach them, you’re not alone!

But the good news is this: you don’t have to teach them ALL the things in one year. It takes kids time to learn these skills. We can support them by grounding our instruction in real texts, presenting multiple opportunities for learning, and giving kids time.

Do you have any tips for helping kids apply their grammar learning? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

References

Anderson, J., & La Rocca, W. (2017). Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Language Grades 1-5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Feigelson, D. (2008). Practical Punctuation. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Graham, S., MacArthur, C. A., & Hebert, M. (Eds.). (2019). Best Practices in Writing Instruction (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Ruday, S. (2013).  Five Recommendations for Teaching Common Core Grammar to Elementary Students. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.




How To Find Time for Grammar Instruction (in K-2)

The school day is sooo packed! It’s so hard to fit everything in, right?!

Grammar or language arts instruction is essential. But when do you teach it? How do you find time for it all?

In today’s post, I’ll explain why grammar instruction does not need to take up tons and tons of time. I’ll share tips for fitting grammar instruction into what you’re already teaching (time saver)!

It's so hard to fit everything into the school day! Fortunately, grammar instruction doesn't have to take up tons of time. In this post, I share my best scheduling tips for fitting grammar instruction into your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade school day!
Photo Credits: Elnur, Shutterstock

Why Grammar Instruction Doesn’t Have to Take Up Tons of Time

Good news – you don’t have to allow 30 mins a day for your grammar or language arts instruction!

Research shows that grammar instruction is most effective when you connect it to your writing instruction and your reading instruction.

So you can integrate grammar instruction into your writing and reading lessons – rather than always setting aside a specific block of time for grammar.

I do think it’s important to sometimes set aside time for specific grammar lessons. But I don’t think you have to do it every day.

To see examples of how to integrate your grammar instruction into your writing and reading instruction, check out this post and this post.)

Scheduling Tips

Now for some scheduling tips to help you find time for grammar instruction!

  • Set aside 1-2 days per week when you’ll spend 10 or 15 minutes on a grammar activity.

  • For the rest of the days, plan to discuss your target grammar skill as part of your reading and writing instruction (again, see this post and this post to learn how to do that).

  • If your grammar program does require more than 10 or 15 minutes for a lesson, consider having A Days / B Days. On A Days you teach your required grammar lessons. On B Days you don’t teach one – you just discuss the target grammar skill as part of your other reading and writing instruction.

  • Remember that grammar activities don’t all have to be lengthy, fancy, or extensive. It only takes 3 minutes to have students identify the verbs in stories they wrote…or name the punctuation marks in a big book…or add missing capital letters to their writing!

  • Have students practice grammar skills as part of centers or D5 (once they’ve had the initial instruction with you). For example, they could do a punctuation mark hunt in books that they’re reading. Or they could find proper and common nouns in an article.

Conclusion & More Scheduling Help!

For more help with creating your daily schedule, please check out the posts below – they all have sample schedules!

Note: In those posts, I didn’t list grammar on the sample schedules – because it’s not something that I teach (in isolation) every day. However, you can easily take 5-10 minutes off another activity in order to fit in a minilesson. And the rest, as I mentioned, can be integrated into your reading and writing lessons.

How to Schedule a Balanced Literacy Block for Kindergarten

How to Schedule a Balanced Literacy Block for First Grade

How to Schedule a Balanced Literacy Block for Second Grade

The time crunch is REAL…but I hope this is helpful to you! In an upcoming post, I’ll share more details about what my grammar instruction looks like on a daily / weekly basis.

Happy teaching!




How to Integrate Grammar Instruction into Shared Reading or Close Reading (for K-2)

Want to provide the absolute best grammar instruction for your students? Connect it with your reading (and writing) instruction!

Research shows that teaching grammar in the context of reading and writing is MUCH more effective than worksheets, editing drills, and isolated practice.

We want our students to see grammar and conventions used correctly in real texts. We want them to have opportunities to practice in their own writing.

In my previous post, I explained how I make grammar a part of my writing instruction.

In today’s post, we’re going to focus on integrating grammar into reading instruction!

Grammar instruction is most effective when it's connected to your reading instruction. Learn how to do that in your Kindergarten, first grade, or second grade classroom in this post!

