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Whom Do You Love? Navigating the Rough Seas of "Correct" Language

 

 


Enjoying Grammar


     Earlier in the Writing and Oral Traditions Program, we participated in a weekend session involving the importance of play in the classroom. This latest weekend’s editing session got me thinking: Can grammar be enjoyable? Even that very question is enough to make an average teacher recoil.

 

     Lucky for you, however, I am not one of those average teachers. In fact, lucky reader, I give you permission to call me Ishmael, for I am about to chase the question of fun and play through the rough seas of “correct” language. 


    Since what you are reading is a work of informal commentary, I have already demonstrated one of my highest priorities: Write as correctly as your task demands.

If you are writing a song, for example, and that song is entitled, “Who Do You Love?” do not change “who” to “whom” for the sake of correctness. Chances are the audience will not appreciate. If, however, you are writing a formal letter and you begin with, “To Who It May Concern,” you might want to revisit your pronoun usage for that heading. 


    But are the lines between formal and informal always as clear? Let’s imagine Bo Diddley wrote a song about when to use standard English, because a high school English class asked him to come and play his famous song, and he decided to do them one better? The song might come out something like this:

 

Whom Do You Love?  (Bo knows Grammar)

 

I wrote 47 shades of modifiers
Got a question mark for a necktie
Brand new construction on the verbal side 
Made out of Warriner's guides

 

Got a euphemism sittin right on top 
Minced outa cooing doves
Come on now - I’m gonna use the imperative,    
Tell me, whom do you love?
Whom do you love?  Whom do you love?

 

Indefinite "she" took me by the hand
Said I’m a vague pronoun reference, don't you understand
Whom do you love?  Whom do you love?

 

I answer my phone I say, “This is he.”
I use a linking verb cause that's the way I “be.”
Whom do you love?  Whom do you love? 

 

The night was black, the voice was blue
Around a corner mixed metaphors flew 
"Onomatopoeia!" somebody screamed
You should a heard just a what I seen
Whom do you love?  Whom do you love? Whom do you love?

 

Yeah when I use “who” it's in the Nominative Case
Never ever in a prepositional phrase
Whom do you love?  Whom do you love?

Compound verbs, Complex Mind
Grammar instruction never been this fine...

Whom do you love?

 

Hooking Them 

 

    Okay, so that was a bit of showing off, but my point is that fostering awareness of the rules of grammar combined with a sense of story and fun may be the way to hook students. If they are involved in creating something – a story, a scenario, a game – then they will invest themselves in the quality of their final product, and they will learn the skills by applying them in a less restrictive process.

 

    Here are some options:

 

    Students make a grammar game of their choice, with a start, an end, and a list of required areas such as “Pronoun Agreement” or “Verb Agreement”, or “Frequently Misused Words.” The fun is in the design of the game.


    Students re-type one paragraph from a novel or short story, having secretly changed three punctuation marks, and then pass to next group. The other groups have to spot their three changes.


    Students listen to “Conjunction Junction”, and then write their own songs about, for example, prepositions, gerunds, you get it.


     Students create a series of rejected love letters and the respective responses, based on grammatical mistakes.


    Students create a series of skits with “unintended consequences” after characters use the wrong words to their disadvantage.


    Students write a call-in talk show or a “Dear Abby” column whereby all the callers or writers suffer from grammar-related ailments.

 


    Students write on a topic such as “Raising awareness about youth homelessness in our state,” but change their audience: A group of parents, a group of teachers, a group of friends, the governor. In doing so, they change their language considerations to fit each audience.


A Grammatical Vision


     To close: Anything we want to accomplish, whether it is starting a garden, building a bookshelf, or making homemade jam, begins with a vision. That vision is not to master all the individual skills – those are the steps toward the vision. To make kids memorize the steps without giving them a purpose is what happens when we teach grammar in isolation. 


 

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