Common Core Standards: ELA
Conventions of Standard English
1. Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
Standard English: the language of newspapers, textbooks, emails to people you don’t know personally, and shop signs - at least, those that don’t say “watermelon’s $2.99” or “please wipe you’re feet.” It’s not the language that most U.S.-ians speak to their families or friends, it’s definitely not the way teenagers text each other, but it is the language in which we communicate with everyone else. Understanding the conventions of standard English makes it possible not only to follow important discussions and documents, but also to deviate from the conventions in creative ways.
Unfortunately, teaching the conventional use of English can be about as interesting as cafeteria food – if not necessarily as dangerous – so here are some interesting activities and tips.
Questions and Activities for Use in Class
1. Parts of Speech
There are, generally speaking, eight different parts of speech.
1. Nouns name a person, place, thing, or idea.
2. Pronouns, the workhorse “stand-in” for nouns, prevent the deadly repetition of a noun.
3. Verbs state actions.
4. Adjectives describe nouns
5. Adverbs describe verbs.
6. Prepositions describe a noun’s relationship to other parts of the sentence.
7. Conjunctions link two or more parts of a sentence together. .
8. Interjections express emotions or sudden orders.
By the time they’re seriously considering college, a career, or both, most students have heard of Mad Libs - which doesn’t stop them from being fun. Prepare this activity by creating a one- to two-paragraph story, then remove most of the nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs, leaving empty spaces. On a separate page (or on the blackboard, if you’re planning to do this activity with an entire class), write down, in order, the part of speech that goes into each empty space in the story.
For example, if your story begins, “It was a ___________ (adjective) and ______________ (adjective) night in the _________ (noun) as Jason and Melinda __________ (verb ending in -ed) toward the old schoolhouse,” your list should look something like this:
Verb ending in -ed:________________
For some stories, additional information may be necessary. For instance, if the sentence needs a specific type of noun or adjective to make sense, you can substitute phrases like “name of a fruit” for “noun” or “a color” for “adjective.”
Split students into groups if desired, or do this activity as a class. Give each person a copy of the blank list, or write it on the chalk- or white-board if you have one. Have the members of the group or class call out suggestions for each part of speech. One person should write these down as they’re said. Then, hand out a copy of the story to each group, or have one person read it aloud to the class, inserting the various parts of speech written on the list. Mad Libs results can range from merely odd to entirely hilarious, but in either case, they do a good job conveying how the various parts of speech are used and how, because they are categories, any word from the proper category can be inserted into a standard English sentence and the sentence will make grammatical sense, even if the mental images it produces are absurd. (“It was a gray and silky night in the stewpot as Jason and Melinda moonwalked toward the old schoolhouse.”)
2. Dangling Modifiers
A modifier is a word or phrase that gives more information about the subject (or, in some cases, the object) of a sentence. A modifier is “dangling” when it does not contain within itself any reference to whom or what it’s trying to modify. When a modifier is dangling, the person, place, or thing it modifies should not only be the subject of the independent clause. It should also be the first thing that appears immediately after the dangling modifier.
For example: “While reading the paper, the dog pestered me to go for a walk.”
This modifier is dangling, and the independent clause “the dog pestered me to go for a walk” is simply confusing matters. Unless the speaker a highly-trained literate superdog, the dog is not the one reading the paper - the speaker is. Therefore, this sentence should be rearranged to put the speaker’s identity as close as possible to the dangling modifier, like so:
“While reading the paper, I heard the dog pestering me to go for a walk.”
Dangling modifiers can be a great deal of fun because the mental images they produce can be hilarious. In class, go over how the dangling modifier works, then have students compose seven to ten sentences with incorrect dangling modifiers. Some examples:
“While brushing my hair, my goldfish flopped out of his bowl and onto the dresser, where he promptly died.” (Corrected: “While brushing my hair, I saw my goldfish flop....”)
“The report card was full of Fs, not having studied for the exam.” (Corrected: “The report card was full of Fs because he did not study for his exam.”
“Having finished that night’s homework, the video games were turned on.” (Corrected: “Having finished that night’s homework, Janice turned on her video games.”)
Once students are done writing their own incorrect dangling modifier sentences, have them trade papers with one another. Then, have each student rewrite the sentences on the paper they receive so that they follow the conventions of standard English, where dogs don’t read newspapers and video games, alas, do not do homework assignments.