First, I want to mention that when I say “integrate” or “embed,” I don’t mean that I don’t teach grammar separately. I do—not every day but at least once a week I have a separate grammar lesson. When I can, I make grammar instruction part of reading and writing lessons that I’m already teaching. But some parts of my grammar instruction stand on their own. Just wanted to make sure that was clear! 🙂(In an upcoming post, I’ll provide more details about my preferred schedule for teaching grammar.)

How to Use Texts as Part of Your Grammar Instruction

When I wrote my post about integrating grammar into writing instruction, I explained that books/texts have a big role at the beginning of my instruction on a certain skill.

When I introduce a grammar skill or convention to students, I like to show them examples from real texts.

And my preference is to use texts that we’re already using—maybe in shared reading, close reading, or from a read-aloud.

I don’t usually bring in a completely new text just to teach a convention. Time is limited, and I’d much rather my students make the connection to a familiar text if I can!

Here’s an example:

Let’s say that we’re working on exclamation points: what they look like, what they’re called, and why authors use them. I show students a couple of misc. example sentences on the board, but then I pull out two texts we’ve recently read together.

In those two different texts (one at a time), I turn to pages where the author has used an exclamation point.

We discuss why the author did that and how the exclamation point contributes to the meaning of the text. We read the sentences aloud chorally, making sure our voices reflect the exclamation points. We may even discuss how the text would be changed if the exclamation points weren’t used.

And that’s it!

Easy, right??? But it’s meaningful because the kids are seeing how real authors use the convention (exclamation points, in this example) for a purpose. They see what effect it has on the text and on the reader.

Of course, I follow that up with more practice (including eventually having the kids use exclamation points in their own writing), but showing kids examples in real books helps ground their understanding of the convention and why it’s useful.

Why Shared Reading and Close Reading Are Excellent Opportunities to Discuss Conventions

In the example above (for exclamation points), any type of text would work. You could grab a read-aloud text, an article you read together…anything.

But I also want to point out that shared reading and close reading provide excellent opportunities for embedded conventions instruction.

In both instructional practices, you usually…

  • Display the text so that students can see it clearly and read along
  • Read the text more than once

These aspects make shared reading and close reading PERFECT for conventions instruction!

Displaying the text “up close” gives students access to the print, so they can more actively participate in the discussion of the grammar skill or convention.

Reading the text more than once is essential when you use a book for grammar instruction. During the first read or two, you just want students to understand the text. Once they understand the text, their attention is freed up to focus on other things—like grammar!

Here’s an example of how you might teach students about question marks as part of your shared reading routine:

On Monday, you read a short text and focus on comprehension.

On Tuesday, you read part of the text again and focus on a decoding strategy.

On Wednesday, you read part of the text again and focus on a convention, e.g., question marks. You discuss why the author used them and how it impacts the meaning of the text. You connect the author’s use of question marks to a fluency strategy: “make your voice go up at the end of a question.”

Again…easy! But effective!

Working with Grammar Skills That Are Trickier to Integrate

In both of the previous examples, I mentioned punctuation marks. Those are pretty easy to integrate into your reading lessons, right? Capital letters are relatively straightforward too.

But what about those grammar skills that are a little trickier to integrate? Here are some more ideas to get you started:

Nouns – have students identify nouns in a text that describe a character, describe the setting, or tell where an animal lives.

Common vs. proper nouns – with a nonfiction text, create a t-chart of the common and proper nouns from a few pages and discuss why the author chose to use a common noun in some case and a proper noun in others

Pronouns – practice finding the antecedent of a few pronouns in a story

Verbs – work together to make a list of all the action verbs used in a story, discussing how the verbs differ and what they mean.

Adjectives – in a nonfiction book, discuss how the author uses adjectives to “paint a picture in our minds” and teach us detailed information

This proper and common nouns activity can be done with any nonfiction text. Read the post for more grammar activity ideas for Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!

Conclusion

Integrating grammar into your shared reading or close reading instruction is a simple—but effective—way to teach students about the way language works.

In my next post, I’ll share more about how to find time for your grammar instruction, because as I mentioned earlier, not all of my grammar instruction happens during reading and writing lessons.

Happy teaching!




How to Integrate Grammar into Your Writing Instruction (for K-2)

Why do we teach our students grammar and conventions skills?

Is it…

A) so they can fill out worksheets?

or

B) so they can become stronger writers?

