||The study of grammar is a science.
The teaching of grammar is an art.
The Magic Circle
Tate Gallery at London
John W. Waterhouse
KISS Grammar in One Year?
An Instructional Design
with Middle School Students
As of now, I do not plan on making a printable workbook and analysis key
book for this design, but Vicki has contributed a printable version of
the exercises for use with her daughter. (She added some extra exercises.)
here to get it.
In this on-line version,
each assignment has links to the assignment and to the teachers' analysis
key (AK). You can simply print out the exercises and check the analysis
keys on-line. In addition, each assignment includes a link -- for example
(Level 1.1.1) -- to the KISS Master
Collection of exercises. Using these links, you may find a comparable exercise
that is better suited to your students. You may also decide that your students
need more exercises at a specific level. If you want to make printable
books, see"Making Printable Books."
A number of potential
users of KISS have been hesitant to start a program that requires a number
of years of work. Given what is generally thought about "grammar," I can
understand their position. If I remember correctly, it was Lucian, an ancient
Greek writer, who claimed to be a skeptic because there were too many schools
of philosophy, each requiring several years of instruction. As he noted,
it wasn't worth it to spend those years only to find that the instruction
was worthless. And, as Hegel said, "The owl of wisdom flies at twilight."
In other words, one really understands what one has learned after spending
a long time studying it.
The Objectives of this Single-Year Design
As a result, I
made this one-year design. It should enable middle or high school teachers
to teach the basics of KISS in a single year. Such instruction is not ideal,
but it is far better than what is currently taught. Attentive students
can learn to identify subjects, verbs, complements, and clauses. As a result,
they should be able to understand (and thus avoid) errors such as "it's/its,"
"of/have," subject/verb agreement errors, and fragments, comma-splices,
and run-ons. From my perspective, of course, this is a band-aid. Students
will have almost no time to devote to style, logic, advanced constructions,
and, most important, applications to their own writing. This "one-year"
design consists of approximately seventy exercises. If students do two
per week, they can complete it in one year. A better approach would be
to do one a week and spread the sequence over two years, but most schools
are unable to do this.
For middle and high school teachers who wish
to give it a try, I suggest that your primary objective should be to
get most of your students to be able to identify the clause structure of
most of their sentences. In the process of reaching this objective,
your students should learn how to:
1.) identify subjects and verbs (and thus recognize and be
able to correct subject/verb agreement errors), and
For readers unfamiliar with KISS, I should note that KISS begins with the
the identification of subjects and verbs, and students will continue to
underline subjects and verbs in every KISS analytical exercise. Students
will, in other words, regularly be seeing "it's" and learning to underline
the "it" as the subject and the "'s" as its verb. In the KISS Approach,
in other words, the identification exercises work toward eliminating the
"it's" and "its" spelling errors.
2.) identify main and most subordinate clauses (and thus recognize
and be able to correct comma-splices, run-ons, and fragments).
KISS also makes clauses much easier for students
to understand than does any other approach to teaching grammar. A clause
is a subject/verb pattern and all the words that meaningfully "go with"
that pattern. Because KISS begins by teaching students to identify the
subjects and verbs in any sentence, clauses simply become a matter of extending
that knowledge to all the words that go with each pattern.
To arrive at the sequence in this book, I
have eliminated most of the exercises devoted to writing, style, and logic.
The "Treasure Hunts" and "Passages for Analysis" have also been left out.
Their objective is primarily to show students that what they are learning
truly applies to what they read and write, but they lack the focus of the
identification exercises. This design, in other words, focuses on identification
because the ability to identify what the teacher and students are talking
about is essential to understanding, and because the identification exercises
enable students to see and correct the most commonly complained of errors
in their writing.
Overview of the Design
This book provides an instructional design
of 71 homework assignments and suggestions for introducing and/or reviewing
them in class. Teachers may decide that they can skip some of the assignments,
so if we assume two, occasionally three ten-minute homework assignments
a week, the material can be covered in a thirty-week sequence of instruction.
The 71 assignments are followed by nine optional assignments that focus
primarily on punctuation (the use of apostrophes, etc.).
Time Required in Class and on Homework
As homework assignments, KISS exercises
should take students no more than ten minutes to complete. This holds
even for the later, more complicated exercises because by the time students
get to them, the identification of subjects, verbs, prepositional phrases,
etc. should have become almost automatic. The only exception to that is
exercise seventy, in which students do a statistical analysis of a short
selection of their own writing.
