Friday, September 23, 2011

The write grammar book

It's rare for me to step outside of my politics/culture/morality/virtue posting to do a homeschooling post--rare, but not, I hope, totally unheard of. Those of my readers who don't homeschool and aren't much interested in homeschooling may skip this post, if they like. :)

This year, Hatchick is in the eighth grade, and I wanted to find a fun component for her work in English grammar. So many grammar books seem to boil down to dreary drills and excruciating sentence dissection; Hatchick has always been an enthusiastic writer, and I wanted something that would teach some good grammar concepts without stifling her love of writing or making her fearful of errors in a way that would restrain her natural written exuberance.

I've found that book (and, standard disclaimer, I have not been compensated in any way for writing this; in fact, I found the book by searching vaguely on Amazon in the hopes that something more enjoyable than Excruciatingly Difficult English Grammar for Serious Eighth-Graders Who have Already Picked Out the Top Three Colleges of their Eventual Choice, or similar tomes, would turn up). The book is called Hot Fudge Monday, and though Hatchick has only been using it a little while, she is enjoying it immensely, as am I.

I'd like to share with you Hatchick's writing assignment from today. The book asked (not in these exact words; I don't want to infringe copyright) the student to imagine that he or she was a chicken in a long line of road-crossers, and to describe his or her own daring expedition across a local highway; the focus of the assignment was on using exciting verbs. In the interest of full disclosure I admit to correcting a couple of small spelling errors, but otherwise, the following is Hatchick's work:
It was finally time, time to bolt across the road, right into fame! Right into glory! Or right into a four-door sedan...It was time to muster up all of my chickenly courage and follow the path that my ancestors took, to take chances and flit and fly across the road. Ha! It will be a dangerous task, to laugh in the face of danger and so to continue to laugh until I reach the other side, throwing care to the wind and striding confidently along.

I stood at the edge of the road, and then began to dash across the road!

I raced and zoomed along, I dodged a Dodge, catapulted over a Cadillac and hurried and scurried closer to the finish. Suddenly a Ford stopped right between me and the finish! I stopped, and began to prepare myself for the final sprint. Ford or no Ford, by golly I was going over there! I closed my eyes, darted forward and leaped over the car!

If the camera hadn't had a slow motion replay, no one would have believed it. But needless to say, I was now a hero.
Hatchick admits that she needs to work on some spelling (which, as I said, I fixed) and also that she is a tad too fond of the exclamation mark--it's amazing how seeing your work typed on a screen helps you to catch such errors. Still, I thought she did a good job of completing the assignment's specific task of using good, colorful, interesting verbs, and in some places this little story of hers made me laugh. Homeschooling moms know how rare and wonderful it is when both student and teacher-mom are laughing instead of crying when it's time for grammar.

As I said above, we haven't been using Hot Fudge Monday for long, yet. But I'm really liking it so far, and, more importantly, so is Hatchick. This would not be the perfect grammar book for the student for whom writing more than a sentence is akin to torture. But for the child who loves to write and who finds endless grammar drills dreary beyond belief, this book might be a good fit; it might, if you'll excuse the dreadful pun, be the "write" grammar book for such a child.


Siarlys Jenkins said...

I hated grammar. I loved creative writing. I'm talking 1965-1970 here. I said, I already know how to speak and write in English, why do I need to study grammar? Learning a SECOND language, except perhaps by immersion, requires studying grammar, but I already KNOW English.

Somewhere along the way, I have found that I need terms like "the definite article," but I still can't keep up with someone talking about the subjunctive case. I hope this new book works for you. From your presentation, I haven't quite pictured how grammar fits in.

Red Cardigan said...

Siarlys, it's a "parts of speech" book, in which each section emphasizes the correct use of a different part of speech. We've begun with verbs, and I have seen (peeking ahead) that we will be looking at types of verbs, tenses, participles etc. before we move to a different part of speech.

Anonymous said...

Love the book, already.

Lindsay said...

I tagged you in a homeschooling meme in a ploy for just such a post. So, even if you don't "play", I enjoyed a glimpse into your homeschool.

rdcobb said...