Yeah, you guessed it — it’s B. 🙂 We’re trying to help our students become career and college ready. And that requires real writing … hopefully not filling out worksheets!

Given that, it makes sense that we should teach grammar in the context of writing, yes? Our students need to see how they can apply grammar and conventions skills to their own writing.

And research backs that up! (You can read all about best practices in grammar instruction in this post!)

At the same time, it can sometimes feel challenging to integrate grammar instruction into writing instruction. How do we make skills relevant for our kids? How do we cover all the necessary grammar skills?

In this post, I’ll explain how I teach grammar in the context of writing. These ideas are mostly relevant for K-2 but can also be applied to other grade levels!

Photo Credits: Molly Coulter Photography, TpT

Best Practices Basics

We’ve already established that teaching grammar in the context of writing instruction is a best practice. But there are a few additional concepts I’ve learned that I want to share with you:

Best Practice #1: Kids need to have had ample time to discuss and learn about a convention / grammar skill BEFORE we ask them to apply it to their writing.

When we’re teaching kids about proper nouns, we can’t expect that one little lesson will be enough. Sure, after one lesson, they might be able to state what a proper noun is and even give some examples … but are they going to capitalize Disney World in their writing? Probably not yet.

We need to show our students examples of a convention used correctly in real texts (more about that in my next post). We can do some modeling of how we do it in our own writing. Maybe have the kids create some isolated examples.

But before we can expect them to really use the convention correctly in their own writing, they need proper instruction and time to absorb it.

Best Practice #2: When we’re working with our students and their writing, we can’t try to correct every single thing. And we can’t teach it ALL in one year; we have to be selective and choose what’s most important to focus on.

Do you ever read your students’ writing and think, “Whoa. Where do I even begin?!” Their writing has tons of spelling errors … missing or incorrect capitalization … missing punctuation … and incomplete sentences. Yikes!

It’s easy to look at our students’ writing and just start going bananas, showing them the 245,825 different changes they “should” make.

But we need to slow our roll!

Kids don’t learn ANYTHING when we’re trying to correct EVERYTHING!

We’ve gotta focus on just one convention at a time. MAYBE two. But we have to temporarily ignore certain mistakes in order to intentionally focus on a single teaching point.

We also have to accept that some grammar skills or ideas are just too challenging for our kids right now. And that’s okay. Fortunately, our students aren’t going to stop going to school after their year with us is over! 🙂 There’s so much they’ll learn—and we can’t teach it all in one year!

Best Practice #3: When we’re helping our students with their writing, we need to let them get their ideas down on paper BEFORE we start talking about grammar and conventions.

Speaking of helping our kids edit their writing … we can’t “jump on them” too quickly about conventions.

A first draft is just that—a draft! Our kids need time to get their ideas on paper before we start pointing out their missing periods and capital letters.

I love this quote:

“It does no good to point out editing errors to individual writers before they have their thoughts together. Sometimes errors get fixed by the writers themselves when they get their ideas organized.” (Dorfman & Dougherty, 2014, p. 160)

Yesss!

I’m so guilty of wanting to immediately start “helping” my kids with their writing by getting them to fix small mistakes. But they’re not even finished getting their ideas on paper yet!

What Writing-Embedded Grammar Instruction Looks Like in Practice

With those best practices in mind … let’s talk about what writing-embedded grammar instruction looks like.

(Btw, when I say “embedded,” I don’t necessarily mean that you don’t have a separate time for grammar instruction. I just mean that you’re tying it directly into your writing instruction too.)

Here’s the general process I use:

First, you’ll want to introduce students to the convention or grammar rule. You’ll want to use real sentences and possibly mentor texts. And you’ll want to explain the WHY behind a convention. (More details on this part coming in my next post.)

Once students have seen how authors use conventions and why they use them, you’ll want to do some modeling.

Maybe you do a shared writing piece, where the kids tell you what to write and you’re modeling correct application of the target convention (i.e., periods) and thinking aloud while you do it. (“Oh, I need a period here to tell the reader that this sentence is finished!”)

Or maybe you just write a single sentence as a model. Either way, you’ll want to think aloud and show students how and why you’re applying the convention or grammar rule.

Next, you’ll want students to try it out themselves. (It helps to start with a quick task rather than having kids dive into their own writing immediately.)

