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    Whiteboard Grammar Lessons are Awesome

    August 29, 2016 by Brandy Vencel

    I received such an overwhelming response after I mentioned our whiteboard grammar lessons during Circle Time that I decided to write a post instead of going through each comment individually. Obviously, this is something you want to talk about! And I don’t blame you. When I first heard about doing it this way, it seemed so mysterious that I didn’t try it until years later.

    White Board Grammar 4

    As a little background, I will mention that I didn’t learn much grammar in school. I mean, I can tell a noun from a verb, but when we get to things that sound mysterious, like prepositional phrases, I start to doubt myself. I can write because I picked sentence structure up intuitively. But I am not confident about the proper names for all the parts of speech, especially if the sentence in question is complex. Take the title graphic up above. I almost didn’t do it, because I wasn’t sure I did it right (well, level one style right, anyhow). Instead of giving it up, I asked my pretend life coach for help, and it turns out I really needed the help, if you get my drift.

    All of this is to say that grammar lessons are as much for me as they are for the children. This is really the best kept secret about homeschooling: all those parent out there teaching their children are happily filling in the gaps in their own educations. Homeschooling provides a more educated citizenry not just because of the individual attention given to each child, but because the parents enter into a state of almost two decades (minimum!) of constant learning. It’s quite remarkable, when you think about it.

    I love, love, love doing grammar during Circle Time. Grammar is such a little thing, but it’s important. However, comma, I kept dropping it. Trying to teach different levels of grammar was worse than anything — even teaching multiple levels of math, which is kind of torturous for most of us, amIright?

    Once I put grammar into Circle Time, it became so easy! We discuss a sentence or two a day. That’s it. My supplies consist of a little handheld whiteboard and some dry erase markers. I use an old T-shirt as an eraser. Oh. I guess I should mention that we also have a grammar text. This year, I’m using Practice Island from Michael Clay Thompson. I love it. All I bought was the teacher’s manual. It gives me all the answers. You are now well aware that I actually need them.

    If I knew grammar well, we could just choose a sentence from one of the morning’s readings — I wouldn’t need it spelled out for me in a teacher’s manual with answers and explanations. So, if you are good at grammar, this is a possible approach for you.

    Last year, we used KISS Grammar. (I am not entirely sure that it matters which grammar text you use, as long as you use one that is sentence-based.) Because of this, I went ahead and bought the first level of MCT (which is what I linked above). I don’t know that I will finish the whole book before buying the next level. All I know is that I wanted to start at the beginning since the approach was a bit different, and I had a new student starting grammar anyhow, plus O-Age-Eight wants to sit in on it. (In fact, Mr. Smarty Pants has already gotten a handle on subject and verb.)

    The question arises as to how to handle multiple ages. What I do is always start with identifying either the subject or the verb. On the first day of grammar — or even the first week — I just ask for volunteers. “Who can tell me what the subject or verb is in this sentence?” After that, when I think they are ready to try, I call on people, starting with the youngest of the students who are in fourth grade or higher. I mention this because I know a lot of us have multiple youngsters at the table. I think it’s perfectly fine for them to be there, of course. But I never call on a little one — I don’t officially start grammar until fourth grade. (This is a Charlotte Mason thing, you know.) I allow little ones to volunteer, of course. But I see calling on them as different.

    When I start calling on people, I start with the youngest on most days. For the first year of grammar, I want them to become masters of identifying the two basic parts of the sentence. So, if the youngest identifies the subject, I call on the next oldest child to identify the verb — or vice versa, if it works out that way. At that point, we’re left with all the other stuff. I might ask, “Can you tell me anything about any of the other words in this sentence?” If they decline, we just start working through the sentence, one word at a time. It’s all done orally. It’s informal and takes very little time.

    When we’re done with the first sentence, we work through the second sentence in the same way.

    Simple and easy grammar lessons using a whiteboard, dry erase markers, and a teacher's manual during Circle Time -- the type of lessons you will WANT to do!

    This picture shows what a finished board looked like last week. My Michael Clay Thompson teacher manual does not tell us to draw arrows, but that is something I like to add. I don’t remember why I started doing that — I must have picked it up from either KISS or Latin class. Either way, I find it helpful to use arrows so that we are all clear which word is being described, and which word is doing the describing.

    The underlining? It’s also not in MCT — at least, not in the level one book I’m using. No matter — this is how our Latin teacher treats subjects and verbs, so it seemed important to be to be consistent.

    At this point, you are probably wondering what exactly is in the teacher’s manual. It’s basically a labeled breakdown of the sentence and a short explanation of how it works, which has been helpful when there has been something I don’t understand.

    Yes, there was something I didn’t understand immediately in level one — even after all these years of using grammar curricula! Sigh.

