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Practicing Grammar With a Magic Grandfather Clock


Today's Snack: To celebrate learning about "grammar," let's have some "graham" crackers - notice the spelling differences. And to mark our study of "syntax," let's put some "cinnamon" on those graham crackers. These are homophones - syllables that sound the same, but are spelled differently: the "gram" in "grammar" sounds the same as "graham" cracker, but they aren't spelled the same. And the "syn" in "syntax" sounds like the "cin" in "cinnamon," but again, the spellings are very different. One thing is always the same, though, and that's the drink you can have with your snack: milk. It tastes good every time!





Photocopy the grandfather clock illustration

Colored pencils | Lined paper and pencil or pen



"Grammar" sounds like the name for your grandmother or grandfather. But it's not!


Grammar is the set of language rules and guidelines that we use in order to speak and write correctly. If you speak and write with good grammar, people will think that you are smart, educated and capable. If not . . . they will not.


Here are the three keys for grammar in both speaking and writing:


  1. tense (that's the "when" -- whether the action was in the past, present or future)


I called the dog. (you can tell by the -ed in "called" that this was in the past, so you use past tense)


  1. person (that's the "who" - "I" if it's in the first person, "you" if it's in the second person, and "he/she/they" if it's in the third person)


"I" called (so it's in the first person)


  1. syntax (the rules that bring it all together)


"I" (subject) "called" (verb) the dog (object)


Ready to practice good grammar?


First, color the grandfather clock with colored pencils any way that you'd like. Then, on a separate sheet of paper, write a short story about a magic grandfather clock. Use this grammar: past tense, and third person.


You can invent one or more characters to tell the story, or let the grandfather clock tell the story.


Make sure that every sentence is written in the past tense, and that you stay in the "third person" - no "I's" or "you's."


When you are finished, trade stories with another student. Give each other one praise, and one bit of constructive criticism (something he or she could do better next time).


This illustration is by Lisa Worrall:



More background on grammar:


Linguistics (pronounced lin-GWIST-icks) is the study of language. Experts from that field say human babies are pre-programmed for putting words in order correctly when we speak and write.


As we grow and listen to the speech around us, we gradually put the rules of grammar into action in our own speech. Part of it happens just from everyday life, talking and listening and thinking. But part of it happens by paying attention in school, and learning the rules of grammar and syntax so that we can write well.


It doesn't happen overnight. We smile when we hear a little child say, "I comed home." It takes a while to learn the tense; the child will soon learn to say, "I came home."


In the same way, a toddler may talk about "three mouses," because she hasn't yet learned that exception to the rule about plurals. You don't just add an -s to make "one mouse" plural; you change the whole word: "three mice." There are several plurals that are exceptions to the rule, and by everyday life and paying attention in school, you gradually master them all.


Language experts say that the better quality of the language we hear when we are growing up - better "comprehensible input" -- the better we will be at speaking and writing ourselves. That figures!


It's just another reason to spend time listening to your elders and playing board games with Grandma and Grandpa. They're helping you just by talking with you, whether you know it or not!


By Susan Darst Williams Grammar Granny 2010



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