Adapting a Grammar Lesson to the ACT

At a department meeting earlier this year, the department chair told us, "Mr. [Principal] wants to raise school ACT scores this year, and he wants us to add some ACT lessons to our classes."

This, in a year when Tennessee is gearing up for its first Common Core-based test, when I'm in my fourth year adapting my lessons to the new standards, when I really don't have time to adapt one more thing.

But here's the thing. Mr. [Principal] is great. He backs me up and indulges me when I want to try new things in my classroom. The least I can do is scratch his back on this ACT thing.

I firmly believe that teaching new standards will increase students' ACT scores. I knew I wasn't going to through the baby out with the bathwater with this ACT thing. But I also knew that I didn't have any extra class time for students to sort through ACT practice questions.

I decided to adapt my grammar lessons. A few years ago, because of Common Core, I had adapted my vocabulary lessons to "ACT-Style Vocabulary."  (I intend to blog about this in the future.) Why couldn't I adapt my grammar lessons in this way, too? Perhaps there might be more learning to be gained from grammar the way I had always done it.

The way I have always taught grammar is a little different. By my fourth year of teaching, I had given up on giving grammar worksheets or sentences from a book for practice. Instead, I copied sentences from students' writings and asked the class to correct them. This method of teaching grammar was much more hands-on--much more relevant than the old way. My assignments looked like this:

 In the old days, students copied the sentences off a overhead sheet and corrected them. In recent years, students have copied the sentences from the Google Doc into their own notebooks, where they corrected them.

We always went over the sentences in class, giving students two or three chances to get things correct. I also highlighted sentences where colons, dashes or semicolons would have fixed run-ons and incoherent ideas.

It was time for something new. It was time for ACT.

ACT-style Grammar
Grammar questions on ACT are in multiple-choice format. I hate any multiple-choice questions relating to writing or grammar. I needed to suck it up and do this for Mr. [Principal] and for kids who might benefit from practice with this style of questions.

I set up the questions with the three-answer format, plus one answer that was always "No Change." (Since I was continuing my practice of using student examples, I never really planned to use this. But I wanted students to see that option and consider it.)

Last week, when I experimented with the ACT-Style Grammar, I added follow-up questions, in hopes that students would explain their answers and reinforce successful strategies.

This was this week's exercise, given at the beginning of class on Monday.

It is a step in the right direction, with sentences taken from last week's student blogs.

At the end of the assignment, I always Show Summary of Responses to reinforce the learning from the assignment. I don't always record a grade in the grade book for this, but I always go over answers with the class.

Here was the summary:

The pie charts immediately let students know how they--and the rest of their class--had answered the question. And in the second question, which had had several possible correct answers, students expressed good reasons for their decisions.

That's my ACT-style Grammar lesson. Not including the grading of students' papers, it took me about 15-20 minutes to set up before class.

I'm looking forward to adapting it further. Let me know what you think!