Some might call me an English geek, but I love to read grammar handbooks.  Last week I found one written just for kids: Woe Is I Jr.: The Younger Grammarphobe's Guide to Better English by Patricia T. O'Connor. (She also wrote Woe Is I for adults, which I haven't read.)

I'm a fan. How couldn't I be?  O'Connor explains grammatical principles all kids need, in a way they can understand. I can't wait to use it; I just need to find my first victim, I mean, student. Don't be surprised if I work the book into lessons here, but until that happens, I wanted to be sure you know about it.

One bummer: Unfortunately, you'll have to tolerate occasional mentions of poop and vomit, belches and boogers. Otherwise, O'Connor does well with writing conversationally, using examples and jokes which keep the content from becoming dense and dry.
 
 
To help students become better editors, consider using Jeff Anderson's idea--Invitation to Edit--from Everyday Editing.

Begin by looking at the first sentence, the mentor text, with your student.  What does she notice about it?  She can comment on anything--content, diction, syntax, punctuation, anything.

Once she has studied it and made her observations, cover it and show her the subsequent sentences, one by one, allowing her to point out what is different (i.e. incorrect) about each one.

"In the city of Boston, on a cobblestoned street, a new hat shop was opening for business."                                                            The Hatmaker's Sign by Candace Fleming

In the City of Boston, on a cobblestoned street, a new hat shop was opening for business.

In the city of Boston on a cobblestoned street, a new hat shop was opening for business.

In the city of boston, on a cobblestoned street, a new hat shop was opening for business.

In the city of Boston, on a cobblestoned street, a knew hat shop was opening for business.

In the city of Boston, on a cobblestoned street, a new hat shop was opening for buisness.


 
 
To help students become better editors, consider using Jeff Anderson's idea--Invitation to Edit--from Everyday Editing.

Begin by looking at the first sentence, the mentor text, with your student.  What does she notice about it?  She can comment on anything--content, diction, syntax, punctuation, anything.

Once she has studied it and made her observations, cover it and show her the subsequent sentences, one by one, allowing her to point out what is different (i.e. incorrect) about each one.

"As soon as she got home, Marguerite lit the fire, set a small pot of water to boil, and unpacked her basket."                                  Marguerite Makes a Book by Bruce Robertson

As soon as she got home. Marguerite lit the fire, set a small pot of water to boil, and unpacked her basket.

As soon as she got home Marguerite lit the fire, set a small pot of water to boil, and unpacked her basket.

As soon as she got home, Marguerite lit the fire set a small pot of water to boil and unpacked her basket.

As soon as she got home, Marguerite lit the fire, set a small pot of water to boil, and unpacking her basket.

As soon as she got home, Marguerite lights the fire, sets a small pot of water to boil, and unpacks her basket.


 
 
remember mr. wright's classroom in punctuation takes a vacation?  well, robin pulver takes us there again in the case of the incapacitated capitals, where mr. wright tries to teach his students the proper use of capital letters.  he succeeds but not without the help of an emergency team. (Wow, this paragraph desperately needs that team, too!)

Possible activities for students to do with this book:

  • The students in Mr. Wright's class write a letter to the principal without a single uppercase letter. Before reading the book together, ask your students to highlight any lowercase letters which should be uppercase. You can find the letter here in pdf format.  After you've read and discussed the book, have them do it again, if the exercise was troublesome the first time.
  • On various pages of the book, Pulver mentions words which should be capitalized.  Invite your students to make a list with each one.  Once the list is complete, have them make a table, adding examples for each category. Or they can use index cards, one for each category.
  • Mr. Wright's students write a letter. Have your students write one, too, using words from as many categories as they can, emphasizing each capital letter with color.
 
 
To help students become better editors, consider using Jeff Anderson's idea--Invitation to Edit--from Everyday Editing.

Begin by looking at the first sentence, the mentor text, with your student.  What does she notice about it?  She can comment on anything--content, diction, syntax, punctuation, anything.

Once she has studied it and made her observations, cover it and show her the subsequent sentences, one by one, allowing her to point out what is different (i.e. incorrect) about each one.

Tom and Nana, Tommy's Irish grandfather and grandmother, had his pictures in their grocery store.                                                                         The Art Lesson by Tomie DePaola


Tom and Nana Tommy's Irish grandfather and grandmother had his pictures in their grocery store.    

Tom and Nana, Tommy's irish grandfather and grandmother, had his pictures in their grocery store.    

Tom and Nana, Tommy's Irish grandfather and grandmother, had his pictures in their Grocery Store.   

Tom and Nana, Tommys Irish grandfather and grandmother, had his pictures in their grocery store.    

Tom and Nana, Tommy's Irish grandfather and grandmother, had his pictures in they're grocery store. 

 
 
If you want to give your student practice with vocabulary and grammar while earning rice for hungry people around the world, go to Freerice.com and begin answering multiple choice questions.
 
