Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Grumpy Ed Explains the "Grammar Bee"


More from the Legal Writing Institute Conference in Indianapolis.

Blais_william_2 William Blais of DePaul University College of Law gave some interesting grammar tips in his presentation on A Narrative Approach to Teaching Grammar.  Here are some of the tips he shared:

  • "Name names" to cut down on passive voice (when the characters are identified expressly, students can more easily write the sentence in the active voice).
  • Write short, simple declarative sentences.
  • Put the character and action as close together as possible.
  • Start with familiar information and end with new.

Telfeyen_edward Professor Blais was the warm-up act for Ed Telfeyan of the University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law.  Professor Telfeyan is affectionately known as Grumpy Ed to members of the Legal Writing Listserve.  He explained the "Grammar Bee," an in-class, first-semester activity for first-year law students to cure remedial writing deficiencies common to entering law students.

He shared some approaches that do not work in teaching grammar:

          • assign outside reading
          • browbeat the entire class
          • write nasty comments on their papers
          • send them to an outside tutor (that they may never visit)

And then he explained the "Grammar Bee."  It's a class activity that he uses to have students identify correct answers, explain rules of grammar, and correct grammatical errors.  He considers grammar from basic points (such as identifying the difference between its and it's) to dealing with students who know grammar but write in long-winded, impenetrable sentences.  He uses the Grammar Bee throughout the semester, starting from the beginning of the year.  It consists of a series of questions that might take five minutes or so of each class.  (He has also used the Grammar Bee exercises once or twice in advanced writing seminars.)

Students are eliminated during the course of the semester, but they can "challenge back" and get back into the game.  (A key to using this exercise is being able to keep all of the students involved even after they are eliminated from the grammar bee.)

He shared some of the questions (and answers) that he uses in his courses.  This teaching method makes learning grammar fun and interactive.  Guess what?  Grumpy Ed isn't that grumpy after all.


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