Maybe you have them work with a partner to create a sentence. (“Write a sentence about our class hamster, and use at least one adjective to describe him.”) Or maybe your kids are just speaking their example sentences out loud at first, and then eventually writing them down.

Once they’ve practiced in isolation (and they may need more than one practice round), your kids may be ready to apply the skill directly to their own writing.

Maybe you have them add a sentence or two to a piece of writing. Or maybe you have them edit part of their writing.

Keep the task small, manageable, and focused on the target convention. If they mis-use or forget other conventions, that’s okay—as long as they’re applying what they’ve just learned!

It often takes my students several go-arounds to really be able to apply something to their writing. (Meaning that I have to directly ask them to do something repeatedly before they do it on their own.)

In the next section of this post, I’ll give examples of specific grammar skills and conventions that kids can apply to different genres of writing.

But before we move onto that, I want to mention: in their book Patterns of Power, Jeff Anderson and Whitney La Rocca share a step-by-step process for having kids apply grammar and conventions to their writing. Their process is a little bit different from what I’ve described here, but it follows a similar guided release of responsibility. (It’s a great book for 1st through 5th grade teachers to have.)

Suggested Grammar Skills by Genre

One of the tricky things about writing-embedded grammar instruction is that a conventions/grammar rule doesn’t always apply to what kids may be currently working on in writing.

Sure, some conventions apply to all genres—like using a period at the end of a sentence. But some (like pronouns, for example) don’t necessarily apply to all genres.

Therefore, coordinating your grammar and writing instruction takes a little bit of advance planning! When I was creating my writing units, I mapped out ahead of time which conventions we’d practice in each unit. (You can do this at the beginning of the school year or when doing long-term planning for your writing instruction!)

Anyway, here are my topic suggestions for each genre (this will vary a bit by grade level):

Narrative

  • Capitalizing names (proper nouns)
  • Capitalizing date words (like “Monday”)
  • Capitalizing the names of holidays (proper nouns)
  • Capitalizing geographic names—for describing the setting
  • Nouns
  • Pronoun and antecedent agreement
  • Verbs (including past and present tense; subject-verb agreement)
  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives – for describing characters, setting, etc.
  • Apostrophes for possessives
  • Apostrophes for contractions
  • Dialogue and corresponding punctuation marks

Informational

  • Using commas in a list (in how-to writing, kids can write out a list of supplies or ingredients; in books about animals, kids can write out a list of what the animals eat, etc.)
  • Capitalizing geographic names (proper nouns) – for telling where an animal lives, giving information about a certain part of the world, etc.
  • Capitalizing names of people – if you’re writing biographies
  • Nouns (including past and present tense; subject-verb agreement)
  • Pronoun and antecedent agreement
  • Adjectives – for giving more details about an animal, place, object, etc.
  • Apostrophes for possessives (“the giraffe’s neck is very long”)
  • Apostrophes for contractions

Opinion

  • Capitalizing words in the date and using commas in the date (if you’re writing persuasive letters, for example)
  • Capitalizing product names (proper nouns) – great for when kids are writing about their favorite food, toy, etc.
  • Nouns
  • Adjectives – for having kids use descriptive language to describe something they like or do not like
  • Apostrophes for contractions

This isn’t necessarily a complete list, but hopefully it’ll help you get started! Remember that some conventions DO lend themselves to all genres, like capitalizing the beginning of a sentence or ending punctuation marks.

An Example

Now that we’ve talked about best practices, a process for teaching grammar in the context of writing, and suggested grammar skills for each genre … let’s put it all together for an example lesson!

Here’s a 1st grade example on using commas in a list:

You write these sentences on the board: 

I bought paper, pens, and envelopes at the store.

They served pizza, soda, cake, and ice cream.

You ask students, “What do these sentences have in common?”

Your kids (hopefully!!) notice the commas and/or the fact that both sentences are lists. If they don’t “get it,” prompt with “Look at the punctuation marks.”

You explain that writers sometimes need to use list sentences, where they list out more than one noun, adjective, or verb. When writers use list sentences, they have to separate out the items so that the reader can easily read them.

You have the kids identify each one of the list items in the sentences. Then, you use colored markers and/or circling to have the kids help you identify each comma in those sentences.

Then, you present an example or two of list sentences from books that you’ve previously read aloud to students. You place the text under the document camera so that students can see the sentence clearly. Again, students name the items in the list and point out the commas.

