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The KISS Grammar Workbooks

Level One Objectives
Prepositional Phrases; Adjectives & Adverbs
(Compounding & Ellipsis)

Required Objectives

     The students' objectives are 

1) to be able to identify all of the prepositional phrases in any sentence by placing parentheses around them, and 
2) to understand the concept of compounding. 
["All" in the first objective excludes prepositional phrases which have clauses as their objects. Students will run into an occasional infinitive ("to" plus a verb) which will cause a little confusion. Teachers should tell students that "to" plus a verb is not a prepositional phrase, but that, since they have not studied verbs yet, they could not be expected to know that. In grading at this level, infinitives marked as prepositional phrases should be ignored.]

Desired Objectives

     The first three months (September, October, and November) of the KISS design for fourth grade are devoted to the required objectives. The last five months suggest exercises for expanding and applying the students' newly acquired knowledge to questions of style, logic, etc. Teachers might also want to add Interjections and Direct Address to the students' analytical toolbox. (See the discussion of the January assignments.)


     Prepositional phrases are relatively easy to learn. Whereas English includes thousands of nouns and verbs, prepositions are limited to about seventy small words, many of which are logically related -- "in," "out"; "over," "under"; "inside," "outside," etc. I would not expect students to memorize a list of prepositions, but some teachers find that memorization is helpful, and thus may want to require it. The objective of instruction, however, is to enable the students to identify the phrases in real texts, not the memorization of a list of prepositions.
     If students begin working with prepositional phrases in third grade, they will not be very confused by words which can function both as prepositions and as subordinate conjunctions -- research shows that, although a few subordinate clauses appear in the writing of third graders, subordinate clauses do not "blossom," to use Hunt's term, until about seventh grade. In analyzing passages, however, students will meet some subordinate clauses. They should be taught to ignore them. They can do this by using the following rule: If whatever answers the question "what?" after a preposition is a sentence, it is not a prepositional phrase. Students will have some problem with this, but as suggested in the objectives (above) their errors should be pointed out, but not counted against them.
     Research, some of which is available in detail from this web site, indicates that in college and professional writing, a third of the words are in prepositional phrases. In the writing of third graders, this percentage will be smaller, mainly because in their sentences more words are allocated to the basic subject / verb / complement positions (and their modifiers). Nevertheless, students, whose ultimate objective is to be able to explain the chunking of every word in any sentence, will find themselves well on their way to their goal once they have identified all the prepositional phrases.
     Beginning with prepositional phrases alleviates another problem. Even many college students confuse the object of a preposition with the subject of a verb. (This is evident from errors that they make in subject/verb agreement.) When they begin their study of subject / verb patterns, one of the first rules that students should learn is that the object of a preposition (which they will have placed in parentheses) cannot be the subject of a verb.

     Compounding is a concept that students can learn in the process of finding prepositional phrases. Compounding simply means that there are more than one of a particular construction. Traditional textbooks, which focus on constructions rather than on concepts, attain much of their bulk (and confusion) by treating compounding over and over again in different contexts -- compound objects of prepositions, compound subjects, compound verbs, compound clauses, etc. For all practical purposes, any construction can be compounded. Once students understand the concept, they can see all the variations themselves. Compounding should be introduced with prepositional phrases simply in order to explain phrases in sentences such as "They were playing with Bill and Mary." Because the KISS approach focuses on meaning, in this sentence the answer to the question "with whom?" is not "with Bill," but rather "with Bill and Mary."
     Compounding should not be taught as a definition, i.e., students need not be required to memorize and recite a definition. Rather, the term should be used by teachers in explaining why "and Mary" goes with "with Bill." What is important, in other words, is that students include "and Mary" within the prepositional phrase. As they continue to analyze and discuss sentences, students will meet enough compound objects of prepositions (and later compound subjects, verbs, etc.) so that the term will eventually sink in by itself.

Time Required

     Enabling almost all of third graders to identify  "all" of the prepositional phrases in samples of their own or their peers' writing will probably require the equivalent of four or five 50-minute class sessions (or a total of 200 to 250 minutes)  The first session will probably require a full class period since the teacher will have to distribute the instructional material, explain the objective(s), and demonstrate what is expected by going over a short identification passage in class. Following the initial class period of instruction, teachers will want to schedule instruction differently. Some may want to assign a single sentence to be reviewed in two or three minutes at the beginning of each class period.  Other teachers will prefer to give students longer passages (a half page, double spaced) as homework assignments, perhaps one a month. In estimating the total amount of time required, I'm predicting that four to six such assignments should suffice, with 25 minutes of class time spent on reviewing each.  In a subsequent class, devote five minutes to an assessment quiz. Once most of the students get most of the phrases correct, they have reached the objective.
     It is very important that the KISS approach be spread across the school year, and not crunched up into two or three weeks where it will be covered and then forgotten. Teachers who enjoy working with grammar will find it easy to regularly refer to what students have learned, simply by discussing interesting phrases in what the students are reading or writing. Once most students can pass the assessment quizzes, teachers who are not as enthusiastic may want to do just one short exercise in class on prepositional phrases every week, thereby making sure that the students will not have forgotten by the time they enter fourth grade. Such exercises might consist simply of short jokes placed on an overhead. After the students enjoy the joke, have them identify the prepositional phrases in it.

    Time Required for Students in Higher Grades
     The KISS approach can be started at any grade level, but starting later does cause problems. These problems include more than just the fact that more time has to be spent at the higher grade level to make up for the time not spent at lower grade levels. Research suggests that the human mind requires time -- and lots of it -- to become comfortable with new concepts. But because the approach is new, many students will have to start in later grades. In this case, teachers should probably expect to spend four or five class periods early in the year to reach the required objectives. They will probably find that they have to ignore the "desired objectives" so that they can get students started at KISS Level Two.


     If you have not read the general comments on assessment quizzes, you may want to do so. 
     Every student should be expected to get 100%, but because the students will continue to work with prepositional phrases, there is room for some error. Remember, however, that problems in identifying prepositional phrases will cause the student problems in identifying subjects and verbs. Students who cannot pass the final assessment test with a 100% should be given extra help outside of class until they can do so. 
     Incorrect marking of infinitives and prepositional phrases with clauses as their objects should be ignored or, at most, considered as a minor deduction. Things that are marked as a prepositional phrase but which do not begin with a preposition ("and Bill") should be counted as major errors. Assessment tests can be graded by counting the number of phrases correctly identified, subtracting the number of non-phrases that are marked as phrases, and then dividing that number by the number of possibly correct answers. 

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