Slice of Life: When writing breaks down

(This is part of the Slice of Life project)

This morning, I spent a good hour going through about half of the culmination projects that my sixth graders finished last week around Parts of Speech. I often complain that the abstractness of dissecting a sentence down to its parts has very little value to a young writer, so I won’t rant again. In this project, my students have to color-code the eight main Parts of Speech in their own writing (over the course of at least 10 sentences), so my hope is that it has a bit more meaning for them.

I added another component this year — a tally sheet — that seems to have made a positive difference for this project. The sheet forced them to think about the words they were using and helped them track the work they were doing, according to the project requirements (ie, nouns are colored blue, verbs are colored red, adjectives are colored yellow, etc). A big plus: the tally sheet has made my job in correcting the project a whole lot easier. I move back and forth, between the project and the tally sheet. So far, I am about halfway through the 75 projects and most are doing a pretty good job. We do a lot of games and activities in the classroom around Parts of Speech (such as Bingo and tossing a Nerf Brainball around the room to demonstrate prepositions, etc.) and that helps with many of them.

The toughest Part of Speech? Adverbs. No doubt about it. Adverbs are the trickiest, by far. They are slippery parts of speech, moving from one job to another, and that ‘ol “-ly” rule works only sometimes, but not always.

Now, I just need to get through about 40 more of the projects. Sigh.

Peace (in living color),


  1. Parts of Speech. Tough one. I remember diagramming sentences, do you? Sounds like you are making some progress but still not totally satisfied, probably because you’re a writer and use words without naming the parts. Does it help to know the parts? How do we know they know? Does it translate into better writing? Is it just part of the larger learning picture? Do doctors need to know the parts of the body? Is there a connection here? How come I’m filled with all these questions this morning?
    I DON”T KNOW. Maybe this is the craziest comment I’ve ever left.
    If that’s the case it should be with you. I probably left my first comment here, at the beginning.

  2. You will certainly feel good when you get done grading all the projects. Keep plugging away! I have 88 science tests coming at me next week at the end of the quarter.

    As a second grade teacher, we introduce nouns, verbs, adjectives and the dreaded adverb. The best thing about it is that we get to watch Schoolhouse Rock videos. 🙂

  3. I like this post Kevin. I have a hard time making parts of speech seem important, much less contextualized. I do have an activity for adverbs which the students love. We begin my asking them to give me words that describe how they do things. They shout out things like “quietly,” “happily,” “curiously” and so forth. I write them on the board until we have a good size list. The we ask for a volunteer to go outside for a minute. While that student is outside, the class decides which word we will act out and we call the student back in. I will then ask something like, “Salvador, could I borrow a pencil please?” Salvador will get up, maybe knocking his chair over and stomp to the front of the class, saying something like, “Fine, here it is. I need it back.” Then he will stomp back to his desk. We keep doing these little acts until the student guesses which adverb we are acting out. Then another student goes out and we pick another adverb. They love this game and it seems to get the idea across.

  4. Don’t get me started, Bonnie!! It would be awesome if those in charge of the high stakes testing listened to the results of every major grammar study since 1890: little to no impact on writing. Ergo, purpose-less. IMHO, we’re wasting time!!

    There are grammatical activities that definitely impact writing (sentence combining, Noden’s Image Grammar activities, etc), and those should be the ones we focus on.

    That being said, congrats Kevin for making such a tedious subject clear, concise, understandable, and – dare i say? – fun! you are most certainly a stellar teacher.

  5. Don’t even get me started on parts of speech. I love how you have applied to their own writing. Hope you finish the rest soon!

  6. I had to laugh when I read about your struggles with grammar’s parts of speech.
    Guess what everybody–in my remedial college English course we are asked to teach “grammar.” Really specific, yes?
    And on Thursday, we just sang the Parts of Speech song, and I’m not sure anyone will remember a thing when we return from Spring Break.

    great post–made me feel I was among friends–

  7. I was going to put in a plug for Schoolhouse Rock, too, so I’m glad it’s already on the agenda (gotta unpack those adjectives, y’know?)

    I like the color coding. I wonder if I could work with this with my students or if they’d think it was too ‘babyish’? That’s always a danger when you work with adults. I’ll have to think about that a bit …

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