Need to Know
- English is a complex language. For many students, learning how to correctly utilize the eight parts of speech in their writing is no easy task. Yet, word understanding remains critical in order for students to express fluency across the four language domains (reading, writing, speaking, and listening).
- We can grow students’ working knowledge of the English language by explicitly teaching parts of speech within a language-dynamic learning environment.
- Teaching and learning English language correctness doesn’t have to be confined to the task of rote memorization. It can- and should- be purposeful, engaging, and fun!
A Closer Look
Ugh. Parts of speech.
There are only eight of them in the English language: nouns, pronouns, adjectives, verbs, adverbs, prepositions, conjunctions, and articles. So what makes teaching and learning them so... blah for so many of us?
Navigating the parts of speech can feel overwhelming and can feel pointless. Does any of this even matter? “Learning how to communicate effectively in English is challenging in the best of circumstances,” explains Cynthia D’Amico, founder of The Colors of English.
Add to that the dearth of engaging teaching materials dedicated to the topic, the myriad of relationships students have with the English language, and the fact that many of us have to learn or relearn these skills ourselves before teaching them. All this considered, D’Amico continues, “and the challenge sometimes becomes insurmountable.”
But teaching and learning the parts of speech doesn’t need to be complicated. In fact, it shouldn’t. What it should be is approachable, purposeful… and fun.
Lindsay Kramer, writing for Grammarly, sums up the complexity of English sentence structure nicely: “Every word is a part of speech. The term “part of speech” refers to the role a word plays in a sentence,” she says. “And like any workplace or TV show with an ensemble cast, these roles were designed to work together”.
With the right tools and supports, students can learn to “direct” these casts of characters. This is critical in the big picture of academic well-being. After all, mastering parts of speech enhances communication, information processing, and writing- ultimately promoting achievement across all grades and content areas.
Here are six easy to implement strategies to engage students in authentic, interactive sentence building.
Coding parts of speech by color can help make them more recognizable to learners. This can be done, for example, by using highlighters (or tech-based highlighters) to “find” sentence parts, using color coding to create more complex sentence diagrams, or coding interactive word walls for parts of speech.
Coding is at the heart of The Colors of English, a comprehensive curriculum featuring a cast of eight friendly birds. Each bird has a distinct shape, size, color, and personality- and each represents a unique part of speech. The system helps students understand how the pieces of the English language fit together. With practice, kids develop agency as “directors” of sentence building.
Sorts help students to process new information and vocabulary in a guided, structured way. They can be completed solo or in groups and only require a deck of sorting cards with target vocabulary (in this case, words that can be categorized by sentence part).
In a closed sort, the categories are named in advance. Students sort cards into designated piles (say, nouns and pronouns). Open sorts are more complex, as they are open ended. Learners explore the words in the deck and then devise reasonable categories (advanced decks might even include all eight parts of speech). Combining language learning with reasoning skills can enhance both engagement and retention.
I Am Going Camping With…
Choose a specific letter and have students think of as many nouns as possible that start with that letter. List the words on the board and have the following students repeat all the previous nouns before adding another (which helps develop site word recognition and builds vocabulary). For an added challenge, after creating a noun list, have students try and think of adjectives to describe those nouns that start with the same letter. Super-bonus-points have them try and add verbs that begin with the letter as well. This is tricky but fun and challenging; it builds vocabulary and helps students with alliteration. For example: for the letter "T"--step 1, turtles, turkey, tent, tie; step 2: tiny turtles, tall turkeys, torn tents, twisted ties, Step 3: Tiny turtles tremble, Talk turkeys trot. Torn tent tumble, Twisted ties twirl.
Pick an action such as walking across the room or dancing, have students take turns picking adverb cards, and then do the chosen activity according to the card. See if the other students can guess the adverb (such as happily, angrily, quietly, sadly). This activity is a fun and engaging way to get students up and moving while building vocabulary and developing word sense.
Sometimes, deciding what something isn’t helps students make sense of what it is. Games like “Black Sheep” are great for this. The facilitator shares a family of words and invites students to reason which one doesn’t belong. A parts of speech puzzle might include: leap, sprint, quickly, gallop (with the adverb quickly as the odd one out). Puzzles should increase in rigor and complexity as students move toward mastery.
Relays are an active way to practice sentence building. Try this: Divide students into small teams, each assigned to a “home base”. Place two decks of cards in the center of the room. Deck 1 contains content/unit vocabulary. Deck 2 holds sentence building cards, including various prepositions, conjunctions, punctuation marks, and “double underline” cards (indicating the use of a capital letter).
To play, one person from each team races to the cards, selects one from each pile, and returns to “base”. The process continues until each team has constructed a full, meaningful sentence, complete with appropriate sequencing and punctuation.
Students can learn to become masterful directors of the cast of characters that make up the English language. By engaging students in authentic, language-dynamic learning experiences, we can help make this learning concrete... and fun!