- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 20, 2005

Home-schooling

A mother called me recently about her eighth-grade daughter, seeking suggestions on a good way to learn grammar.

Grammar seems to be one of those nightmare subjects. Just say “diagramming sentences” or “verb tense agreement” in a crowded room, and you may cause a mass stampede for the door.

I am happy to announce that a great tool for teaching grammar is available online. The Guide to Grammar and Writing, a project of the nonprofit Capital Community College Foundation, is a Web-based program you will want to add to your “favorites.” Located at www.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/, this guide is a total soup-to-nuts resource for all English communication skills.

For instance, say you always have wondered about the subjunctive form of a verb. (as when, let’s say, your child calls out in that plaintive voice, “Mom, what’s the subjunctive mood?”)

Now, instead of admitting that you forgot about that subject years ago, you can quickly scan a list of dozens of topics in the Guide to Grammar’s handy index feature and click on the one needed.

It has instructive sections, often with humorous quoted texts illustrating a certain point. A quiz is embedded in the text, following each instructive area. You can click on it to go into the quiz mode, which will prompt you with the questions and allow you to write the answers, and then provide the correct answer.

In fact, the site is packed with quizzes usable for your child: spelling tests, verb tense tests, parts-of-sentence tests.

Even better, the site has a substantial section on how to write original essays and do research papers. It teaches simple, step-by-step methods for constructing a sentence, developing a theme and creating tone. There are special sections on concrete and specific language, developing vocabulary, and avoiding plagiarism.

The site includes humorously titled downloadable PowerPoint presentations that can be used as teaching material, including, “The Mighty Apostrophe” and “The English House of Commas.”

Punctuation usage is described in several sections, along with the use of underlining, italicization, and styles used for footnotes or reference lists.

I especially enjoy the site’s rather irreverent approach to certain sacred cows, such as the oft-repeated injunction against splitting an infinitive. The site’s authors know how to explain some of the more notorious grammatical arguments while gently pointing out that some are merely a preference established at some point in the past.

This site is a great resource for the instructing parent and is an equally good reference for the student. It was developed by educators, and it was conceived and implemented excellently. It can be used to teach on virtually any level, from late elementary through college.

Best of all, it’s free. (The authors do invite donations to the nonprofit foundation if the user finds it helpful.)

Whether you’re teaching the basics or proofreading a college term paper, this site is a one-stop resource. Just for fun, check out the Anomalous Anonymies, a list of priceless examples of misused language. My favorite, which supplies a suitable advertisement for why this site is needed: “He slipped into a comma and died.”

Enjoy.

Kate Tsubata, a home-schooling mother of three, is a free-lance writer who lives in Maryland.


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