Category Archives: Grammar Tip

Get Into Grammar with What’s Going On

Making the Teaching of Grammar Fun with What’s Going On

I don’t usually comment on politics on this blog and I don’t intend to start now. Having said that, I just want to challenge all of you, especially teachers of English and grammar, to encourage your students to notice what is going on in their world at this and all times. After all, history (like life) happens while we’re busy doing other things but it’s happening nonetheless and should at the very least be noticed, remarked up, and inserted into their memories. Better yet, best yet, into their writing.

My nephews were quite small when an event that seemed interesting but hardly monumental happened, namely the fall of the Berlin Wall. Because of course it was monumental and historic and earthshaking and truly a piece of history that needed to be acknowledged, commemorated, even noticed by every generation. I tried to explain what a huge event was happening right there in front of them, in their time, in this time. I’m not sure how much sunk in but I think the idea of history not being dusty and boring and…then. Just think of what happened in Egypt recently. History is happening every day, even if it’s in small quantities.

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, this is a great writing prompt to get your students thinking about what’s going on now and what went on then. Challenge them to write about what they think history is being made around them.

Get Into the Spirit with A Word With You


/ˈmɪs əlˌtoʊ/  misuh l-toh] 


  1. a European plant, Viscum album, having yellowish flowersand white berries, growing parasitically on various trees, used in Christmas decorations.
  2. any of several other related, similar plants, as Phoradendron serotinum, of the U.S.: the state flower of Oklahoma.

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Origin: bef. 1000; ME mistelto,  appar. back formation from OE misteltān  ( mistel  mistletoe, basil + tān  twig), the -n  being taken as pl. ending; c. ON mistilteinn


Mistletoe is an interesting little plant, well above and beyond its contributing force for romance. Mistletoe is in fact a parasite which means it grows on a host tree and uses said tree for water and mineral nutrients. Furthermore, the plant begins its cohabitation by sprouting from bird droppings on said tree taking its nutrients from that source. Quite the enterprising little plant.

Mistletoe also killed off the Norse god Baldr is killed by his brother by way of a mistletoe projectile. Pliny the Elder of the Celts considered it a remedy for barrenness and an antidote to poison.

Of course we know it as a Christmas decoration though such use was not widely known until the 18th century. At first it was considered the first fire alarm, guarding your house from lightning or fire, to be replaced every Christmas Eve. Moving on to bringing any two people who meet under a sprig of mistletoe to kiss was described as early as 1820 by Washington Irving. Accordingly, a berry is plucked each time a kiss is exchanged and when all the berries are gone, no more kissing. Mistletoe also happens to be the state flower of the state of Oklahoma. Who knew?

So the next time you pass through a doorway and see a sprig of mistletoe lurking there you will know that it’s not just about kissing.

Grammar Punk Sentence: S E 4 Mistletoe

Hands on hips, Junie viewed the room with satisfaction; every doorjamb festooned with sprigs of mistletoe ensured she would not go unkissed this Christmas. 

All of you teachers of English, grammar, and writing, challenge your students to write a sentence containing the word mistletoe and contains at least four words with the letters S and E. The rest of you can write one too. And share!

Believe with Grammar Punk

The transition from kid to adult is not for sissies. Just ask any adult. I’m not saying the kid part is all bubblegum and potatoes’ chips because of course it comes with plenty of angst in its own right but there is no denying the capability of believing in magic that is lost all too soon.

Kids believe in Santa Claus. They knock on strangers doors and ask for candy—and they get it! They believe in a large rabbit who delivers boiled eggs dyed in improbable hues and enough chocolate to choke a horse. They wish on stars, trap bugs in jars, and they play for keeps.

I remember clearly the year I was dissuaded about the existence of the Jolly Old Elf. I was six and still quite willing, even eager to believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, you name it. Even then as the doubts niggled at the back of my child’s brain I wanted to believe. There are so few things that defy logic to believe in, more’s the pity. I was also the kind of child (and subsequent adult) who liked to be in the know. “I don’t know” is my least favorite phrase and I hated to feel like a fool. Who doesn’t, am I right? It is this mindset that I blame on my abrupt move from unadulterated certainty to sheer chagrin at being fooled for so long. And yes, I realize six is not so long but did I mention I had older brothers?