Siarlys, I can sympathize with not seeing the point of being able to name every part of speech and tense except when learning a foreign language. That's one reason why next year when my oldest is in 4th grade we'll be using Prima Latina to teach English Grammar through the study of very basic Latin Grammar. We're going to be combining Prima Latina with Simply Grammar (based on Charlotte Mason) and the daily journal she already is expected to do.

I'm also a really big believe in learning basic sentence diagramming (which we'll get to in later grades). I think basic diagramming can help you see when your sentence structure is running away from you.

I will have to keep Hot Fudge Monday in mind, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm a huge fan of sentence diagramming. I enjoyed diagramming sentences as a kid, and now that I'm a teacher (grades 5 and 6) I find that my students often have fun diagramming sentences as well (believe it or not). Diagramming sentences allows you to visualize the different parts of the sentence and how they fit together. I think it also aids in understanding complex sentences when you read them in a book.

Nonetheless, I've been wondering about better ways to incorporate grammar into writing, other than simply searching for errors on any given writing assignment and correcting them. That always feels so negative. So this book does sound intriguing.

Hector_St_Clare said...

Re: Somewhere along the way, I have found that I need terms like "the definite article," but I still can't keep up with someone talking about the subjunctive case

Part of the problem here is that in English (as distinct from French or Spanish) the subjunctive mood has degenerated so that the verbs no longer have distinctive endings, except in a few cases. That's part of the reason that English, objectively speaking, is one the toughest languages to learn.

If you're curious, Siarlys, the subjunctive in English is usually indicated by 'might' or 'may'. E.g. "I want my child to study hard in order that she might get into a good college'. "That she might get' is subjunctive form.

BTW, Siarlys, please read my post on the Benedict Option over at H. M. Stuart's blog. I would welcome your comments!

Siarlys Jenkins said...

I hated sentence diagramming too, but playing with parts of speech sounds like fun. I guess I took an interest in diagramming late in life, after a retired central labor council news editor showed me that most of my sentence should be cut in half. You wouldn't have guessed I had a long-winded run-on style, would you?

Combining English grammar with Prima Latina sounds great.

The Sicilian said...

"Or right into a four-door sedan..." That made me chuckle. Thanks, I needed that.

Good job, Erin and Hatchick. Please tell Hatchick that she writes so much better than do many college-educated adults.

I don't have children, but I find homeschooling so interesting. Would you mind doing a post for us homeschooling-curious types describing your typical week (if there is such a thing as a typical week) and how you balance teaching children at different grade levels? I don't think that you have written a post about that before.

Geoff G. said...

rdcobb, using Latin to teach English grammar is exactly what I did, especially when it comes to the finer points.

For example, I never understood the difference between "who" and "whom" until I understood the difference between "qui" and "quem". Another example (pivoting off Siarlys Jenkins' observation): once you know the rules of using the subjunctive in Latin, you'll have a pretty good idea of when to use it in English too.

Rebecca in ID said...

I'm so glad you posted about this; I think I'll get it for my 11-year-old! Sounds like fun. And I wish you would post on this kind of topic more often!

So far we've only studied grammar through Latin, not English, but I think she would have fun with the writing exercises and eventually she'll want to know the English terminology--e.g. direct object = accusative case. I was thinking about going right to diagramming but I think we might do this first.

Barbara C. said...

I accidentally posted as rdcobb before (that's dh).

But my 7th and 8th grade English teacher made us do a daily journal with a minimum of fifty words, and he would correlate it to every grammar chapter we did. If we studied nouns, we might have to circle every noun in what we wrote for a week. At one point we had to diagram every sentence we wrote. That quickly led to us simplifying our sentence structure. LOL

Anonymous said...

I think this raises the question of why homeschoolers are teaching grammar. Why is it important? Will a reluctant writer really be motivated to write more (or better) because they can identify the transitive clause?

One of the critiques of homeschoolers is they are nostalgic for learning methods that have been rejected by the public schools. But one of the reasons they have been rejected is because they were often ineffective. Drilling grammar and diagramming sentences doesn't create good writers, it creates grammarians.

Red Cardigan said...

Actually, Anonymous, while Texas is one of the (if not THE) homeschooling-friendliest of states, grammar is one of the subjects Texas homeschoolers are *required* to teach. How we do so is our choice, but it is a required subject.

