3 Tips for Choosing the Correct Grammar Textbook

Joyce Cain

Joyce Cain

If students are going to be able to use the grammar they learn in real world contexts, their grammar textbook has to provide realistic practice. There are a number of features I look for in a grammar textbook (or in a supplemental grammar text for a writing class); I also examine the variety of ways the textbook can be used to improve students’ grammar and writing skills at the same time.

1. Look for grammar texts that include examples and exercises that go beyond the sentence level.
Grammar textbooks with single to multi-paragraph level models are necessary for students to learn how to use grammar in extended pieces of writing. Analyzing well-written models is one way to assist students to become accurate and fluent writers. As well as providing instruction on important grammar points, paragraph or multi-paragraph exercises can be used to discuss paragraph or essay organization. Students can analyze the different parts of a piece of writing: the topic sentence, the major and minor supporting points, and the concluding sentence.

In addition, the strength of the supporting evidence, how it’s introduced and integrated into the piece, and the use of quotations or paraphrases might be addressed when analyzing a piece of writing.

By focusing on important writing concepts as well as the grammar, students see that grammar is not used in isolation and can analyze its application in realistic contexts.

2. Grammar texts should include professionally written pieces that reinforce specific grammar concepts.
As with the single or multi-paragraph examples discussed above, students can analyze both the grammar and rhetorical features in these pieces. I’ve found that students who look critically at the writing and grammar in newspapers, magazines, and books will more quickly learn how to use language and writing conventions. Students see how professional writers organize and support their ideas, observing in a real world context what they have been taught in class. This is the kind of lesson that most students take very seriously.

3. Be sure writing prompts ask students to practice the grammar they have been studying.
These kinds of prompts are generally designed to elicit specific grammar structures and encourage students to practice good writing habits as well. Even if the purpose is simply to practice a particular grammar structure, students should be required to follow the writing process from brainstorming through editing on the given writing topic.

Depending on the topic and students’ level, the prompts may also require students to find outside sources to support the ideas presented in the writing assignment. Such a feature naturally leads to a lesson on paraphrasing and integrating quotations into a writer’s text. This discussion can also be expanded to analyze the strength and appropriateness of a source or quotation and how well it supports the writer’s point of view.

By following these steps, students slowly learn how to locate, analyze, and integrate outside sources into their own writing, an important skill for all writers. This kind of writing task should be part of a grammar textbook and lesson, because it reinforces concepts of good writing and requires the use of accurate grammar to be effective.

I also like to use the writing topics presented in a grammar textbook by placing students into small groups or pairs to write a group paragraph. Students have to negotiate not only the grammatical structures to use but also the content and organization for their piece of writing. This type of activity results in extended forms of communication. The final piece of writing could be presented to the class to further the class discussion of various writing and grammar concepts. Although not taken directly from a grammar textbook, this kind of lesson allows students to practice their grammar and writing skills in a manner that directly improves their skills.

To Sum Up
By carefully choosing the correct grammar textbook for extended examples and practice, professionally written pieces, and writing topics, teachers will be able not only to teach important grammar concepts but also improve their students’ use of these concepts in realistic contexts. Textbooks that require students to observe, analyze, and apply grammar in realistic contexts teach them that grammar is not a list of abstract concepts that can only be applied in sentence-level grammar exercises.