Saint Mary's University Writing Centre

Halifax, NS

Does Bad “Grammar” Instruction Make Writing Worse?

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Teachers, Profs, Parents: Writers Who Care

By Patricia A. Dunn

Most students’ writing—in fact, most people’s writing—could use some improvement: in content, organization, coherence, style, and editing. However, many people continue to think that if only students received a dose of “grammar” instruction, their writing would be better. People can mean almost anything when talking about grammar: memorizing rules or perceived rules, reciting the parts of speech, punctuating someone else’s sentences, correcting spelling or usage errors on a handbook practice page, etc. In many cases the teacher drags out worksheets and instructs students to underline nouns and verbs or perform other tasks isolated from their own actual writing. These out-of-context exercises are not “writing” and, in fact, may even make writing worse.

Red pencil being used to edit a paper. The word laying is circled in red

Engagement, Not Estrangement

First, a word about “grammar” and its relationship to successful writing: It goes without question that good writing needs to be well-edited and meticulously proofread for errors. Readers react quickly, strongly…

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