I have always struggled with finding interesting ways to teach grammar to less than enthusiastic students. For many American kids, even the first syllable of the word grammar is enough to make them lose focus completely. During my recent student teaching experience, however, I tried something new, at least new to me. Instead of teaching grammar lessons, such as inverted subjects and types of sentences, using traditional methods, I created a group of simple sentence tiles. Each tiny tile had a part of the sentence on it; some had noun phrases, others had prepositional phrases, and I tried to create a few with phrasal verbs that could be broken and rearranged.
After explaining the general logic of inverted subjects and the importance of sentence variety, I instructed the students to line up their tiles to a designated starting sentence: The dog was running next to the car. I then allowed the students to manipulate the tiles until they had exhausted the possible sentence combinations. We shared them out loud as a class and commended others on excellent or creative combinations and laughed together when one student inevitably suggested something Yoda-esque: Running next to the car the dog was.
Although many of the students were unable to translate this type of manipulative exercise into direct grammar knowledge or application, there has been a marked improvement in their word choice and sentence variety when they write.