In school, an entire class period may occasionally
be required -- for examples, the presentation of the KISS Psycholinguistic
model, and the group work in which the students review the analysis of
their own writing. Obviously, some teachers will be able to (or want to)
devote more (or less) class time and homework to grammar, so this design
is essentially an example. You can modify it by deleting, replacing, or
Finally, and most important, teachers should
not correct homework. The nonsense about evaluating teachers on how
many of their students pass standardized tests is simply stupid. Indeed,
it is ruining our students by leading them to believe that they have no
responsibility for their own success or failure. Students can check their
own homework in class. This can be done by simply putting the analysis
key up on an overhead. The students can then ask questions about anything
they do not understand. The time estimates below assume this approach.
Instead of checking homework, teachers can make formal assessments by short
quizzes--two or at most three sentences will be enough to indicate how
well the students have mastered the material.
A more time-consuming alternative to
this is to have students check each others' work in small groups. Occasionally,
teachers may want to spend an entire class period checking the homework
by having the students play the KISS Grammar Game. (See the KISS Printable
KISS Level 1.1 Identifying Subjects
|1 - What is a sentence? (Level
|In class: Briefly describe KISS
Grammar and your objectives for it. Give students the instructional material
for KISS Level 1.1.1 ("What Is
a Sentence?") In class, do:
Tell the students that they are expected to memorize:
"Am," "is," "are," "was," "were," and "has," "had," and "have"
(unless it follows "to") are always verbs that should be underlined twice.
Verbs" (Level 1.1.2)
|5a - More Practice with Verb
Phrases (Level 1.1.6
5b Optional:Fill in
the blanks with interesting verbs (Level
(This is primarily a vocabulary and style exercise.)
|6 - Subjects and Verbs - A
Passage for Analysis (Level 1.1.8
KISS Level 1. 2. Adding Nouns,
Pronouns, Adjectives, Adverbs, and Phrases
|7 - Identifying Nouns and
Pronouns (Level 1.2.1 )
|IM: "Identifying Nouns and Pronouns."
[The assumption here is that middle school students
will not have much, if any, trouble forming plurals. Thus the focus should
be to enable students to recognize nouns and pronouns.]
|11 - Phrases (Chunking and
Modification) - 2 (Level
|12 - Possessive Nouns and
Pronouns Function as Adjectives (Level
KISS Level 1. 3. Adding Complements
(PA, PN, IO, DO)
|13 - Identifying Complements
- 1 (Level 1.3.1 )
Complements," and "Identifying
the Types of Complements"
Special Note: This is a two step
process that current users have reported as troublesome for many students.
Too many students resist learning a process to arrive at an answer. This
is also why so manyy students have problems with math problems. You may
find it worthwhile to devote almost an entire class period to the instructional
material, a set of "Examples
for the Process," and perhaps even doing a few sentences from exercise
1.3.1a in class.
Put differently, this is not just instruction in
identifying complements; it is instruction in learning to use a process
for solving problems. It goes far beyond English (as in "Writing as a Process")
and applies, for example, to solving problems in electronics and business
|14 - Identifying Complements
- 2 (Level 1.3.1 )
|[Note that by this point, most students should
be able to identify the subjects and verbs in sentences almost automatically
(without thinking). Thus five minutes should be more than enough time for
students to analyze ten sentences in which the only things they need to
think about are how to identify the complements, and how to determine the
type of each.]
KISS Level 1. 4. Compounding
|19 - Compound Finite Verbs
(Level 1.4.2 )
Conjunctions and Compounding"
with "and," "or," or "but" is a very simple concept. The primary objectives
of this Level are threefold: 1.) Establish the concept and term; 2.) Make
sure that students look for all the subjects for a verb, all the verbs
that go with a subject, etc.; and 3.) provide more practice in identifying
the types of complements.
There are three identification exercises in
this section -- 1.) "Mixed Complements," 2.) "Compound Finite Verbs," and
3.) "Compound Complements." To limit this section to two classes, I'm suggesting
the last two because they also serve as writing models.
KISS Level 1. 5. Adding Simple
This plan devotes six exercises to prepositional
phrases for a number of reasons. First, there are approximately ninety
words that can function as prepositional phrases. Students do not need
to memorize all of them, but they need enough practice with them for their
brains to make a conscious connection to the unconscious concept that is
already in their heads. If they do not make such a connection, many students
will consider the object of a preposition as the subject of a verb.
