Although I love teaching English, I have always been secretly jealous of elementary school math teachers who seem to perform miracles on every little citizen that comes before their cool gaze. Each year students come in with utterly disparate (and, in some cases, desperate) abilities with respect to their computation, but by the end of the year with appropriate rewards and punishments and parent calls and cajolements, the job is done—everyone seems to know their additions and subtractions and their multiplications. (As for the division, I don’t know—there is, after all, always the calculator.) And yes, in a way I am joking, but in a way I am not at all. How many thirty year old people do you know who cannot add or subtract or multiply? Go ahead. Write down your answer in the blank.
On the other hand, how many thirty year olds (if you are not thirty, answer the question for your own age group) do you know that do not know where to put commas in a sentence to mark phrases and clauses? Wait a minute; let me think here. Do I really want to know this? Yeah, I do—go ahead and write your best guess. (Out of ten people–not including yourself, of course).
Yes, I know—it is a depressing thought and one that we English teachers probably don’t really like to think about too much. Year after year—students hear the same lessons on nouns and verbs and gerunds and what-not and they do not learn it. They do not get it at twelve, they do not learn it at eighteen, and they certainly do not learn it at thirty. Maybe they can’t learn it, you say.
Well, my answer is this: they can learn it. For years I taught grammar to post-secondary adults in the ESL classroom—students from Iran and Egypt and Germany and Japan and Indonesia and Venezuela—ordinary students, just like Americans, except that grammar lessons for these international students took on a new level of importance because they needed the language skills (speaking, writing, reading—all of it) to go on to an American college or university. And they did it! Students would start the language lessons writing sentences like this: *When I come to United States I was Washington D.C. for two weeks. (Who cares if you need a comma there! That is a very weird sentence!) But I found that this student and all students who put forth some basic effort can learn the basic skills of English grammar and punctuation. And I mean really learn it–master it! And this is the background and the unshakeable confidence that I brought with me when I began teaching American high school students some twenty years ago.
What I found was that English teachers and English grammar textbooks were in some colossal state of denial: all proceeded in the same fashion, glibly teaching the various grammar points and then moving on as if the mission had been accomplished. Of course, in our heart of hearts, we know better: students don’t know what the heck participial phrases are, and–even worse–they have no idea why they are even supposed to know what a participial phrase is. Think I’m crazy? Okay, then write in the blank why anyone has to learn them.
See what I mean? It’s not as easy as it looks.
Well, I have found that some things can be done to change this woeful state of affairs (and no, Felix*, dropping grammar from the curriculum is not one of them). That, my friends, in a nutshell is the primary purpose of Loving Grammar: Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging . What is needed is a method of teaching grammar and punctuation that all students can understand and master. (Ha, did you hear what he said?!) I know—you need a minute to get back on your chair, and please stop laughing! I can’t even think over your hiccuping noises. Okay, good—that’s much better. Yes, I did say understand AND master, and yes, I did say ALL students.
So, how does Loving Grammar change the game, you ask?
Unlike the standard grammar program, which tries to do everything every year, the Loving Grammar program skips the easy and irrelevant material and focuses only on the issues that students (and even adults) struggle with, like commas, semi-colons, and agreement.
Loving Grammar makes the pledge to students that they will never have to learn any grammar information without knowing how it will help them to solve a specific writing problem. For example, students learn the difference between action verbs and linking verbs (in Chapter 1) so they can choose the right modifier (I feel bad/badly) in Chapter 2.
This book will show you what an adjective is and what it does. Then later it will show you what adjectival phrases (like prepositional phrases and participial phrases) are and which get commas. And then it will show you what adjective clauses are and which get commas. Ever seen a book do that for you? It doesn’t have to sound like rocket science, you know!
The overwhelming number of grammatical structures in English and punctuation points follow some very straightforward and basic rules. Students give up in the face of endless exceptions.
Students may forget the intricate explanations or rules, but they rarely forget the memory sentences that go with the rules, like this one: Whenever I see an adverb clause in the beginning of a sentence, I put a comma right after it. There you have it: the structure, the rule, the punctuation—all in one package!
Let’s put it this way: if writers of English books can’t model and sell splashy English, who on earth can? The lessons and the language here are challenging but cool and fun!
If you know some people who are stressed out about grammar and punctuation, here’s your chance. Let them know that there is help on the way–friendly and funny and gentle help! It’s called Loving Grammar: Mr. Lund’s Guide to Professional Clamdigging. Check it out!
*Felix, by the way, is one of the fictional characters in the book.