Part of me never quite forgot that pivotal moment of the before and the after. The believing in a being of sheer good will and generosity not to mention the magic of getting what you want without consequences, the flying reindeer! And then bang, it’s all over, no more magic, no more innocence, no more believing to believe. And there are times when I want it back. Ho, ho, ho.

Teachers of grammar, English and writing, here’s another prompt for you. Have your students write about their experiences of learning about Santa. We’d like to hear about yours too.

Make Grammar Fun with Texting

Texting: what are you talking about?

Excruciating minutiae

Seinfeld (among others) perfected this particular form of entertainment. This concept is certainly not new (what is?) but I must say it’s getting to be perfected to a new level. Disturbingly so. Creating a new language (of sorts) aside, this is not a good thing.

I’ve griped about this before, the dumbing down of the language for the sake of expediency and quicker typing, but that’s hardly the point. Or the danger. Banality is the problem. The waste of gray matter is the problem. The sheer misuse of time is the problem. What are you all talking about?

Or not talking about? The other problem with this form of communication is a kind of love affair with the gadgets themselves, and the process itself. This is not an unforeseen phenomena of course, it’s all part of the package. It’s fun to punch all those little buttons as quickly as you can and watch the words—or at least a semblance thereof—scroll across that tiny screen, it’s even addictive. And the technology just keeps getting better and more tempting. Unfortunately, the communication itself is not keeping pace.

The truly worrisome thing as far as I’m concerned is that face-to-face communication will begin to deteriorate—more than it already is. Have you noticed the group of folk who, though gaggled together, are all glued to their little screens instead of actually talking to one another. I know in my own experience I have people in my life who can’t hold a conversation, simple or no, without checking almost constantly for incoming…whatever’s from their little gizmos. It is addictive. And it shouldn’t be. Because it’s not important, it’s not edifying, and it’s not necessary.

Now, I’m aware that my opinion may be on the controversial side, even, in some quarters, heretical. Having said that I will also go on to say I am in no ways, means, or stretches of the imagination a Luddite (define  ) I am thrilled, participatory and widely applaud the onset of technology. I just think we’re wasting a lot of this cool stuff on…nothing. So stop it. Stop texting and try talking. Or writing in complete sentences. Or better yet, reading a book.

Teachers of English, grammar and writing, this is a great prompt sort of thing for your students. Have them argue their position (against mine if they want) but defend it—if they can.   

Get Urgent with Grammar

Teaching Grammar…With Urgency

I’ve been fascinated by the recent upswing in interest in the state of education in our country, and it’s in a sorry state, no big surprise. Which is probably the most disturbing aspect of all. We’re not terribly surprised—and we should be. It’s also no secret that we’re lagging behind in things like math and science, but also in reading and writing skills. This should be particularly shocking. And isn’t.

Literacy: the ability to read and write. What a deceptively simple concept. What a tragic mistake to fail to instill these skills in students. Let’s face it, we simply can’t function out there in this fast-paced world without strong literacy skills. And let’s face it again, teaching grammar with an emphasis on rote memorization isn’t cutting it either.

When helping to create Grammar Punk I returned again and again to the old maxim, “If you teach a man to fish…” Writing is one of those skills that can only become ingrained and part of a student’s repertoire by doing. You can’t learn to write without writing. Writing everyday. Writing with a purpose.

I also love the concept of “muscle memory.” Muscle memory, also known as motor learning, is a form of procedural memory that involves consolidating a specific motor task into memory through repetition. In other words, the more you do something the less you have to struggle with it. I know when I’m typing or using ten-key if I stop and really think about what my fingers are doing it throws me off my pace. This is also what happens when I’m writing and really into the story or concept I’m barely aware of anything but what I’m creating. Writing is doing and doing is learning.

Teachers of grammar and English we’re aware that this concept is easier said than done, which is why Grammar Punk takes the ouch out of teaching grammar and puts it back where it belongs, in the teaching of writing. Created by a teacher of English who loved everything about teaching Language Arts with the glaring exception of grammar, Grammar Punk was born. Grammar Punk will not only boost those test scores it will also create writers with muscle memory. From the first (already created) lesson to the last students will learn by writing. Students will learn. Students will write. They must.  