Second, our objective is to enable students to be able to explain the functions
of as many words as possible in what they read and write. By middle school,
many students may find that a quarter of the words in their writing are
in prepositional phrases. (Approximately a third of the words in much professinal
writing are in such phrases.) Third, prepostional phrases are one of the
most fruitful constructions for initial discussions of style.
|23 - The Functions of Prepositional
Phrases - 2 (Level 1.5.2
|24- Prepositional Phrases
as Indirect Objects (Level
|26 - Embedded Prepositional
Phrases (Level 2.2.3 )
"Embedding" answers a question that some users
have had about prepositional phrases. Although it is not essential to an
understanding of such phrases, it becomes very important for understanding
clause structures. Use "The Pledge of Allegiance"
as an example:
Level 2. 1. 6 - Distinguishing
Finite Verbs from Verbals
KISS Level 3. 1. 1 - Compound
|33 - The Punctuation and
Logic of Compounded Main Clauses - 1 (Level
3.1.1, Ex. 2 )
and Logic: Combining Main Clauses."
This instructional material explains the use
of semicolins, colons, and dashes to join main clauses. It directly applies
to the problems with run-ons and comma-splices in the writing of many students.
KISS Level 3. 1. 2 - Mixed Subordinate
KISS Level 3.1.3 - Embedded Subordinate
|42 - Embedded Subordinate
Clauses - 2 (Passage) (Level
3.1.3, Ex. 3 )
The "suppose you say that I said that she said" play in this 78-word passage
makes it a humorous, but challenging exercise with third and fourth level
embeddings of subordinate clauses.
KISS Level 3. 1. 2 - More Practice
on the Logic of Subordinate Clauses
|43 - More Practice on the
Logic of Subordinate Clauses - 1 (Level
|44 - More Practice on the
Logic of Subordinate Clauses - 2 (Level
Trying to teach passive
voice to students who cannot identify verbs in the first place is like
trying to teach a cat to catch mice in Greek. The cat already knows how
to catch mice, and the students already know how to use passive voice.
No matter how often one attempts in Greek to teach a cat when it is not
appropriate to catch mice, the cat is not going to understand. Similarly,
the problem for students is primarily the question of propriety--when
is passive voice better (or worse) than active? To understand this effectively,
students must first be able to identify the verbs to which the question
|47 - Rewriting from Passive
Voice to Active & from Active to Passive (Level
5.7, Ex. 3)
KISS Level 3. 1. 2 - More on
Specific Types of Subordinate Clauses
The Logic of Adverbial Clauses
More on Noun Clauses
More on the Logic of Compound
|56 - The Logic of Compound
Main Clauses (with subordinate clauses) (L6.1
KISS Level 3.1.2 Parallel Constructions
KISS Level 4 - Verbals (Gerunds,
Gerundives, and Infinitives)
KISS Level 4 - Gerundives
Analyzing My Own Writing
|71 - Small Group Work to
Review the Analysis
|In class: Have the students work in small
groups to check each others' analysis and math.
You may want to collect
and average the number of words per main clause and subordinate clauses
per main clause for the class. You can then share that with them. You might
also want to share with them the results of the professional studies described
in "Statistical Exercises and KISS Grammar"
and, perhaps, the larger group of data on the KISS
Grammar Summary Table of Statistics.
Remember to emphazise
that their objective should be to be somewhere near the average.
Many college students still have problems with
"to" and with apostrophes, so you may want to have your students do some
of the following exercises.
|SE # 1 -- Prepositions
by Themselves Can Function as Adverbs (Level
1.5, Ex.. 3)
This humorous little story about "Mama Skunk" is
the same across all grade levels. While it illustrates how "prepositions"
by themselves can function as adverbs, it also asks students to identify
the functions of prepositional phrases.
|SE # 3 -- Level 2.
2. 1. The "To" Problem (Level 2.2.1,
|IM: "The 'To' Problem"
Some students have trouble distinguishing "to"
as a preposition and "to" as the sign of an infinitive. This instructional
material and exercise help them master the difference.
|SE # 4 -- Writing Sentences
with "To" or "Too" (Level 2.2.1, Ex.
"To" presents students with an additional problem
in that they confuse it with "too." As the mini-lesson explains, this results
in errors that are readily noted by most readers, not just because they
are "errors," but because they lead the reader to expect something that
does not appear. "Samantha wanted to go to." raises the question "go to
what?" In other cases, they hit the reader with a "what" when the reader
does not expect it -- "Samantha wanted to go too the park."
Some teachers claim that this is not a serious
error, and that may be true. But the differences between "to" and "too"
are not that difficult to understand. Thus, people who regularly use these
words incorrectly give the impression of being either uneducated or lazy.
As I tell my college Freshmen, misspellings of "to" and "too" have, and
will continue to, make the difference between an A or a B (or a B and a
C) on papers, not just in my English class, but also in papers for any
other course. The errors are very noticeable, and they give the instructor
the impression that the writer is not very careful or concerned with the
|SE # 9 -- "Replacing
Lost Punctuation & Capitalization" (Level