How to Deal with Poor Language Mechanics in the Classroom

Posted Eureka Lessons Blog, English, English Language Arts, Grade 11-12, Grade 6, Grade 7, Grade 8, Grade 9-10, Writing

Grading essays can be grueling for teachers who place an especially high value on grammar and spelling.  The writing game has degenerated since teachers graduated high school as evidenced by today's wildly popular listicle literary style.  If you're unfamiliar with listicles, they tend to prize brevity and user views over language mechanics and content.

Buzzfeed Lists

Photo Credit: BuzzFeed (screenshot by alivecampus.com)

If this is what kids are reading, can we really fault them for falling behind in English composition?

HOT STUFF photo | Paris Hilton

Photo Credit: People Magazine

Today our mobile devices auto-correct everything we type and we wonder why our students can't spell.  Furthermore, globalization has kind of butchered American-English the way we butchered British English.  At some point, I'm pretty sure we'll all be speaking a derivative English not unlike Orson Scott Card's Starcommon.  Until that day comes, how should grammatically conscious teachers deal with poor language mechanics?  I've listed some tried and true solutions right here in this listicle!

Use Humor to Fix Common Grammatical Errors

What better way to engage students than humor?  Michael Inman, the author of the Oatmeal, is very particular about language mechanics and does a great job of explaining grammar in laymen's terms.  As of now, there are 8 hilarious comics in his grammar series perfect for bell ringer activities or as part of an ELA lesson.

Photo Credit: http://theoatmeal.com/comics/semicolon

Photo Credit: The Oatmeal: Semicolon


If you've ever had a song stuck in your head, you can understand how effective a sing-along can be in the classroom.  My students memorized the preamble to the Constitution in 3 days by singing along (with lyrics in hand) to a School House Rock video.  Imagine how quickly your English students can master the function of conjunctions.  School House Rock is so lame it's actually cool.

Not as cool as School House Rock is Grammaropolis which uses a similar format to teach grammar.  Their songs seem to work well with the younger students, not so much with high schoolers.



Scare Them Straight

As a part of my economics course, I include a life skills unit during which I require each student to create a resume and letter of interest for a job they want to obtain.  Before they begin the editing process, I share with them what goes through their potential employer's mind as they read their resumes.  How would I know?  When I'm not teaching, I work part-time as a recruiter for a large aerospace company.  My job is to sift through hundreds of resumes all telling me about the same detail-oriented, self-motivated bull poo.  How do I choose who gets the job?  By focusing first on who won't get the job.

"Let's see here, okay, this applicant 'nows about social media,' is 'hard-working,' and... oh here it is again, 'works hard.'  'Like, for a sample...'  Oh, she means 'example'.  Yeah, she won't be hearing from us."

Harsh?  Maybe, I tell students, but as potential representatives of the company, candidates should sound professional and credible.  Quite frankly, "for a sample" has the opposite effect.  Such anecdotes usually put into perspective how important language mechanics are even after students are done with school.

Accept Change

In this episode of TED Talks, language historian Anne Curzan talks about what makes a word "real".  Is a word real only if it's in the dictionary?  How did Meriam-Webster come to govern our lexicon?  Meriam-Webster is not Lord of Words.  As Curzan points out, throughout history, we've added countless words to the English language, changed rules, created exceptions, and ended up with the American-English we use today.  It's going to continue to change so why not embrace it?