Next (in the same lesson or on a different day), you write a list sentence (something relevant to the kids) and model how you use commas. You think aloud about WHY you’re adding those commas as you write. You may write more than one example sentence.

Next, the kids brainstorm list sentences. Let’s say that you’re working on how-to writing, so you have students create list sentences with materials or ingredients for a familiar how-to topic that you’ve discussed before (i.e., how to make hot chocolate).

Your students first say their invented sentences aloud to their partner and then write them down on paper or whiteboards. You support students in adding commas to their lists and provide corrective feedback as necessary.

After that, you could supplement this with some kind of hands-on activity. You could also discuss what happens if you change the convention (in this case, what is the effect on the reader if the writer does NOT include those commas?)

Last but not least… your students may be ready to apply the convention to their writing. Your kids are writing how-to books, so you have them take a finished how-to book and add a list sentence that describes the materials the reader will need in order to complete the “how to.” (This can be a whole writing minilesson in itself.)

And then you’ll need to help them practice again … and again … and again, before they’re independently writing list sentences with commas!

It may take even longer for them to be able to edit their own work, finding places where they’ve left out commas and inserting them.

So … having kids applying the skill to their own writing was the very last step in this whole process! Although I want to help my students make the connection between grammar and writing, they’re not actually applying a skill until they’ve had enough time to observe, experiment, and practice with my support.

Conclusion

I hope this post was helpful to you! In my next post, I’ll share more ideas for integrating grammar into your shared reading or close reading instruction.

To learn more about my writing units (with embedded grammar instruction), please click HERE.

Happy teaching!

References

Anderson, J., & La Rocca, W. (2017). Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Language Grades 1-5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Dorfman, Lynne, and Diane Dougherty (2014). Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Ruday, S. (2013).  Five Recommendations for Teaching Common Core Grammar to Elementary Students. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.




Best Practices for Teaching Grammar in K-2

When you think about your own experiences with learning grammar, what comes to mind?

As a student, I remember diagramming sentences…using a musty old grammar book with yellowed pages….exercises that put me to sleep…and generally disliking grammar altogether.

Can you relate?

As a teacher, I’d never want my own students to have the same experience. But at the same time, I see grammar and language arts instruction as absolutely essential! We can’t leave them out of the curriculum entirely.

If you’re a primary-grades teacher like me, you want to give your students a solid introduction to grammar, AND you want to keep your grammar instruction engaging!

So I’ve designed a series of blog posts to help you do just that. Today is the first post in this series, and we’re going to explore best practices for teaching grammar.

These practices apply to all elementary grades, but my blog is primary-focused, so that’s what we’ll focus on.

(And yes, I include Kindergarten in my definition of primary…but of course, grammar instruction in Kindergarten looks extremely different than it does in other grades!! We’ll talk more about grammar in Kinder in future posts!)

Okay. Let’s dive in!

Want your grammar activities and grammar lessons to be super effective? Read this post to learn how to teach grammar in Kindergarten, first grade, and second grade!
Photo Credits: stoatphoto, Shutterstock

I think it’s helpful to explore what NOT to do before we get into best practices!

What Doesn’t Work in Grammar Instruction

As it turns out, the grammar instruction I received not only put me to sleep…but it was also ineffective.

But you don’t have to take my word for it! Here are a couple of quotes from the research (all of these are different studies, but I found them in Grammar Matters (Dorfman & Dougherty, 2014):

“The study of traditional school grammar…has no effect on raising the quality of student writing.” (Hillocks and Smith 1991, 248)

“The teaching of formal grammar has a negligible or, because it usually displaces some instruction and practice in actual composition, even a harmful effect on the improvement of writing.” (Braddock, Lloyd-Jones, and Shoer 1963, 37-38)

In a nutshell, grammar worksheets, sentence fixing (sometimes known as D.O.L.), and sentence diagramming don’t usually help kids learn grammar skills. In fact, they can actually have a negative effect on students’ motivation and overall literacy learning. Yikes!!

So maybe your first reaction to this is: “Well, then, let’s do grammar games and more hands-on activities!”

And I’m 100% on-board with you in wanting to make grammar fun!

But we have to be careful. It’s not just the worksheet itself that’s “bad.”

It’s the activities ON the worksheet that aren’t effective. Because they don’t help kids apply their grammar learning to their writing.

