Conventions: A Craft Move

My earliest writing memories took place on the couch in my parents’ living room: my mom and I would hunch over my assignments as she directed me to develop my ideas, create sentences, add paragraphs, consider word choice, and correct spelling mistakes. I was no more than 8 or 9.

5th through 8th grade marked a turning point with grammar instruction. The worksheets that tested my knowledge of adjectives, verbs, compound sentences, etc. felt like a Rubik’s cube or Sudoku challenge, intense and exciting. The complexities of the English language intrigued me.

As I grew up, I understood that there was a difference between completing worksheets and crafting writing pieces. Grammar enabled me to convey my ideas and enhance my mood, tone, rhythm, and point. Learning how to study mentor texts–whether published academic articles or young adult literature–helped me to see how authors made important convention decisions.

This became all the more important when I started teaching middle school English. Image Grammar by Harry R. Noden gave me the language to talk about grammar as a craft move and helped me frame mini-lessons that inspired me and my students.

These past two weeks, I looked through my students’ end of year reflections. A handful mentioned how much they appreciated the lessons on grammar. One student said he was excited to have learned how to use the em dash to emphasize his ideas; another mentioned the colon and how this added sophistication to her writing; and another was proud of their use of sentence variation. These students have already begun to see grammar as a technique that will enhance their overall writing.

While I have always loved the writing process and found grammar to be a game of sorts, I was much older before I realized the power and impact of conventions. It also wasn’t until I started teaching mini-lessons for my students and inviting them to take writing risks that I began to play more with grammar.

A few years ago, I recommended Image Grammar to a fellow graduate student at West Chester University, and I recommend it to you today. Revisiting grammar rules and studying mentor texts has enabled me to strengthen my writing and given me the confidence to take risks. I wish the same for you.

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