    I try and use a minimum of three colors because it helps me keep things straight — much better than if it was all in the same color. There is nothing significant about the specific colors — these just happen to be the dry erase markers I have out at the moment.

    Here are a few more thoughts, based on questions you all asked on Friday:

    • MCT teaches that all articles are adjectives. I didn’t know that before! It’s not in the book (maybe that would be for a higher level?), but I’m still using definite article and indefinite article when we talk. We spent some time last week talking about the difference between definite and indefinite, actually, because someone asked about it.
    • MCT has three levels. In my opinion, grammar is like math — it doesn’t matter what grade people say it is; it matters what level the children can handle. On this page, you can click to see samples. I think that is the best way to make the decision as to what level your children are ready for.
    • I originally got this idea from Cindy Rollins, but as far as I know, her original blog posts are no long available. Wah.

    I think that’s all. But perhaps I forgot something about this process? Or there is something helpful you might add? Please use the comments!

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  • Reply 31 Days of Charlotte Mason: On Grammar | Afterthoughts October 29, 2019 at 2:57 am

    […] It is in reading this that Cindy’s approach to grammar begins to make a world of sense. Just talk about sentences. Diagram them at the table. No. big. deal. (We imitated her approach and I wrote about it here.) […]

  • Reply Julia February 10, 2018 at 10:18 am

    I have a question, I was reading your Latin post and you recommend there doing grammar before starting on Latin. So I found this blog, however this program to do the grammer seems gradual and something that would be done over some time, not compiled over one semester. What does it mean then to do grammar for a semester as that Latin post suggests before starting on Latin? Do I need to finish all the grammar books before starting Latin or is there another brief program before starting Latin? Or maybe I am not understanding something else here? Thanks so much.

  • Reply Cathy August 26, 2017 at 6:26 pm

    After reading your day in the life, I am contemplating Practice Island. When in school, I loved diagramming sentences, but Shirley Grammar is the only place I have seen it lately. I have not looked at KISS, but can I ask why you chose to stop using that one and started with Practice Island? I like the idea of a Daily Grammar type lesson.
    It sounds simple and I need a way to conserve time. I am afraid KISS may be one of those that we start and never finish.

  • Reply Saida October 8, 2016 at 7:54 am

    I,ve been looking for a grammar program to follow and think this would be perfect for us! I was going to order Practice Island, but then got confused because the website says this is a supplement book to Grammar Island. Do I not need Grammar Island if I plan to do the lessons on a whiteboard? Do I really only need to order the Practice Island Teacher’s manual to get started with this? 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel October 8, 2016 at 6:00 pm

      I was told that I could do white board grammar using *only* the teacher’s manual, so I tried it, and it’s definitely working for me! I think if you wanted your lessons to be more formal, then getting Grammar Island would be important.

      • Reply Saida October 8, 2016 at 7:33 pm

        Thanks for responding so quickly! I’ll go ahead and order just the teacher’s manual and see how that goes for us. I’m good with informal 🙂

        • Reply Brandy Vencel October 8, 2016 at 7:38 pm

          I hope you like it! This has worked so well for us and I feel like they are all picking it up without any intensive teaching, which is so nice. 🙂

  • Reply Kathy Livingston September 30, 2016 at 7:33 am

    Here’s a post from Cindy Rollins on this topic.

  • Reply rahime ting September 3, 2016 at 12:59 pm

    Another person here who wasn’t taught in school to diagram or mark sentences. It was a huge struggle for me when I started tutoring, and thankfully after about a dozen years of that (doing grammar only occasionally, since I mainly tutor math/science) I have sorted out *most* of the parts of speech, though would still have trouble with very complex sentences.

  • Reply Lynette September 3, 2016 at 8:17 am

    I am actually pretty good at grammar. But that is almost entirely because in my eleventh grade year, I had a teacher who wrote a plain sentence with no capitals or punctuations on the board and we had to edit it. One student went up to the board and everyone else watched and discussed what should be done and why. A few minutes a day was worth more than anything else I’d done before or since. I worked as a writing tutor in college and after college and I’m so indebted to that year of editing sentences.

  • Reply Dawn September 2, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    Thank you for sharing!

  • Reply Cindy Rollins September 2, 2016 at 11:52 am

    This is actually one of my rare practical ideas that work. 🙂

    I was so happy to see it caught on with your family!!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel September 2, 2016 at 1:28 pm

      Oh my goodness I canNOT thank you enough. I was never able to be consistent with grammar before — except with my oldest child, who is a Rule Follower type. 😉 My only regret was not following your advice sooner. ♥

  • Reply Tamara August 29, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Cindy Rollins does talk about this in her recent book, Mere Motherhood. What a great practice! We do Essentials with Classical Conversations, so I am thinking about doing our daily sentences in morning time, too.