Create Grammar Fun with Drive-Ins

“Driving-In” To The Past

I know every generation likes to think it invented the…whatever. Fashion, types of fiction, movies, etc. And every generation is mostly wrong. Scary movies are no exception. Gruesomely violent and excessively nasty scary movies, certainly not. I point to the middle of the phenomena rather than its beginning, the 70s.

There have been scary movies since movies began, of course. The urge to frighten ourselves is as old as cave-writing. The fifties had some remarkable ones, certainly the sixties, but it was the seventies where things got…interesting.

Are there still drive-in movies? I’m sure there are, certainly in rural areas. Not ours. Not anymore. And it’s a darned shame. There is nothing quite like a low-rate horror movie seen through the windshield of a car—or the bed of a pickup truck piled high with blankets and pillows—even better. It’s also easier to hide your eyes or even turn off the sound altogether in the really gross parts. The best part of the drive-in movie was that it was much easier to sneak in when you happened to be too young to be going to such movies in the first place.

The mid-seventies began my introduction to such lovelies as, The Toolbox Murders, The Hills Have Eyes (the original and best) The Texas Chainsaw Murders, Axe, The Second House On The Left, and on and on. My older brothers were often my vehicle—so to speak—to such fare. Friday and Saturday nights were movie nights and when you’re talking about drive-ins you have to wait for darkness to fall before the films can begin. And since drive-ins are also much more enjoyable in the summer months, darkness comes later and later. Thus, being around thirteen, fourteen, seeing a purloined scare-fest, late at night, eating drive-in popcorn and hotdogs and nachos, well, it just doesn’t get much better than that.

Get Into Grammar with Texting…Not

I’ve harped on texting and will no doubt do it again. And again. Having recently read an article about the problem of texting in classrooms I felt compelled to harp. A lot.

Texters are getting too good at it—but not that good. Teachers and professors are quite aware that students are capable of texting without looking, thereby appearing to be attentive while in actuality completely absorbed in…not much. To think that the biggest distractions a mere few years ago were doodling, daydreaming, and note-passing; now it’s texting. And it’s getting out of hand. Seriously.

There are many excuses offered, multi-tasking, too many things to do at the same time, I’m not bothering anyone, this class is boring, texting is my right. Aaargh!

When you’re talking about college this habit is especially maddening—or should be. This is after all time that is being paid for—often by hard-working parents who are under the assumption that the classes being attended are resulting in an actual, you know, education.

Bottom line, texting while a teacher stands in the front of the room and works to present the material you are supposedly there to learn, absorb, and assimilate is RUDE! It’s wrong, it’s inexcusable, it’s pointless, it’s wrong again. So stop it!

Teachers, as usual, are put in a nearly untenable position. Do they take a zero tolerance stance and spend a good percentage of their class-time watching students like a hawk or do they turn a blind eye? Do they try the “if you can’t beat them, join them” philosophy? Some teachers have tried to incorporate their students obsession into the workings of the actual class by having students contribute to the class through texting, sending assignments via text, etc. Others allow students to get their texting out of their systems at the beginning of class.

What the answer is probably no one knows. All I do know is that the ninety-nine percent of banal trivial pursuit constituted by the average text has a time and a place. And it’s not in the classroom. 

Create Grammar Fun with A Word With You


plɛn ə pəˈtɛn ʃiˌɛr i, -ʃə ri/   [plen-uh-puhten-shee-er-ee, -shuh-ree] noun, plural -ar·ies, adjective


  1. a person, esp. a diplomatic agent, invested with full power or authority to transact business on behalf of another.


  1. invested with full power or authority, as a diplomatic agent.
  2. conferring or bestowing full power, as a commission.
  3. absolute or full, as power.

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Origin: 1635–45; < ML plēnipotentiārius. See plenipotent, -i-, -ary


I don’t even know why I glommed onto this particular word except that I heard it while watching a television show and it was used and I realized I had never heard it before and so there you are.

As you can see by the origin, it’s not a new word, haling back to the 17th century. I can’t help but wonder how often it was used back in 1635. It sounds like a political sort of word so it was probably bandied about around long tables by guys in wigs and hose with buckles on their shoes, but other than that probably not so much.

