Warming up with grammar games

Before my daughter plays a soccer game or scrimmages, her team goes through several warm-up exercises. Watching the go through the motions, I’m impressed that they all seem to enjoy the warm-ups, and they also can explain the purpose of them.

It has helped me to think of these grammar games as the girls think of their soccer warm-ups. They’re quick, they’re fun, and they’re relevant to writing.

  1. Stretch a sentence.

The first thing I’ll say about this is that kids LOVE it. I started the lesson by showing the a three word sentence: The dog barked. Then, I showed them how I could make it a six word sentence: The big, black dog barked loudly. They got really interested when I took the sixteen word challenge and the twenty word challenge. However before I did that, I showed them a chart of word parts. Because they needed the word parts in order to play a game, they were really interested in how an adjective or an adverb would be perfect choices if you needed to change your sentence by just a few words. But, if you need to make more substantial changes, prepositions are your friends, and for major changes, conjunctions come into play.

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This was a game, and it only lasted about fifteen minutes. However, the teacher and I sifted in reflective conversations throughout the rounds about the usefulness of words, and their responses were indicative of not only recognizing parts of speech, but thinking about how to use them meaningfully, both on their whiteboards within the parameters of a game and beyond the game and into the realm of their writing.

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This sentence sentenced generated great conversation about how we have to be careful as to where we place our prepositional phrases.

2.  Move around the words

This was MUCH more engaging to the kids than I ever imagined it would be! Before I challenged them, I modeled for them with a sentence, showing how, without changing or adding words, I could make the sentence different.

  • The gentle, kind mother fed the hungry, tired boys.
  • The mother, gentle and kind, fed the hungry tired boys.
  • The mother, kind and gentle, fed the hungry tired boys.
  • The mother, kind and gentle, fed the tired hungry boys.
  • The mother, gentle and kind, fed the tired hungry boys.

(You get the idea, and so did they!)

What was more important and interesting to me was their analysis of what the changes did. One student explained how when you connect two adjectives with the word “and”, you make them both stronger. As a larger group, we debated which position–first or second–gave the adjective more impact. (This is a third-grade classroom!) And then they got into how much more beautiful the sentence sounded when the adjectives came second. They couldn’t explain why, but they liked my suggestion that maybe it sounded more song-like.

A lot of the time, we teach grammar in isolation, and we teach only for recall and recognition. Sometimes, we ask students to correct mistakes, an activity that involves slightly higher order skills. I loved these activities not only because students were playing, but also because students were creating and analyzing. And, even more importantly, taking those sentence stretching and word order understandings to their own writing.