 
Type an excerpt—a paragraph or two, double-spaced—from any literature, excluding a
specific punctuation mark you want to review or, if your student is ready for more extensive editing, removing all punctuation marks.  Instruct your student to be the editor, inserting the proper punctuation marks where appropriate. Compare with the
original.

An Example from Johnny Tremain, page 43, without punctuation:

Weeks wore on September was ending a large part of every day Johnny spent doing

what he called ‘looking for work’ he did not really want to follow any trade but his own

he looked down on soap-boilers leather-dressers ropemakers and such he did not begin

his hunt along Hancock’s Wharf and Fish Street where he and his story were well known

and the masters would have been apt to employ him from pity he went to the far ends

of Boston

An Example from Johnny Tremain, page 43, with punctuation:

Weeks wore on. September was ending.  A large part of every day Johnny spent doing

what he called ‘looking for work.’ He did not really want to follow any trade but his

own. He looked down on soap-boilers, leather-dressers, ropemakers, and such. He did

not begin his hunt along Hancock’s Wharf and Fish Street, where he and his story were

well known and the masters would have been apt to employ him from pity. He went to

the far ends of Boston.
 
 
Take a published sentence and break it into simple sentences. Instruct your student to combine the sentences into one complete sentence. Compare his sentence with the original one. Which one does he prefer? Better yet, do this with several students to compare the different results.

We'll start with an easy one and work our way to more difficult ones.

The original sentence:
"The path was rough and covered with small stones" (Island of the Blue Dolphins 89).

Simple sentences:
The path was rough.
The path was covered with small stones.

***

The original sentence:
"When a week had gone by and still no results from my traps, I gave up" (Where the Red Fern Grows 60).

Simple sentences:
A week had gone by.
There were still no results from my traps.
I gave up.

***

The original sentence:
Johnny had always thought her a shy girl, but she stood up straight before the Judge, speaking in her clear, low voice" (Johnny Tremain 83).

Simple sentences:
Johnny had always thought her a shy girl.
She stood up straight.
She stood before the Judge.
She spoke in her clear voice.
Her voice was low.

***

The original sentence:
"High in a tree, at the swampy edge of the pond they had called Loon Pond, the bees were buzzing in and out of an old woodpecker hole" (Sign of the Beaver 22).

Simple sentences:
The bees were high in a tree.
They were at the edge of the pond.
The edge of the pond was swampy.
The pond was called Loon Pond.
The bees were buzzing.
They were buzzing in and out of a hole.
The hole was an old woodpecker hole.

When you make your own exercises, browse a favorite book for a sentence you like. Break it into as few or as many sentences as you like, depending on the ability of your student. Ask her to do the same thing, giving you simple sentences to combine.

Benefits of this activity:
  • Students must play with language, putting all of the pieces into a puzzle.
  • As the sentences become more difficult, students won't immediately see a solution. They will have to try different possibilities--aka revising--always an excellent skill to develop.
  • Students will strengthen their understanding of what makes a sentence. It will be tempting to use comma splices and run-ons to incorporate all of the information from the simple sentences. If this happens, they will have to revise until they have a legitimate sentence.

In the comments, share your list of simple sentences for us to manipulate. How close to the original can we come?
 
 
If you want your students to act as editors, send them to Power Proofreading. At this site, you can choose the grade level (2-8) and the skill you want your student to review.  For instance, if you choose grade 4 and "Who's That Character," your student will correct past tense verbs by clicking on each error and fixing it in the box.  Some selections also include "mixed practice."

Note: The key word is "review." Your student should already be comfortable with the skills before editing the selections. Otherwise, it will be little more than a guessing game.
 
 
To help students become better editors, consider using Jeff Anderson's idea--Invitation to Edit--from Everyday Editing.

Begin by looking at the first sentence, the mentor text, with your student.  What does she notice about it?  She can comment on anything--content, diction, syntax, punctuation, anything.

Once she has studied it and made her observations, cover it and show her the subsequent sentences, one by one, allowing her to point out what is different (i.e. incorrect) about each one.

A Sample Set

"Because he was so small, Stuart was often hard to find around the house."
                                                                                                        Stuart Little by E.B. White, 47  

 
Because he was so small Stuart was often hard to find around the house.

Because he was so small, stuart was often hard to find around the house.

Because he was so small, Stuart was often hard too find around the house.

Because he were so small, Stuart was often hard to find around the house.

because he was so small, Stuart was often hard to find around the house.

To make your own "Invitation," find or write a sentence you want your student to study. Copy and paste it several times, making a change to each one (i.e. delete a comma, misspell a word, insert a homophone, etc.). 

Once your student is comfortable with the process, have her make her own "Invitation" for you or a sibling to edit.  Remind her to put only one error in each sentence, so the activity doesn't become a massive error hunt.