In any case, plenipotentiary is a good word to add to your arsenals. The next time you really want to suck up to your boss for instance, you can tell him (or her) that he has strong plenipotentiary potential. Or something. 

Grammar Punk Sentence: T A 4

Happily ensconced as the ambassador to the United Federated States of Micronesia, and justly proud of his newly minted pleniopetentiary status, Mario sincerely hoped no one declared war anytime soon.

All of you teachers of English, grammar, and writing, challenge your students to write a sentence containing the word pleniopetentiary and contains at least four words with the letters T and A. The rest of you can write one too. And share!

Create Grammar Fun…With Fog


I like fog. And I hate fog.

It’s winter and that means that at least here and there, usually very early and very late, there will be fog. Sometimes it’s just thickenough to obscure distance, occasionally that distance extends to the front bumper of your car. I’ve driven in fog, I know how to drive in fog, therefore fog doesn’t necessarily frighten me. Necessarily. Except when it does.

I happened to be in an area I was not terribly familiar with the other night, it was dark and the fog was of the distant variety, not terribly thick, just thick enough, it turns out to be completely disorienting.

Let me preface this exchange with the fact that I have a good sense of direction. I rarely get lost and when I do I always manage to find my way because of that sense of direction thing.

Except for the fog thing. For the first time in longer than I can remember I was lost, really lost. Worse, I had completely lost my sense of direction. I mean completely. I was positive I was headed south only to find that I was going east! And on and on. I eventually managed to find my way back home but only after much longer than I liked and only after completely destroying my confidence in my ability to always find my way.

The stupid fog!

It wasn’t until I was finally safely home that I realized how badly the fog had screwed up my sense of direction. I literally couldn’t see my landmarks, get my bearings, see any of the familiar things I’d grown accustomed to seeing. The fog messed up the whole picture which is how I got lost and it wasn’t really my fault and so I hate fog. For now.

Stephen King wrote a very memorable and all too familiarly disturbing little missive called The Mist. In the mist were very large, very vicious, very unpredictable creatures who would eat you like as not. And while I don’t believe there are creatures in the fog, I wouldn’t be absolutely asonished to find that there were.

Then again, there is nothing quite as cools as taking a walk in really deep, impenetrable fog. The whole world seems to disappear around you and the trees are coated with this incredibly intricate and delicate covering of frosty rime.

Just don’t try driving anywhere.

Make Grammar Fun with Grammar Punk…and Driving

Driving Me Crazy!

In case I haven’t mentioned it, I have a bit of a commute on my way to work every morning. This is not unusual for me, I live in a small enough town that heading out of town for a job is pretty much the norm. Which means there are just as many folks just like me on the road doing the same thing at the same time.

Which leads me to the topic of this blog: other drivers.

I think I’ve mentioned that I prefer to make my daily commute on a highway versus a freeway. This is precisely because of other drivers. If they’re not tailgating they’re swerving in too close as they change lanes, swerving in and out of their lanes or just generally scaring the crap right out of me.

The highway is less…annoying.

But it too has its…challenges. And nitwits.

I call one particular class “Slammers”.  Now I’ve mentioned before that tailgating is one of my worst pet peeves and it is. Because of course it’s not just an annoyance, it’s a huge danger and one of the reasons for so many accidents. Those ten, twenty, thirty car pileups you hear about? They can’t happen unless the majority of folks caught in them weren’t following too closely too each other to be able to stop before whacking into one another. So yes, I hate tailgating. And the gaters. And I don’t do it. Ever.

Which brings me to the “Slammers.” These are the folks that drive in front of you who are inevitably following the people in front of them too closely which, when the inevitable slow-down, traffic build-up, flat tire, whathaveyou happens, the Slammers don’t have enough time or distance to do anything but…guessed it, slam on their brakes. Which causes me to do the same. Thank goodness for my propensity to allow plenty of bumper room in front of me or I would have had a good half-dozen collisions to my name this year alone.

Teachers of English, grammar, and writing, here’s a writing prompt for you. Ask your students to write about their driving pet peeves—even if they don’t drive yet. Believe me, if they’ve ridden in a car they’re bound to have some stories. We want to hear yours too. So have them write and then share.