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Transcript of Teaching Grammar
Special Focus: ELLs
How do English Language Learners Benefit from Descriptive Grammar?
What is descriptive grammar?
Carissa Kozerow, English Linguistics 5500
Do they get excited
Do they struggle with:
Finding the correct preposition?
This might be because they are learning...
What is Prescriptive Grammar?
*lays out rules and structure of language
*teaches the way language should work
*designates a right and wrong way to use language
Prescriptive grammar looks like this:
Why doesn't this
traditional method work?
*teaches Standard English to the exclusion of other dialects
*Doesn't speak to the creative, fluid, and realistic use of the English language
*taught out of context with real language use
*misunderstands the goal of language learning as correctness instead of communication
Experts estimate anywhere from 14-24 unique dialects in the US
This map shows how complicated the story of English is
A dialect is the variety of language a student speaks at home. Teaching only one Standard Grammar misses the cultural richness that dialects bring to the classroom.
English breaks the rules almost as often as it follows them
This poster contains nothing except for two fragments. Prescriptive grammar tells us that good writing should not use fragments.
Yet, these two words, from John Green's popular book
The Fault in Our Stars
, have the ability to make teenage girls everywhere cry, displaying the power that breaking grammar rules can have.
Students spend their time forcing grammar constructs to happen in an isolated setting like this worksheet
The learning is lost in the transfer from meaningless, repetitive sentences on a worksheet to real writing. Students do not know how to apply this knowledge in their own work.
It also leads to less overall language learning in both the home and school language.
After all, Shakespeare didn't follow the rules when he wrote, and we appreciate his works as great literature.
Students are taught language so that they can communicate meaning and express themselves creatively.
How can we facilitate this type of learning
in grammar classes?
(Bayley & Schecter 2005, Wheeler 2005)
and breaking the rules on purpose can lead to creative prose.
refers to the structure of language as it is actually used by speakers
Asks "What is English" instead of "What should it be?"
Studies language as a social construct as well as a science
Descriptive Grammar looks like this:
These exercises activate students' prior language knowledge, as well as compare Standard English to common usage
Why Does This Method Work?
*has the ability to adapt with the language it studies
*Creates more realistic language goals for student writers
(Dunn & Lindblom 2005)
*compares Standard with other languages to strengthen overall language learning
*teacher and student both assume a role of language investigator, giving both a greater opportunity to learn
*develops writers that think critically instead of following a formula
What Does Descriptive Grammar Look Like In The Classroom?
(Gilakjani and Ahmadi 2011)
Let the student discover the rule
Let students study writing and identify the patterns they see. Once they have found a pattern, draw their attention to the Standard Rule they have discovered.
Let students discover appropriate
times to break the rule
Compare pieces of writing that follow a Standard Rule and ones that don't. Ask students to find the difference. Discuss the wrong and right times to do the same.
Use "Grammar Rants" to have
students assess their writing
Find articles where others have complained about the degradation of the English Language. Ask students why the author is upset about a particular grammar mistake. Ask if they make similar mistakes.
This chart comes from Dr. Rickford who studied the use of vernacular in classrooms to teach English against other methods.
Who does Descriptive Grammar help?
Speakers of an English variety
Other dialects of English follow grammatical patterns just as much as Standard English. Students will speak to follow the rules of their home language.
Descriptive grammar helps them understand the rules they already follow and apply that knowledge to Standard English
This chart shows a grammatical pattern similarity between African-American English (sometimes called Ebonics) and Standard English. You can see how both varieties of English have a similar pattern in pronoun use, and that AAE does follow a grammatical rule.
Language learners naturally "code-switch" as they become more proficient in their new language.
Code-switching, where students go back and forth between languages while speaking, can be a teaching tool
Language learners are also cultural learners.
Your students are learning speech acts and how to use language politely as well as grammatically. Approaching language from a comparative/descriptive approach will allow them to learn while leaving room for their home culture.
What does this look like in the classroom?
Help students see their grammar patterns along side of Standard patterns by comparing the two.
Teach that language has variations.
Discover the variations your students use.
Give your students a "quiz" to start a class discussion on word usage.
Use activities that engage the whole brain and help learners connect language to concepts, images, and constructs that they already know.
Use the language abilities they already have and build on them.
This vocabulary activity is helpful for language learners as they apply new words into the language they already posses
Rickford, J.R. (1998, March 25). Using the Vernacular to Teach the Standard. Using the Vernacular to Teach the Standard. Retrieved July 10, 2014,from
Bayley, R. and Schecter, S.R. (2005). Spanish Maintenance and English Literacy: Mexican-Descent Children's Spanish and English Narratives.
In Kristin Denham & Anne Lobeck (Eds.), Language In The Schools: Integrating Linguistics Knowledge Into K-12 Teaching (121-133).
Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Dunn, Patricia A. and Lindblom, Kenneth (2005). Developing Savvy Writers by Analyzing Grammar Rants. In Kristin Denham & Anne Lobeck
(Eds.), Language In The Schools: Integrating Linguistics Knowledge Into K-12 Teaching (191-207). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum
Gilakjani, A.P. & Ahmadi, M.R. (2011). Why is pronunciation so difficult to learn? English Language Teaching, 4(3), 74-83.
Hazen, K. (2005). English LIVEs: Language In Variation Exercises for Today's Classrooms. In Kristin Denham & Anne Lobeck (Eds.), Language
In The Schools: Integrating Linguistics Knowledge Into K-12 Teaching (181-189). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
MacGregor-Mendoza, P. (2005). Bilingualism: Myths and Realties. In Kristin Denham & Anne Lobeck (Eds.), Language In The Schools:
Integrating Linguistics Knowledge Into K-12 Teaching (109-120). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Wheeler, R.S. (2005). Contrastive Analysis and Codeswitching: How and Why to Use the Vernacular to Teach Standard English. In Kristin
Denham & Anne Lobeck (Eds.), Language In The Schools: Integrating Linguistics Knowledge Into K-12 Teaching (171-179). Mahwah, NJ:
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.
Compare verb, noun, or other grammar patterns to show students how their natural grammar constructs work with and against Standard English
Traditional, prescriptive grammar does not fully engage students with the English Language.
Descriptive grammar will help students encounter the English language by having them critically examine and compare Standard rules with natural language use.
English Language Learners will benefit from descriptive grammar lessons because it works with, not against or in place of, their home language.
Dr. Rickford observed students who were taught Standard English through two different methods: interrupting and "artful," where students learned by listening and mimicking through play.
Doctor Who: The Snowmen. 2012
Students who were taught by the interrupting method, where a teacher might stop a student from speaking, correct them, and ask them to start over, showed less improvement in reading scores and a higher usage of AAE vernacular.
Students who were taught with the artful approach, where students might copy teachers during natural play and and conversation, showed higher reading scores and lower usage of AAE vernacular
Gold, Murray. (2010). Amy's Theme. On Doctor Who: Series 5 Soundtrack. [CD]. Wales: Silva Screen Records. (Background Music)