Today I really miss teaching.
Grammar Day was one of my favorite days of the whole school year. It’s right up there with the day we did our annual poetry coffee house and Punctuation Day, which, in case you were wondering, is also really a day (September 24). And I might even love it more than my birthday, which is tomorrow.
I’m a grammar geek.
I love the book Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss and all of its accompanying picture books. I'm a huge fan of Mignon Fogarty, Grammar Girl, dispenser of Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing, and host of Grammar Day. I adore Things That Make Us (Sic ) by Martha Brockenbrough, founder of National Grammar Day and the Society for the Promotion of Good Grammar (SCOGG), picture book writer, and person I was too shy to approach at the SCBWI Conference. (And I'm not typically shy.) I followed her on Twitter and she followed me back. I almost fell out of my chair and did a little dance and my husband rolled his eyes. I told him it was just the same as the Steelers winning the Super Bowl. That's how excited I was.
The Steelers are his passion. Grammar is mine.
He rolled his eyes again. Like I said, I’m a grammar geek.
My dad is a writer, and when I was growing up we sat together, armed with the ever-powerful red pen, and we corrected the small community newspaper. ("Oh, the tragedy of that misplaced comma!") Today I'm the grammar equivalent of that kid in The Sixth Sense. I see grammatical errors everywhere, and it sure can be crippling. I've gone hungry, deciding many times against eating at a restaurant simply because of the ever-so-unappetizing errors on its menu. I've been distracted, as mistakes pop off the page like a cricket trapped in the corner of a room. They make me crazy.
I knew that with this great power comes great responsibility. So, when I started teaching, I decided to be the Grammar Lady.
I wore this button at school:
I reacted in mock outrage at the silly mistakes, the pet peeve mistakes - your vs. you're and their, they're, and there. I pretended that using the incorrect verb tense was like a knife to my heart. And then I pantomimed keeling over.
They'd laugh and I'd hope they'd remember.
No lectures. Instead, we laughed.
We looked at ridiculous mistakes, the kind that can completely change the meaning of a sentence. (A favorite: Let’s eat, Grandma! vs. Let’s eat Grandma!). We talked about how to fix them. We did projects and played games and sang songs and watched videos and wore costumes. I baked cookies. We celebrated all things grammar, the subject that many kids and grownups think is so boring. Cookies make everything less boring.
I'd tell my students that if they wanted to be taken seriously, if they wanted someone to really read what they'd written, they'd have to build their writing just right. Words are the materials; good grammar holds them together. But you need both to really make your point.
This is true for all of us, not just 5th graders learning the parts of speech. The more familiar we are with words and how to use them, the better we get at communicating. And these days, unfortunately, grammar doesn't get the love that it deserves. But shouldn't kids know how to wield their words? Own their words? Send their words into the world without distracting mistakes?
I hope my students remember some of what we did. I hope they liked it, even if only a little bit. I hope that some are celebrating in some way today.
Want to give grammar some love? Embrace National Grammar Day. Go here and learn the song. It'll be in your head till next year. And the words - oh, the words!
What do you love about grammar? Know any good jokes?
Here's to writing and reading and smiling and good grammar. Because, as the song says, grammar 's the bomb.