I have to quote my older sister here who once said that without grammar you can't have eloquence. I think this is true. Good writers may or may not know they are using the subjunctive every time they do so, but they will learn how to use verbs correctly and how to avoid common errors--and the same for all the other parts of speech.

Many of us have winced at the sort of writing we encounter in the business world, online, and elsewhere when an otherwise intelligent person strings together a series of poorly constructed and clunky sentences which are unclear, too choppy, too lengthy, or otherwise difficult to read and understand easily. While the rare person may learn to write polished and elegant prose without having to learn any grammar along the way, the vast majority of people will need grammar, just as the vast majority of people will need to master arithmetic before moving on to advanced mathematics.

Red Cardigan said...

Here's a true story: my oldest daughter was studying in her high school grammar book a lesson about the importance of a good introduction. Certain rules for such an introduction were established (though the book takes it for granted that students will have learned the basics of grammar by this point in their lives).

I was able to go directly to Rod Dreher's new blog and direct my daughter's attention to his recent post titled "Service, and a conservatism of the heart." We were able to see quite clearly how Rod had "followed the rules" of a good introduction as her book had described, in his introductory paragraphs to that post.

Rod, being the caliber of writer he is, does this quite effortlessly and without having to stop and think about the rules for introducing a topic; he also doesn't have to stop and think about verb tenses, noun/pronoun agreement, the correct use of modifiers, and may other things novice writers may struggle to remember to do correctly. But he couldn't write as he does without having learned all of those things, and more; and I'm sure that some of those things were learned by him in grammar classes long ago.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

As the first person to opine that I didn't LIKE English grammar, I believe Erin is correct. I have done a fair amount of writing I get paid for, when I'm not volunteering opinions on blogs. Along the way, I had to learn and incorporate what makes a good sentence and paragraph, and eventually recognize that for what it is -- grammar. It is not so much about pleasing your teacher. It is about presenting a thought in a way that your reader will understand what you meant to say. Nobody in real life gets away with "You should have understood what I meant, not what I said."

Anonymous said...

But writing a good sentence or a good paragraph has nothing to do with being able to diagram a sentence or identify the parts of speech, it has to do with being taught (or learning) how to write well. Those are two different things.

I didn't realize it was required by Texas, although it's not a surprise. And I agree it's important to understand grammar basics in order to be a good writer. But a good writer doesn't need to be able to identify a transitive verb or the subjunctive mood, nor does a good reader really need to be able to diagram a sentence. In fact, most skilled writers under 50 have never diagrammed one.

Anonymous said...

English grammar was a subject in elementary school several decades ago. After the 8th grade I was not exposed to the study of grammar until I approached learning a foreign language. I daresay, in fourth grade we probably were not old enough at the time to understand its importance.

As it is, now, I recall only the simplest of rules, and nothing at all about various uses of dangling participles or transitive verbs, etc., however it's fair to say that knowledge of these basics has had been of considerable value to understanding similarities in world languages, as well as similarity of logic and communication; , not just language and thought in the colloquial context.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

This could go round and round forever... diagramming a sentence is not a prerequisite for writing well, but elements of what it takes to write well can be, and often are, taught as grammar.

On the other hand, if you go totally subjective on this, and consider anything well written as long as you can find some audience to ooh and aah over it... no, that doesn't require grammar -- especially if your audience doesn't know any.

On the other hand, study of use of the infinitive "to be" to form the present tense, without conjugation, can be a fascinating starting point to examine American dialects. Parallels, it turns out, can be found in the King James translation of the Bible, for the simple reason that English was spoken that way in the early 17th century, especially on the south coast where most indentured servants came from. And the word we now pronounce "ask" was indeed spelled and pronounced, in early middle English, "aks." But there is always a rule.

Rebecca in ID said...

I teach my children grammar mostly so they will be able to learn foreign languages more easily and, I hope, be somewhat fluent in Latin and Greek. You do have to know your grammar for those. I don't think the subject has to be boring; my kids (down to the 3-year-old) clamor for the next Latin lesson, and I hope it stays that way. I also think grammar is good because it teaches us to reflect on language in general, which leads to reflection on thought, which leads to reflection on things. Good intro to logic, which is very much about language. Those are my primary reasons for teaching grammar though Red has made some very good points about writing, as well.