If you look back at those two quotes above, they both mentioned writing as the ultimate goal. I mean, that’s why we teach grammar, right? So our students can learn to write well. (And of course, it can also help with oral language and reading.)

So in trying to avoid the “traditional” grammar instruction that’s been shown to be ineffective, we have to be careful not to accidentally replicate it.

Taking a worksheet and turning it into a game still doesn’t change the nature of the activities that kids are doing. Does that make sense? It’s subtle, I know.

So then, what should we do instead?

Best Practices in Grammar Instruction

We need to teach grammar so that kids can actually apply it to their writing.

That means that much of our grammar instruction should take place in the context of writing instruction so that kids take what they learn and use it in their own writing!

We’ll talk more about this in my next post, but here are a few examples:

  • Teaching adjectives when you’re teaching students how to write more complete descriptions of animals for their nonfiction books
  • Introducing commas in a series to help students list out ingredients/supplies in recipes or how-to books
  • Having students identify verbs in their own personal narratives

Of course, before students can apply a grammar skill or a convention to their writing, they have to learn it. And that’s where reading and mentor texts come in!

As I mentioned in the previous section, having kids fix incorrect sentences (sometimes called Daily Oral Language) is not, by itself, an effective way to teach grammar and editing.

We don’t want to repeatedly expose kids to incorrect examples, because then all those errors “stick” in their brains!

Instead, we want to show our students how authors use conventions successfully! To fill their minds with good examples!

We discuss grammar and conventions in the context of real texts, so students can see how authors use them correctly.

In a shared reading book or a close reading passage, for example, we can have students identify verbs…find a capital letter…locate the punctuation mark.

And once we’ve discussed a correct example with students, we can also discuss how the text would be different if the target grammar concept was not used (Ruday, 2013).

For example: What if the author hadn’t used this exclamation point? How would that have changed the meaning of this paragraph?

In sum, grammar instruction is most effective when students see it used in real texts and when students have an opportunity to apply these skills to their own writing.

Makes sense, right?

The Importance of the “WHY”

As we teach grammar skills in the context of real reading and writing, it’s also important to help our students focus on the WHY.

The English language might seem a little nuts at times, but there’s always a reason why a convention or grammar rule exists.

There’s a reason why we capitalize sentences, right? A reason why we use a question mark…or an adjective…or a comma.

Our students need to understand reasons—not just memorize rules.

Asking our students, “Why did the author do x?” is a powerful question! So is, “How can you get your reader to y?”

Both of these inquiries get students thinking about why authors use conventions, as well as how they can use conventions to accomplish certain things in their own writing.

Supporting Students with Special Needs

If you teach students with special needs, the good news is that you can still apply everything I’ve shared in this post!

Research recommends that, for special education students, we “[s]ituate grammar instruction in an authentic writing context where students apply learned grammar skills to writing and connected texts” (Graham, MacArthur, & Hebert, 2019).

Recognizing What Students Already Know About Grammar and Celebrating Diversity

It might seem like our students have poor grammar skills in their oral language…or just don’t know much about grammar when they arrive in our classrooms.

But they actually do. If a child can speak (or even just listen), they’ve subconsciously absorbed a whole lot about how our language works!

And this is true even of our students who are learning English as a second language or who speak a “nonstandard” dialect of English.

Even as we teach our students conventions and grammar, we need to recognize and welcome students’ home languages and ways of speaking.

I think these quotes say it best:

“Upon entering school, those who speak language and dialects other than standardized English (Hudley and Mallinson 2011) are often asked to disconnect from them in favor of mastering the “correct” way of speaking. Rather than building on students’ prior knowledge, celebrating linguistic diversity and the wonder inherent in multiple ways of speaking, grammar programs all too often silence home language and dialects; in the process, they also silence children’s lullabies, jokes, and family stories” (McCreight, 2016, xvii).

“Does it not smack of racism or classism to demand that students put aside the language of their homes and communities to adopt a discourse that is not only alien but has often been instrumental in furthering their oppression?” (Delpit, 1994, 297) (McCreight, 2016, 45)

Teaching grammar is complicated and nuanced, and we have to find ways to celebrate and acknowledge what students already know.

We can discuss how people speak differently to their friends, their families, authority figures, etc. We can discuss how characters in books speak differently than we do to our peers.

This is definitely an area of grammar instruction that I’m learning about and want to pay more attention to!

