5 authentic ways to teach grammar


By Jackie from ROOM 213

If you're tired of teaching endless grammar lessons and still getting assignments full of errors, read on! I've got five authentic ways to teach grammar, ones that can lead to fast results.

The red pen has gotten a bad reputation since I began my teaching career thirty years ago. It used to be a symbol of the English teacher who would use it like a weapon, finding ways to slash marks from students. Now of course, that wasn’t always the case, but those of us who were students or teachers during this time remember that a great deal of feedback on our papers was focused on mechanical errors.

When I was in high school, I took a full semester “writing” course on grammar. And yes, I knew what a dangling participle was, and I could diagram a sentence with the best of them. However, I remember the course being deadly dull.  The worst of it was, however, that we did very little writing in that class. It was all about the grammar.

Was that so bad? Perhaps not. Surely students can handle a dull class if they learn something valuable, right?

But what if a student can identify and fix a fused sentence or a fragment in an exercise but can’t do so in their own writing? 

These are questions that we struggle with when planning our instruction, and while  I don’t think there is one “correct” way to teach mechanics, I have strategies you can try that have lead to great results with my students.

I hope you can find something that helps!


The mini-lesson will always be an excellent way to introduce and teach grammar concepts; however it's what happens after the lesson that matters when it comes to student learning.

Teachers have long used a mini-lesson to teach grammar. However, these lessons were often followed by a session of diagramming sentences, or fixing a series of ten or so sentences that were full of errors. And while students can actually be successful with these activities, research has shown that there is not always much transfer to their actual writing.

What really helps is when students use what they learn in their lessons in more authentic ways. Here are some suggestions for how to do this:

✅  First, make a list of the most common errors you are seeing in your students' writing. My bet is that fragments, fused sentences, and punctuation errors will top the list. Start with these. Then, later in the year, create lessons around the common errors you see in your students' work.

✅  Keep your lessons short and focused on the reasons why writers make the error, so students can see why/how it happens - and how to fix it.

✅  In the lesson include a few sentences that demonstrate the errors and ask students to figure out how to fix them.

✅  Follow up with an activity where students look for this concept/rule in their own reading and writing. For example, ask them to look for properly constructed sentences in their reading - how and why did the writer use commas? Semicolons? Colons? Or, instruct your students to read over a piece of their own writing (a journal entry or a paragraph or longer piece they haver written) and find any fragments, comma errors, etc. and fix them.

Teaching grammar

✅  At the end of class, assign an exit ticket for quick assessment. Just ask students to write one sentence that demonstrates they know how to use the grammar concept you introduced in your mini-lesson. They can pass this in at the end of class and then you can quickly assess whether they got it or not.


Traditionally, when we want to work on mechanics with our students, we teach them the “rule” then give them worksheets that contain error-ridden sentences that they have to fix. This approach, however, presents students with multiple sentences that are incorrect, and that is what they get used to seeing. The theory behind mentor sentences is that students may be more apt to learn the rules when they see models of well-written sentences. They also use a process of discovery to discern why the mentor sentences work.

The mentor sentence approach does not take away the necessity of a "lesson," it just puts the focus on students trying to figure out why, for example, a semicolon is used in a sentence instead of a comma. Basically, your lesson will start with the correct way of doing things, your students will figure out why it's correct, and then they will learn "the rule."

teach grammar with mentor sentences

👉🏻 Grab a PDF with a free mentor text lesson on commas.


One of the most effective ways to improve your students' grammar is by embedding opportunities to do so into their reading and writing regularly - not just during specific "grammar time." This is because, when you do this, students will begin to see grammar as a very powerful tool in their writing toolbox, one that will lead to greater clarity in their writing (and a higher grade if that's what motivates them).

Present grammar lessons when they make sense, from learning about capitalizing people's names when you are teaching lessons on character to learning when to use a colon when you look at modern forms of epistolary fiction. If you are working on getting your students to provide more detail and variety in their writing, it's the perfect time to look at how and why authors use commas. If you want to put an end to fragments and fused sentences, do so while doing readings on the fragments and connections in our lives (I've got this one all ready for you!)

Teaching grammar

You can also teach your students the habit of revision by always asking them to read over short pieces that they write in class to look for places where they can improve both the content and their mechanics. This doesn't have to take long: after they write a prompt, instruct them to read over what they wrote and look for places that could use a semicolon, need a comma, etc.

If you like the idea of combining your instruction and activities when you do reading and writing, click here for ready-made resources that do just that.


In my experience, this is the most authentic and effective way to help students improve their writing. That is because you are giving them just-in-time feedback that can help them fix the errors that they are actually making, not the ones that you focus on in a mini-lesson for the whole class.

One way to do this is during student conferences. Conferences are a powerful strategy for helping students improve their writing as you are able to talk to them one-on-one and can give them fast, targeted feedback. If you have ones that are focused on particular grammar errors that you have been covering; then students can apply what you have been teaching in an authentic way.

And, if used properly, conferencing can actually reduce your time spent grading. Click here to find out how! Or if you aren't sure how to fit them in, I explain how here.

Another way to give targeted feedback is when students pass in an assignment. Look at the image below. In this case, the student was making multiple comma splice errors. In the first instance, I highlighted it and named the error. Then I highlighted the subsequent ones and asked "what's this?" 

When the student gets the assignment back, I ask them to respond to my questions and fix the error and resubmit. You can see the response in the second image.

This does add another layer onto you giving feedback, but in my experience, if you just ask students to respond to a few things on a returned assignment, it takes very little time to assess - and it leads to a lot more learning.

👉🏻 Click here for more Tips for Fast, Effective Feedback


Another way to review and fix grammar errors is through learning stations. You can do a full review of a concept and send students though a rotation that has them hit each one. Or, you can group students according to need and send them to the stations that cover the errors that they are actually making.

For example, group one may go to a station that reviews pronoun errors while group two is working on sentence fragments. This way, instead of each student listening to a review of an error that other students are making, they are getting extra practice with the ones that they need to improve.

You can check out my grammar stations here. (note: these are all in the process of being updated. Currently, the ones for pronouns and fragments are complete. Fused sentences are next).

So, those are 5 authentic ways to teach grammar. Try at least one of them and see if it leads to improvements in your students' writing. And, if you need some help in teaching grammar, check out the resources below:

✅ Pronouns Errors Mini-lessons

✅ Avoiding Fragments Mini-Lessons & Activities

✅ Comma Mini-Lessons & Activities

✅ Fragments and Connections

✅ Avoiding Awkward Wording

Get more strategies from ROOM 213:

My talented friends from the Coffee Shop have some ideas for you too: 

The Classroom Sparrow: Grammar Mistakes Interactive Flip Book

The Daring English Teacher: 5 Fun Ways to Incorporate Grammar


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