Teaching Grammar with Office Supplies

Ah, Office Supplies…

Everyone has a weakness, whether it’s the latest fashions, shoes, maybe cars or jewelry. For me it’s office supplies. I am totally transfixed by the rainbow of Post-Its, arrays of markers, spectrum of cardstock, and don’t get me started on the variety of paperclips, pushpins, and rubber bands. I think it’s the possibilities they offer, the potential. I look at a freshly sharpened pencil and I picture the words flowing across a clean sheet of white (or pink, yellow, orange, green…) paper.

One of my earliest—and fondest memories is opening a brand new box of Crayola crayons (the big one) and just being transfixed by not only the assortment  of hues but also by the names of those colors; midnight blue, magenta, spruce, soldier blue, bittersweet, periwinkle. Those names sent my imagination soaring and sparked my once and future love of office supplies.

My back to school days are behind me but I never fail to get a zing at this time of year just thinking about a spanking new backpack, clean new notebooks, a fresh pack of Bics,  a set of neon highlighters… I get goosebumps just thinking about it.

Which is probably why, as we were creating our Grammar Punk Programs to add a little (lot!) fun and color to the teaching of grammar, my love of both office supplies and colors crept in. Big time. The six specially designed Grammar Punk dice were created to not only introduce and ingrain punctuation with a purpose but to spark the imagination. Ditto the (many) card sets whose bright colors and funky print were designed to light the fire of creativity in your students. Just like that long ago big box of Crayola’s did for me. It’s all about the office supplies.

Go to www.grammarpunk.com to find out how to make grammar fun.

Teaching Grammar with Attention Spans


 Attention Span: The length of time during which a person can concentrate on a subject or idea.

There is little surprise that attention spans are shortening. Distracting distractions have become the rule rather than the exception, which means the competition for students’ attention is getting fierce. The trick now is to maintain that attention.

Perhaps at no other time in history have teachers faced these sorts of challenges. Classroom dynamics have always presented their own complications: peers, inattention, lack of motivation, lack of interest, insecurity, that bird flying past the window… Now add in cell phones, iPads, email, iTunes and those of every desk on all sides of you… Distraction is much too mild a word for the phenomena, which brings us back to attention spans—or lack thereof. And all of this onerous falls on teachers.

Short, snappy lessons seem to be the answer. Keep it short, hold their attention, albeit briefly, then on to the next concept. Not the worst idea, conceptually it seems to apply to the problem–unless we’re merely perpetuating it. Teachers are trying to teach an entire generation (ad infinitum) of students who are quickly becoming acclimated to 140-character tweets, 200-word blog posts, or 300-word newspaper articles. What we may not be doing is helping them to strengthen their attention muscles.

Grammar Punk is designed to make grammar fun, approachable and memorable. We also had those short attention spans in mind. Grammar Punk demands that they think on the fly, use their imaginations, stretch their vocabularies, explore humor, drama and flair. In short, we wanted them to have fun writing. Then we wanted them to keep writing. Better still, to want to keep writing.

Attention spans are a bit like muscles; they need to be exercised regularly to tone and train them. Challenging students to move from quick, fun, fast-paced games to longer assignments: words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into stories. Grammar Punk’s intent is to build the muscles of those attention spans by getting students writing every day.


Teaching Grammar with Bait

Bate: to beat the wings wildly or impatiently in an attempt to fly off a perch or a falconer’s fist when still attached by a leash

Bait: a piece of food used as a lure in fishing or trapping

I do so love a homonym I didn’t know existed. Who knew the action of a poor leashed falcon would merit its own word. Then as often happens after I get digging into the word I realize that I have indeed used this word—by its alternate meaning: with bated breath. Because bate also
means to restrain, to lessen or diminish. So I found it slightly odd that when I used Word to look up the word the first and only definition was the falcon one. Curious.

bate 1. to moderate or restrain: unable to bate our enthusiasm.

2. to lessen or diminish; abate: setbacks that bated his hopes.

3. to diminish or subside; abate.


1250–1300; Middle English, aphetic variant of abate; baten to beat, flap (wings, etc.) < Middle French ( se ) batre ≪ Latin battuere to beat; cf. abate

I suppose my point with this particular homonym is that there is so much more to it than first meets the eye. Like bated, abate, batten, variations all. Which is why this is a great word with which teachers of English, grammar, and writing can challenge your students. Discuss. Then write about it.

Spell It Like You Mean It with Grammar Punk

Now they don’t just have to spell it they have to know what it means?!

A hobbledehoy is “a raw, awkward youth.” The word is very old, originating in the 16th century. The first syllable hob probably refers to “a hobgoblin, sprite, or elf,”
while dehoy may come from the Middle French de haye, “worthless, untamed, wild.”

It’s no longer good enough to spell six-syllable words — kids who hope to advance to the semifinals and finals of the Scripps National Spelling Bee also must know what the head-scratchers mean.

The organizers of the annual event announced Tuesday that competitors will take multiple-choice definition quizzes that will make up 50 percent of the score that determines who goes to the last rounds.

The bee’s executive director, Paige Kimble, doesn’t think the new system is a game-changer, arguing that most good spellers are up on definitions, too. “My sense is that many of our champions knew exactly what they word meant before they spelled it.” Hmmm, I guess we’ll see, won’t we.

While I agree with this premise—at least on the surface—I have to wonder how much this new rule may indeed change things and just how much rote memorization plays a part if spelling bees. Having said that, I love the idea. Spelling without defining feels a little like diagramming sentences, it’s not a terrible idea; it just doesn’t have the same impact as knowing what an adjective is because you’ve assigned the perfect one to a specific noun in a sentence of your own creation.

I love a good spelling bee and have always counted myself among the upper-middle tier of spellers, my only criticism lying in the fact that the constant search for that obscurely arcane word that contains as many letters as humanly possibly can get in the way of the sheer bumptious fun of words. Then again pretty much anything to do with words of all shapes, sizes, and functions is all right with me.

A few interesting bits of trivia about this year’s Scripps National Spelling Bee which happens on May 29-30:  This year’s group of competitors is 52% girls and 48% boys.  The spellers’ favorite words include conquistador, flibbertigibbet, humuhumunukunukuapuaa, physiognomy, weissnichtwo and gobbledegook.  Among this year’s field, math is most frequently cited as a favorite subject. Math? Seriously! Ah well, a subject for another day.

Teaching Grammar with A Word With You

Physiognomy:  the art of discovering temperament and character from outward appearance

2: the facial features held to show qualities of mind or character by their configuration or expression

3: external; also: inner character or quality revealed outwardly

Physiognomy is a great word to add to your student’s vernaculars. We’re talking about a face, the features of a face—but wait, then you add in the way a face can indicate a person’s character or temperament. I love this concept. It takes me
immediately to places like the Red Queen in Alice’s Wonderland, cranky and out of sorts and therefore bossily dictatorial; the endlessly sweetly confused quizzical Pooh in Winnie the Pooh; the stoically brilliant Sherlock Holmes
contemplative frown… You get the idea.

On the other hand I sort of hate the idea that a face is judged solely by the expression currently being…expressed by that
face. After all, our emotions flit across our faces and through our brains at the blink of an eye. Still, interesting word to contemplate. And to include in a sentence.

Grammar Punk Sentence: P I 5 physiognomy

As an artist Phoebe prided herself on the accuracy of character her paintings revealed when it came to the physiognomies of her subjects, especially since her subjects were pigeons.