- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 12, 2009

A friend recently asked me how to teach grammar to a middle-school-age group.

“I have to teach them pronouns and prepositions,” she moaned.

Giving it some thought, I suggested making a game in which all pronouns are banned, and the students have to “pay” for every slip-up. Naturally, the teacher would have to pay for slip-ups, too.

All of the day’s activities and discussions must be done without using the words that substitute for a noun. You can have a special signal for when someone slips up and uses a pronoun — the funnier the better.

At the end of the game, have the players list all the pronouns they used inadvertently. Kids learn how pronouns make communication easier, substituting one word for several, or indicating possession in a simple way.

To learn first-person, second-person or third-person pronouns, you can have one person be “it,” and stand in the center of the room. An interrogator is chosen, and shouts one of the three “persons.” If the interrogator says “first person,” the response is to point to oneself, “second person” is to point to the interrogator and “third person” means to point to another person in the circle.

Then add the plurals of each. This game can be expanded later to practice the forms of verbs: You announce the verb “to be,” and when the interrogator yells “second person,” the player has to yell “You are!” while “third person” would be “He is!”

Teaching prepositions also can be done with games. For instance, you can have one toy be the subject and another toy be the object. Have your students write prepositions on pieces of paper, and put those in a jar. The players have to draw a paper and then act out the preposition by placing the toys in different positions in relationship to each other: on, under, into, near, over, by, and so on.

One of my family’s favorite party games was to have everyone write down unusual characters, such as a pizza maker, grizzly bear, mosquito or ballet dancer. Then we would write down interesting actions: fishing, tap dancing, swimming, playing tennis, cooking, showering, washing dishes.

Each player would take a turn picking one “character” and one “action” and then acting out the character performing that action. So someone might have to act out “a grizzly bear driving” or “a mosquito cooking.” The group has to guess the subject (character) and verb (action), winning points if they get it right.

For math, you can take a concept such as “metric sizes” and make a game where the kids have to come up with objects, and others have to guess what size unit should be used to measure it. For instance, an elephant might be best measured in meters, but a mountain in kilometers, and a fingernail in millimeters.

There’s always “math bees,” which are good for drill-type work: multiplication, division, exponents, geometry theorems, etc. If students answer correctly, they stay in the game, if not, they’re out.

Games are great ways to inspire and cement learning. Try to involve students in as many parts of the game as possible (planning, researching, fact checking, etc.) and use lots of senses (sound, sight, touch, movement).

You’ll be surprised how quickly kids learn through fun and competition.

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

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