12 Tips for Teaching Grammar like a Pro

In the past five years, I've tried everything a variety of methods to meet the grammar needs of that year's class of students. Let me save you the trouble of finding some things out the hard way... as well as some ideas that are just plain cool.

Here's the problem: 
Teachers of English are put into a tricky set of dilemmas every school year:
  • How do find "enough" time for students to master, or at least improve, in different grammar topics?
  • How do we engage students in a topic that they find boring and/or difficult?
  • How do we choose which topics we do (or do not) teach?
  • How do I cope when my students either didn't master OR didn't maintain grammar fundamentals from previous years?
  • How do I reconcile my own beliefs, opinions, and/or background knowledge with the task in front of me?
On one hand, there's no one right answer. We have to adjust our grammar instruction from year to year to meet the needs of the classes we just inherited. 

However - and I may ruffle feathers here - as long as there is standardized testing in our schools, we cannot blow off grammar. Period. 

Even if we don't want to uphold the most traditional norms of Standard English and wish to be more linguistically progressive, it's a disservice to not equip students to be competitive in the worlds, like test-taking, that are not optional at this time. 

SO, how can teachers survive and thrive in this subsection of ELA? Here are some tips to think about as you plan your school year of instruction!

1. Find and give a grade-level pretest
Make or find a pretest to see what students know, but don't feel pressure to make it include all grammar for the year; it's fine to pretest just the topics you think you'll cover that quarter or term. Then you'll know more confidently what you do (or don't!) need to teach.

Even better? Give a pretest in the format of the next standardized test they'll take. I've been known to scan and print a page of the ACT's English section from a test prep book and give it to 8th graders.

Here's a sample grammar diagnostic test that uses song lyrics to keep things from getting boring:

2. Prove why students should care
I love using part or all of my "Why Grammar?" mini-unit, because it lets students read why grammar and editing matter (from people OTHER than me), and motivates them to care more. I'd rather have them hear it from more authentic sources than just take my word for it!

If you don't have enough time for the whole mini-unit, you might like part or all of my Word Crimes lesson, made to go with the music video!

3. Give quizzes that grade themselves
Check out all of the tech options you have in your building and see if any come with the ability to create self-grading quizzes or polls. My team uses Edmodo, so we can create self-grading quizzes as little formative checkpoints. (Backup plan? Use Google Forms!)

4. Teach it in a GAME
Learn more about how I teach grammar in a GAME BOARD format by either reading this blog post or viewing my full grammar bundle here!

5. Narrow your rubric
You don't have to grade EVERY piece of writing for grammar, but even when you do, there's no rule that says you have to point out EVERY mistake they make (at least all the time). It's fine to make a rubric in which you JUST grade commas, or JUST spelling/homophones. Your shortened grading time per paper will thank you!

6. Put students in the role of teacher (& artist!)
We learn by doing and teaching, right? Push students to deeper levels of thinking with two cool projects

7. Take requests!
Every once in a while, why not take student requests on which mini-lessons you should do next? It will up their engagement as well as make them take some ownership and curiosity of a sometimes-dry topic. 

8. Students make their own learning goals 
The ultimate low-stress differentiation is to let students self-assess, identify their own problem areas, make plans to fix them, and then accomplish those plans. Show visible growth from each student with my Grammar & Proofreading Project. 

9. Reward error-finding
Students catch a grammar error on a store sign? Found a typo in a published book? Caught a business in a sloppy mistake on an ad? Find a way to reward them for their finds - it can be a point, a piece of candy, or just public praise. 

10. Write original sentences ASAP
Don't just give all the mentor sentences away; make students copy real sentences from others AND also write their own original ones! They need to practice recognizing errors AND drafting correctly the first time. If you need help, here are 10 activities to write grammar rules in context.

11. Use videos wisely
Even if you don't have student-made videos (see #6), I highly recommend giving students EITHER videos you find online, or recordings of you explaining a grammar topic. I "flip" most of my grammar instruction with homemade videos; I make PowerPoints explaining a topic and then use screencastomatic.com to record myself narrating over those slides and teaching.

There are serious advantages to having grammar instruction in video format. It helps absent students, not to mention any student (IEP or not) who needs to hear something multiple times before it "sticks".

12. FREEBIE: Find it in the texts you're reading!
I've seen elaborate mini-lessons analyzing the grammar used in a specific text, and while those are fine, sometimes it's enough to just:
  • Make brief mentions while doing a close reading ("Did y'all see that semicolon that Dickens just used, btw?")
  • Collecting correct sentences from texts! Use my FREE Grammar in Literature activity sheets if you need a starting point!

The bottom line
Any grammar instruction is better than none, and you have the professional skills and judgment to help your students in the best way that you can. If you don't give up, and if you model that grammar is important, then your teens and tweens will be better for it!

Did one of these resonate with you? 
Tell me in the comments!


  1. This list looks like something that would be really useful to refer to throughout the year! I'm saving it on my Grammar Pinterest board!

  2. This is a definite need for my instruction.