Frequently people stop me in the hallways and say, “Ken, what are your go-to books when it comes to good books on grammar? I don’t mean good books on grammar theory. I mean practical stuff I can use in my classroom today — if not, sooner.”
At this point, I take out the pre-printed card I keep for such occasions, each providing information on how to find a copy of two Jeff Anderson books and one Harry Noden one. I’ve alluded to Noden more than once on these pages because his “grammar brush strokes” (action verbs; participles/participial phrases; absolutes/absolute phrases; appositives; and adjectives out of order) are entrenched parts of our 8th-grade curriculum. A new edition of his book can be viewed here.
The other grammar guru who’s worth both pilgrimage and price of admission is Jeff Anderson. His Mechanically Inclined is de rigueur for any writing workshop advocate. And this week’s idea comes straight out of Everyday Editing, a smaller book with equally big ambitions. It is this book that advocates “mentor sentences,” a practice I’ve been raving about recently (causing people to avoid me in the hallways). That’s where you pull a sentence from whatever book you’re reading and make its grammatical construction a model for students to imitate.
Another fun activity is what Anderson calls “An Appositive Experience” (it’s good to know that I’m not the only one who traffics in cheesy jokes). Students create a “gamebook” for using appositives, one that has Mad Lib-like twists that are as wild as the imaginations in your classroom. (Wait, did I just hear an “Uh-oh” from the crowd?) And though it can be used to teach appositives, there’s no reason why you cannot use the same idea to teach other sentence constructions and grammatical concepts. Ready? Set? Teach…
- After your mini-lesson on appositives (or other grammar concept), give each student three to five pieces of copier paper or white construction paper.
- Demonstrate up front and have kids follow along as you keep the sheets together evenly, then fold them in half the long way.
- Turn the new “book” horizontally so the fold is on top. Have as many staplers out as possible so students can staple along the top fold.
- Each student now uses a ruler to mark the horizontal book off into thirds
- Next, each student uses scissors to cut along these lines, stopping about a half inch from the top fold so the book holds together. The book will now have three separate flaps on all pages.
- Pull up the first three flaps (the underside of the cover) and write, left to right on each flap:
Subject , appositive, verb
With those guide words up top, students are ready to “write” the book of sentences. On all the left flaps, they will write a specific noun, which will serve as subjects to short sentences going across. Be sure they use a mix of persons, places, and things. Proper nouns, such as Taylor Swift, are fine. No single flap will contain an entire sentence, mind you. The first flap is for subjects only, the second for comma/appositive/comma only, and the last for verbs or verb phrases only. Example:
Justin Bieber , a Canadian crooner, sings for his supper.
Silly? Sure. But it gets better if you’re a middle school student. Not only do they get to make up a series of these crazy sentences (they can be written on scrap paper in advance, if you want to vet them first), but they get to mix and match them by flipping different flaps at different times.
So maybe the next middle flap reads , a long haired chihuahua, and maybe the third verb flap reads requires AA batteries. The new sentence? You got it:
Justin Bieber , a long haired chihuahua, requires AA batteries.
As you can see, students can randomly flip flaps one, two, and three to different pages, thus creating all kinds of hiarious mismatches (each using the rule in question correctly, mind you, and each a complete sentence). Just stipulate that none of the subject flaps have your name (or classmates’ names). Sometimes the line between fun and mischief can be thin!
Nota bene: You can expand the grammatical possibilities with such books to fit your most recent curriculum. For instance, you can require gerunds as subjects, or commas and coordinating conjunctions in the middle. It’s as flexible as the riffing flaps you’ll hear in your room once students put the finishing artwork on their covers.
Last step? As always with any artistic endeavor, allow for a museum walk. Let students walk the walk and read to enjoy the fruits of their classmates’ labor. Then wrap up by reviewing the rules and purposes of appositives.