Conclusion

Grammar instruction doesn’t have to be something we dread; we can really bring it to life for our kids by focusing on how it matters in real books and their writing!

Check back in the following weeks for my upcoming posts in this series—we’ll dive into topics like how to integrate grammar into writing and reading instruction, how to find time for grammar instruction, and more!

Happy teaching!

References

Anderson, J., & La Rocca, W. (2017). Patterns of Power: Inviting Young Writers into the Conventions of Language Grades 1-5. Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers.

Dorfman, Lynne, and Diane Dougherty (2014). Grammar Matters: Lessons, Tips & Conversations Using Mentor Texts, K-6. Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Graham, S., MacArthur, C. A., & Hebert, M. (Eds.) (2019). Best Practices in Writing Instruction (3rd ed.). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

McCreight, J. (2016). Celebrating Diversity Through Language Study: A New Approach to Grammar Lessons. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Ruday, S. (2013).  Five Recommendations for Teaching Common Core Grammar to Elementary Students. Larchmont, NY: Eye on Education.




From Scientist to Second Grade Teacher: Renea’s Journey into Education as a Second Career

Thinking about switching careers?

Changing career paths as an adult can be really intimidating. But it can also be 100% worth it!

For this post, I interviewed Renea A., a second grade teacher in Georgia. She didn’t follow a “traditional” path into education; rather, she decided to become an elementary school teacher after a successful, multi-year career in the sciences!

Whether you’re happily employed as a teacher, considering a second career in education, or thinking about switching career paths in general, I think you’ll love hearing Renea’s story. It’s so inspirational!! (I think you’ll especially love hearing how she ended up making the change in the first place!)

You can listen to our chat here:

I also had it transcribed in case you’d prefer to read! Click HERE to read the transcript.

Know someone who’s considering a career change? Please share this post with them—and you can also pin the post for later, using this image:

Thinking about changing careers and becoming a teacher? You'll love hearing about Renea's journey and transition into education! Listen to our interview in this post.




Monkeys in the Gymnasium: Stories of Teaching Abroad

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to teach in another country?

There exists whole group of teachers who move from school to school, country to country … getting to experience life and education all over the world!

Sounds pretty amazing, right?

Kindergarten teacher Kristi Budworth has taught in multiple countries, and she currently teaches in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She was super generous and allowed me to interview her about her experiences!!

Kristi’s school is literally in the middle of a rainforest. And yeah, sometimes monkeys get into the gym!!

Sidenote: I was totally cracking up when Kristi told me about “monkey drills.” But now I know what NOT to do if I ever encounter a monkey …

Okay, enough about the monkeys. You’ve GOT to watch this interview!! Kristi’s experiences are fascinating, and you’ll love hearing about her school.

Watch our interview here:

If you want to save this post for later, pin this image:

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to teach in another country? You'll love hearing about Kindergarten teacher Kristi's experiences teaching in Malaysia and other countries. Watch the interview in this post!
Photo Credits: Garnier Rimolo, Shutterstock

If you liked this interview, you’ll also love my interview with Carolina G. She teaches in the Dominican Republic at a different kind of school! You can see that interview HERE.

Questions for me or Kristi? Leave us a note! Happy teaching!




Teaching in an Expeditionary Learning School in the DR: My Interview with Carolina Garcia

As teachers, we want our students to become the leaders of tomorrow. We want them to make their communities better places to live. We want them to become agents of change!!

In our busy day-to-day classroom life, however, sometimes all of this gets lost. Math facts and reading levels take precedence over students using their learning to serve the community.

But at Carolina Garcia’s school, these values are at the forefront of everything they do!

Doulos Discovery School uses an expeditionary learning model. This model is all about having students actually apply their learning to make their community and country a better place to live.

Sounds amazing, right? I was so excited to interview Carolina and learn more about her unique school in the Dominican Republic.

Even though her school might be a bit different from yours, there’s so much we can learn from what they’re doing—and can apply it to our own teaching!

Check out our interview here.

Don’t have time to watch now? Pin this post for later!

Carolina's school in the Dominican Republic is unique for so many reasons. What stood out to me is their focus on growing kids who can serve and lead the country! Check out this post for the complete video interview.
Photo Credits: prokopphoto, Shutterstock

I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did! Feel free to leave questions for me or Carolina below!

Happy teaching!