Secondary Solutions

Ideas, tips, and tools for the middle and high school English Language Arts teacher. Visit our store at www.4secondarysolutions.com!

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No Red Ink Video Tutorial: Teaching Grammar With Style!

I’m really excited to share a new teacher tech tool with you today!  Although, I am just getting started with it, I think NoRedInk.com is a tool to keep an eye on!  Here’s why I love it:

  • There is a free version (After I use it for a bit, I may upgrade, but it is nice to try it free!). It also appears to be growing rapidly in topics and such.
  • It covers a lot of the grammar topics that my high school students still struggle with, but I don’t really have time to teach in the older grades.
  • It allows students to pick topics of interest like sports, popular TV shows, disney, etc. These topics are then woven into grammar practices, keeping students engaged.
  • Students can practice as much or as little as needed before testing so that differentiation is built in. Students can work at their own pace with as much scaffolding or independence as they need.
  • The record keeping on the teacher side is very clear and easy to follow.

Here’s my quick video tutorial showing off the goods.  Let me know what you think in the comment section below.

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Grammarly Review and Video Tutorial

The kind folks over at Grammarly recently let me try out their service with my high school English classes.  The service offers to help students continue to develop writing skills through automated instructional feedback in grammar and word choice, as well as plagiarism tracking.  I tried out the teacher/student version, which you can learn more about at Grammarly.com/edu.  Check out the video tutorial below and the pros and cons list.  Please let me know if you have questions or comments and remember to check back weekly for more teacher tips, tutorials, and tirades. ;)

 Grammarly Pros and Cons from my perspective:

Pros:

  • Students can submit their papers multiple times to receive maximum automated input that is more effective than a simple word processor grammar check.
  • The grammar checker saves time for me as it catches many mistakes. I am all about saving time as we all know that English teachers have enough on our plate already!
  • Grammar explanations give students clear guidelines.
  • Plagiarism checker prevents unintentional plagiarism and takes away the excuse of ignorance that students sometimes claim.
  • There is a blackboard option and convenient roll out instructions.

Cons:

  • Unless you have school and department support, the price can be limiting.  (Check out pricing here)
  • Some grammar suggestions misunderstand student intention, which can confuse the paper further.
  • The teacher side of the website is limited in information.  I could see how many times a paper was checked, but I couldn’t see the actual mistakes or plagiarism to tell whether they were valid or not. I had to have students print their reports for me, which seemed like a lot of paper.
  • The plagiarism tracker is limited to online sources and is not the key component to this service (as opposed to services like turnitin.com).

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Are you ‘Mechanically Inclined’? You certainly can be with this must-have book for everything grammar and writing!

How do you feel about teaching Grammar? Do you cringe at the idea, or do you start to salivate with ideas of how you can help your students make even the most difficult concepts click?

For most of us, while we may be decent grammarians naturally, teaching the rules of grammar and writing (especially to students who don’t know even the most fundamental concepts — i.e. the ability to recognize a verb) is a daunting and exasperating task.

Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop by Jeff Anderson is one of the most valuable and well-used books I have on my bookshelf.   According to the description on Amazon.com: “Mechanically Inclined is the culmination of years of experimentation that merges the best of writer’s workshop elements with relevant theory about how and why skills should be taught. It connects theory about using grammar in context with practical instructional strategies, explains why kids often don’t understand or apply grammar and mechanics correctly, focuses on attending to the “high payoff,” or most common errors in student writing, and shows how to carefully construct a workshop environment that can best support grammar and mechanics concepts.”

Anderson promotes the idea of using a Writer’s Workshop, and within that, about 10 minutes of the workshop time is used for grammar and mechanics instruction.  He emphasizes the practice of teaching grammar and mechanics through literature, and encourages students to create authentic texts based upon this method.  This method of teaching–not correcting–the concepts of grammar and mechanics through reading is fundamental and at the core of the book–something that I wholeheartedly agree with and espouse myself. Grammar must be put into context. Students know that they must put a period at the end of a sentence, for the most part.  The challenge is getting students to transition from their everyday speech and dialect and slang to being able to “translate” their thoughts into formal language with appropriate grammar.

While this book is chock-full of useful information and ideas, a few concepts caught my attention in particular.  First, Anderson advocates using short mentor texts to help students view actual writing, rather than “canned” correct-all worksheets created by the millions by publishers.  Students can look in articles, short stories, novels, blogs, online texts, etc. to find examples of both good and bad writing right in front of them! Rather than wielding the red pen, use model texts to teach students what good writing looks like–and further, why. For example, students can be assigned the task of collecting sentences that demonstrate the use of compound sentences within the text they are currently reading.  Of course, this is a task found in many of our Literature Guides, and something that I used to have my students do even before I read Anderson’s book, so I am particularly in favor of this very effective practice!

In addition to using models, Anderson details how to set up and use a Writer’s Notebook, and encourages the notebook as a playground for writing.  From there, students are encouraged to keep returning to their notebook for inspiration on future writing, including essays.  Students can also refer to another of Anderson’s methods, the creation of student-made visuals and charts that cover the walls of the classroom.  This idea of a large visual that you can keep referring to is a living being in the class, as students are continually adding examples and notes to their charts.

Anderson details and explains common errors found in writing, complete with student examples, and ways to combat the problems in student writing.  These activities are not only effective, but they are meaningful–and fun–for students. Most importantly, students are engaged through real writing in context to help them learn and remember the concepts of grammar and mechanics.  Anderson’s engaging lessons and tools will not only squelch the “drill and kill” mentality, but will enhance your students’ confidence in their own writing.

For more about Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer’s Workshop, check out the book on Amazon.com for sample pages and foreword to the book, written by Vicki Spandel (author of Creating Writers, Creating Young Writers, and The 9 Rights of Every Writer)

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