You might be surprised to learn that the famous Schoolhouse Rock series that brought singable grammar lessons like “Conjunction Junction” to Saturday morning cartoons will be 50 years old next year. As I was a kid who grew up with those catchy grammar tunes, playing them for my students was always part of my teaching repertoire. The students loved them, and the songs and animations seemed to help them remember the purposes of nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, pronouns, conjunctions, interjections, and prepositions. Paired with activities, games, and other resources, they helped make a series of required lessons a little more fun.
But then I found a better way.
Develop a Process to Reinforce Concepts
After teaching parts of speech with a variety of methods and materials over the years, I recently landed on a plan that leverages research, technology, speaking, and listening to get students cooperatively involved, motivated, and engaged in learning these important grammar concepts. In my continuing efforts to have students develop and practice research and speaking skills, my seventh graders started teaching each other the eight parts of speech. It’s been a powerful change.
In short, I divide the class into eight groups and assign each group a part of speech. As students research their assigned part of speech and how to teach it, they have to work together to find resources and create a plan. Then, on their assigned day, they are in charge of class from the beginning to the end, providing instruction and activities to build their classmates’ knowledge and skills on a particular concept. The students are engaged and motivated, and, although maybe a little nervous, they respond positively to the project.
Here are the details of the process I use.
1. Divide the students in a class into eight groups of three or four students. As the teacher, this part of the process requires you to make purposeful decisions about whether to form homogeneous or heterogeneous groups. They both have their strengths and limitations.
2. Selectively assign each group a part of speech. For example, I assign the more difficult ones, like prepositions, to groups that I know can embrace that challenge successfully.
3. Provide an assignment document. Explain the project in detail, including the timeline. My requirements include creating a Google Slides presentation; teaching the part of speech in a couple of different ways, including audio and/or video; and doing an activity or assignment.
4. Provide the rubric that will be used to score the lessons. Explain to students that the rubric addresses both research and the presentation.
5. Set a timeline for preparation. The students have four days in class with computer access to research, plan, and practice their lessons. In my experience, it’s always a time filled with a happy hum of activity. The students take their roles seriously and work cooperatively to provide memorable and fun lessons for their peers.
6. Share the schedule. I like to start with nouns and verbs and then build from there, progressing from what students have more knowledge about to what is less familiar to them. I help the groups out by letting them give me anything they need printed or posted in advance of their presentation.
Once the presentations start, students who aren’t presenting are required to take notes and engage in the activities that their classmates are directing. While the teaching groups are presenting, I support them as needed, and I write notes and mark scores on paper copies of the rubric. I hand each group their rubric the next day after I have recorded them. Scoring could also be completed efficiently using a rubric in Google Classroom.
Student Teaching Generates Positive Learning Results
Here are some of the results we’ve experienced together:
- My students have pushed themselves creatively—they’ve facilitated Kahoots, designed assignments, used movement, sung songs, shared videos, played games, acted out skits, and more.
- My students routinely perform at a proficient or above level on the summative assessment of parts of speech. They tell me things like “I pictured Cody acting out adverbs with his dance and I remembered!”
- My students reflected positively on the entire project, including the work they did, the work they realized that teachers do, and the efforts of their classmates. One student confided, “I didn’t know teaching was so hard! But it’s fun!”
In addition to the positive results for students, this unit is a very beneficial project for teachers. Within this one assignment, many standards are addressed and skills are practiced. Students use research skills, writing skills, and speaking and listening skills in addition to learning grammar concepts.
As students are working on their lessons, it’s a perfect time to go from group to group and talk to students, helping them but also just chatting and building relationships. Another benefit is that the grading is completed during class while students are presenting, which can be a relief considering all the essays and other lengthy assignments that are assessed throughout the school year.
I use this activity at the end of the school year when student energy is elevated, and there is always high student engagement for the entirety of the project while they’re preparing their presentations and while they’re teaching. It serves as a culmination of the research and presenting skills they’ve been developing all year and helps them see how far they’ve come in those areas during our time together. Finally, during this work, there’s always a lot of joyful conversation and sharing, which is a lovely tone for the last days of school or anytime.
Even though they’re 50 years old, those Schoolhouse Rock videos are often part of the students’ presentations. Along with other elements that the students use, they still make students laugh and learn at the same time.