  • Reply Cassie W August 29, 2016 at 6:48 pm

    Brandy, I see that there is a grammar instruction book with MCT series. Why are you not using that too? Just curious as teaching grammar is one my least favorite things to do and I really like to see how others are doing it. I’m assuming the practice books have enough lessons or you are using something else for teaching grammar terms or ??? : )

  • Reply Tara August 29, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    Brandy, I’m curious why you didn’t learn much grammar in school. Do you mean it wasn’t taught, or it’s just not something that really stuck with you? I was recently talking with a friend about the importance of things like multiplication tables and grammar, which might seem kind of mundane but turn out to be really (really!) helpful. It’s interesting that you did absorb alot about proper usage and are able to write well despite not learning much grammar. On a semi-related note, I have thought about how I speak during these early years while my child is learning language (preschool age currently). It seems to me that if we use language properly (proper use of “well” vs. “good,” for instance), the child might just naturally pick up on those usages and it will just “feel” right, and then it won’t be a major struggle years down the road when it’s time to learn those rules of usage. Rather than having to unlearn the wrong way of doing things, learn them right the first time. 🙂 Perhaps you were able to grasp proper usage by exposure to alot of well-written works.

    By the way, I had a strong foundation in grammar beginning in elementary school and continuing through college. I’m very thankful for that now. I can’t speak for all grammar curricula or instructors, but in my own experience, it was always standard for us to underline the subject once and verb twice as you have done; we also used arrows as you mentioned. If I recall correctly, we also used parentheses to surround prepositional phrases, and brackets [ ] to surround clauses. Actually, I think the brackets surrounded each sentence in a compound sentence, and we circled the conjunction. The whole sentence was thoroughly marked up by the time we were done. So…I think you are on the right track with implementing those things, even if your book doesn’t mention them. To me, it is super helpful to see those markings. The visual aspect makes it much, much clearer. Also, by the time your students are able to do the mark-up for themselves, those markings would give you a quick way of knowing if they correctly understand what is modifying what (or if they just made a lucky guess that it’s an adjective but really don’t know what it’s modifying!).

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 29, 2016 at 6:02 pm

      Thank you for the encouragement! It’s comforting to know I’m on the right track with the markings.

      I was not taught to mark up sentences as a child. From what I have read, throughout the 1980s, there were experiments with eliminating both phonics as well as grammar from the classroom. {I was hyperlexic, so the lack of phonics didn’t harm me, but I’m sure it caused harm to many others!} My husband and I are the same age, and he was taught grammar where he went to school in Florida, so I’m sure it’s a regional issue. I have a distinct memory of my AP English class in high school — early in the school year, the teacher tried to diagram a sentence with us and NONE of us knew how to do it. He was flabbergasted, and I remember him making a comment about not having time to teach us now. I passed the AP test, but still didn’t know how to do much beyond identifying nouns and verbs! I had vague ideas about other parts of speech, but you are so right! The markings are very enlightening. 🙂

      Tara, I think you are so blessed to have received a strong grammar foundation!

      • Reply Tara August 29, 2016 at 6:13 pm

        Very interesting. Now that you mention that, I do remember overhearing my parents and others talking about the “no phonics” trend when I was a child. I was in private school, and I recall hearing the adults talking about how there were schools (public, I think) that weren’t teaching phonics. I don’t know if those schools ever went back to teaching it later or not. I was asking my husband the other day “how in the world do people read without phonics?” That’s how I learned, so it seems to me it would be so much more difficult without it. Given that we encounter new words fairly frequently, even as adults, how would a person know how to pronounce the word without phonics? Hmm… do you know what was the outcome of that no-phonics-or-grammar “experiment”? Did most places go back to teaching them, or is it still common to omit those today?

        I also recall my freshman year of college when my English professor was stunned that most of the class had little to no idea about the grammar he was trying to cover with us. It was all familiar to me, but many of my classmates had only done literature in high school, no emphasis on grammar at all. It seems to me that both are needed.

  • Reply Indasa August 29, 2016 at 12:22 pm

    The title of your post, alone, made me smile. I use the whiteboard so often teaching my ESL students that simple things like using it for grammar at home sometimes goes right over my head.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I needed to be reminded to keep it simple.

  • Reply Jennifer August 29, 2016 at 7:58 am

    There were no reviews on the Practice Island book, could you possibly elaborate a little more on it in a future blog post? Please.

    Thank you for sharing a part of your homeschool day with us!

    We, too, have enjoyed whiteboard grammar lessons. Last year we utilized the very simple Daily Grammar Blog lessons. I think it was the kids’ favorite part of the day. It’s surprising how the simple things work the best. 😉

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