Monday, November 4, 2013

Sprinkling on the Grammar

November is here—leaves are blowing in circles around us, the first logs of the season are being tossed in fireplaces, and we’re thinking about comfort foods: hearty soups, turkey dinners, plates of spaghetti. So, let’s go with this today and liken a good story to swirling leaves (dynamic, moving), a cozy fire (touching, heartwarming), and a fine meal (nourishing to the body and soul).

Lingering on the food metaphor, I like to think about how the smallest ingredients make all the difference in those things we love to eat: the rosemary leaves on the roasted vegetables, the garam masala stirred into the Ethiopian dish, the pinch of cinnamon in the tomato sauce. (Note to self: Must cook as soon as I finish this post!) This, to me, is what good grammar is to writing. The perfect punctuation mark, the right word—these can turn an ordinary story into something special, something memorable. And raising this sort of awareness can be fun for writers of all ages. REALLY.

Here’s an adjective/adverb activity that can work with a story that is already written. (If you need ideas for creative prompts, I recommend a blog by a high school teacher at This writing instructor ties his prompts to Common Core Anchor Standards, and most are suitable for writers across the age spectrum.) After instruction on adjectives and adverbs, have the student writers identify these parts of speech in the stories they’ve written. Is their creation under spiced? Have them sprinkle more in! Have they over spiced? Have them reduce the ingredient!

You can also approach this as a challenge in the original piece of writing, by limiting the part of the speech (No adverbs at all in your story!) or over saturating (Every sentence must contain an adjective!). Mix it up for your young writers’ personal palates. The extra attention to craft is sure to result in some tasteful tales.

Some Common Core K-5 connections:
CCSS L.2.1.e: Use adjectives and adverbs, and choose between them depending on what is to be modified.
CCSS L.3.1.a: Explain the function of nouns, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs in general and their functions in particular sentences.
Anchor Standards for Writing #5: Develop and strengthen writing as needed by planning, revising, editing, rewriting, or trying a new approach.

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