Thursday, December 23, 2004

A guerilla grammar mini-lesson

Okay, since Rosa asked, here is a mini-lesson I use in my classes. So far, it has worked with developmental writers and traditional freshman composition students. Please bear in mind that this is a plan only. I frequently have to adjust in mid-stream depending on how students react to the ideas they are working with.

So, the mini-lesson on complete sentences - alias independent clauses.

1- Have students identify at least two sentences from their work which they are especially proud of, or feel express their idea clearly. This needs to happen at least one class period before the mini-lesson. It builds a sense of the positive, often sorely needed by these students, and gives me a chance to prepare materials made of their work for the mini-lesson.

2- Next class, put students in small groups - really small - 3 to 4 works best, and give each group five different sentences. This gives them a specific number of sentences to look at and keeps them from becoming overwhelmed by looking at all the sentences their classmates provided.

I always include the writer's name with each sentence. This helps to reinforce their sense of ownership, it gives them a "real" audience for the next time they write, and it lets them show off their best work to each other.

While in their groups, they need to answer two questions. What makes these sentences good? What do these sentences have in common?

While they are working, I am circulating around the room, listening, asking, but never answering the questions. This is an important time for students to reinforce their own knowledge of language. For some, this is the first time they have been allowed and encouraged to show they they do know quite a bit about ideas that work well in written form.

I keep this activity to no more than 15 minutes. Part of the magic is that they aren't focused on discussing the structure of the sentences long enough to realize this is a [gasp] grammarish moment. I collect their work to read and return later.

3- Next class, have class discussion about their responses to the questions from the prior class. Again, this needs to be short - 15 minutes ish. Some groups want to go into parts of speech, some want to identify what the words do, some want to talk clauses. I know these are all different labels for similar ideas, but depending on the make-up of the class, I may or may not make that connection. Some classes are happy to say "oh.....that's a sentence when it has......." Other classes leap right to " a sentence is an independent clause......."

My goal is to help them see the patterns that are available to them. By taking this little bit by little bit, we can build on their prior knowledge and allow them time to incorporate ideas that are new.

My take on mini-lessons is that they are a part of numerous writing activities. They don't ever take a whole class period. I use them to help students notice patterns and options in the structure of the language they use. Oh.....and I'm never satisified with mini-lessons because they are the practical compromise that reflect trying to work with 28 students in a limited amount of time.


At 7:06 PM, Blogger jocalo said...

Good stuff, Sharon. Your admonition about keeping activities to 15 minutes is a good one. That University of Chicago research a bunch of years ago showed that almost all students' minds are wandering to something else 20 minutes into a lecture.

With that as a guideline, my basic planning approach in BW classes (mine meet for 2 hrs 10 minutes twice a week) is to shift activities every 20 minutes, doing usually 5 a session with the remaining time for getting started, breaks and wrapping up. In short, I see the mini-lesson as the basic unit of a BW class.

At 6:05 PM, Blogger Rosa G. said...

I would agree with your about the twenty -minute rule. I teach three times a week for an hour and twenty-five minutes, and find that their eyes glaze over if we don't shift after 20 minutes. However, I also find that by the middle of the semester, the students are capable of typing/drafting for thirty to forty-five minutes before they start to fidget--

Sharon, thanks for the idea--I am absolutely going to try it out.

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