Monday, July 21, 2008
Everyone who has taught legal writing for a number years knows that, year by year, each incoming class arrives with weaker grammar skills. At the LWI conference last week, two professors presented ideas for helping students learn or recall the grammar they need to write at a professional level.
Professor William Blais from DePaul University described an innovative approach he uses to help his students overcome their grammar challenges, as he presented A Narrative Approach to Teaching Grammar. He analogized storytelling elements to sentence elements:
character -- noun/subject (the familiar information)
action -- verb/predicate (passing the reader's attention from the old to the new information)
consequences -- object/predicate (the new information)
Then to tell the story better, the students need to attend to these storytelling-like elements at the sentence structure level. For example, to use correct subject/verb agreement, a student can think in terms of telling the reader how many characters were acting. Or, as another example, to use correct verb tenses, a student can think in terms of telling the reader when the action happened and what sort of action it was. It seems with experience teaching this way, a professor could develop a store of handy analogies students could understand quickly, remember easily, and actually apply in their writing.
Professor Ed Telfeyan, from the University of the Pacific-McGeorge School of Law, spoke about The "Grammar Bee" -- Taking Taking the Pain Out of One-L's Grammatical Deficiencies. He described a TV-game-show approach, projecting questions in the front of the classroom, with a few wrong and one right answer to choose from. He takes just a few minutes at the beginning of each class to have the students play a few questions, starting with very easy grammar concepts at the beginning of the semester, then later in the semester bringing up more sophisticated points of grammar, style, and legal writing mechanics. The students have fun at the beginning of each class and learn the grammar they need. It seems the key to this approach would be "borrowing" Ed's game show questions, and then tailoring them to the needs of your particular class.