Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Grammar Game

Last semester I didn't cover grammar extensively in my basic writing course. I started using worksheets to fill in time around mid-term, and I marked recurring errors in students' papers. But it killed me that one of my hardest-working students was unable to pass my class because he never shook a grammar problem that I marked in all his papers but didn't spend much classtime on.

I may have gone overboard this semester by assigning each student a grammar presentation, but my hope is that if nothing else, students learn the one issue they present. I've been wanting to incorporate grammar games for a while, but today was the first time I had the extra classtime to do it. Grammar games give students the opportunity to use grammar to control sentences instead of merely fixing mistakes. In "Grammar Games in the Age of Anti-Remediation," Margaret Tomlinson Rustick shares a game called "Sentence Survivor" (53). Basically, you start with a long sentence on the board and the students take turns erasing words until there's no way to make the sentence shorter. They can take one, two, or three words, as long as they're in a row. Rustick says to use a compound-complex sentence, but I'd say anything over six words will do. The idea is to leave a complete sentence but for the opposing team to get stuck. Obviously the meaning of the sentence changes with the various moves.

The students liked the game, and we had a surprise star. Near the end of the second round, she asked me if she could add punctuation. Of course--that makes the game more interesting. She jumped up and erased three of the last four words leaving only, "Why?"

Hmm. Rustick didn't mention that possibility. There's nothing grammatically wrong there, but it's not actually a sentence. It led to the other team using "Ferocious!" as their final move a couple of rounds later. I'd say "Why?" is more acceptable, but if the students are able to envision contexts in which "Ferocious!" is acceptable--well, that's the whole point of the game, right?

Work Cited
Rustick, Margaret Tomlinson. "Grammar Games in the Age of Anti-Remediation." Journal of Basic Writing 26. 1 (2007): 43-62.