Take The [Grammar] Back

In a stack of papers called Instruction.

  • May
  • 10
  • 2006

While I actually think the Rage Against The Machine song “Take The Power Back” is more an anthem against things like traditional grammar instruction, it makes for an interesting read. Have support for grammar in the classroom in mind as you glance at the lyrics. Now let’s see what grammar can do for us.

For Grammar Instruction

Knowledge of basic grammar terms provides a common language to discuss writing. If a student struggles with subject-verb agreement, but doesn’t know what the subject or verb of the sentence is, circling words and writing question marks in the margin accomplishes very little. And the cryptic “S-V” scrawled at the edge of the page means nothing. To understand what those parts of speech are and how they operate within a sentence means students can begin to grapple with the building blocks of language. It also means that they can begin to see how the formulas in their heads are incorrect.

Students struggling for new ways to begin sentences have doors open to them when phrases like, “You could try beginning this one with a prepositional phrase and this one with an adverb” make sense. With a bank of terms that make sense and play a practical role in improving sentence structure, variety, or sophistication, writers have new tools at their disposal.

Many students would be horribly embarrassed if they reached their remedial college English class and had to learn the difference between the subject and object of a sentence. As a college prep tool, grammar instruction allows students to understand what will be expected of them in the future. It helps students learn the rules of writing, coming full circle to the idea of a common language to describe writing.

Students who don’t know the rules of the language will have a hard time rationalizing how to correct mistakes in their own writing. Concepts could be explained with the highest degree of lucidity, but still not make sense if fundamental understanding isn’t there. Without the conceits of the basic structures of English, correcting mistakes in usage becomes relegated to simple luck not skill. Understanding the ways English works provides a framework for their own use. Upon that framework can be hung nearly anything. Without a strong framework, there’s nothing there to support the ideas.

In addition to all these things, an understanding of grammar will help with the acquisition of another language. With the capacity to relate new grammatical structures to ones already known, the new language becomes partially a matter of shifting the order of phrases. Learning those new structures is a quick matter if old structures can simply be altered instead of learned anew.

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