Explicit grammar instruction improves writing

iStock_000014592789XSmallExplicit grammar instruction improved fifth graders’ writing in one teacher’s classroom. The need for grammar instruction, and the method of teaching it are controversial, even though samples of elementary students’ writing reveal frequent and often consistent mistakes. Teachers are usually advised to teach grammar in the context of revising, proofreading and editing students’ writing.

However, there is little evidence such instruction is effective in either in the short or the long term. In this study, researchers sought to determine if explicit instruction provided when students made errors in their writing led to a significant and lasting improvement in their grammar use.

Twenty-two students in one fifth-grade classroom participated. Three samples of writing were collected during the school year to measure the effects of grammar instruction. Two researchers graded the writing samples for errors in sentence structure (no subject, incorrect subject-verb agreement, sentence fragments), usage (wrong case, confused homophones, wrong verb forms) and mechanics (punctuation, spelling, capitalization, apostrophe and plural forms). Based on the errors identified, mini-lessons were designed and taught. Students who had made similar errors worked together with the teacher. The teacher created sample paragraphs with similar errors for students to correct.

Overall, students improved in their writing in all three areas: sentence structure improved the most, and usage and mechanics errors were cut almost in half. Grammatical accuracy in writing was significantly improved by mini-lessons based on students’ common errors in writing assignments. These findings suggest that language arts teachers in elementary schools can embed grammar teaching in the process of writing. It appears to be critical, however, that the teacher identify her students’ most common errors and plan short lessons to address these errors. Peer editing was not as effective in identifying and correcting grammatical errors. Teaching grammar in the context of writing means stressing revision and editing with the teacher modeling relevant grammatical concepts.

“The Short- and Long-Term Effect of Explicit Grammar Instruction on Fifth Graders’ Writing,” Reading Improvement, Volume 42, Number 2, Summer 2005, pp. 67-72.

Published in ERN September 2005 Volume 18 Number 6

Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)