Rather than a starting place for learning grammar, Grammar for Writers is an online course that helps students learn to write better by analyzing the grammar of their own writing, identifying problems, and learning how to construct more interesting sentences.
Grammar for Writers should be best for students in grades seven through twelve, but college students and adults might also find it useful. The publisher indicates the course should be worth a half credit for high school.
How It Works
Forty-one lessons are divided into four modules, each module beginning with a brief introductory lesson. Most of the other lessons have two “steps” and a quiz. The first step for most lessons is a seven- to twelve-minute video lecture by instructor Jonathan Rogers, with a transcript below the video screen box. The second step is lecture notes, a lightly edited version of the video lecture that’s laid out in an easy-to-read format. Students might find that they can learn the content with only the videos or only the lecture notes.
The 36 quizzes in the course ensure that students grasp the main idea of each lesson. Most lessons have one online quiz, but a few have two. Some quizzes require responses that are evaluated by the program, and scores are shown on completion. Students can retake those quizzes to improve their scores. Many quizzes require students to rewrite sentences or provide other written responses that are not evaluated by the computer. Parents might want to check those responses themselves, evaluating answers in light of the explanations and examples in the lectures. Some parents won’t have the time to view or read the lessons and might be unable to evaluate student responses. If students learn well on their own, parents might leave it to them to evaluate their own responses, but the need for a knowledgeable evaluator might make the course impractical for some students.
Instructor Jonathan Rogers says in the course introduction, “Good, vivid language isn’t so much about conveying information as it is about rendering experience.” It might seem counterintuitive, but to help students learn to write with vivid language, Rogers begins by having them strip their writing down to the bare essentials: “Who did what?” or “Who did what to whom?” So, in the lessons in the first module, students learn the five clause patterns that are used as the foundations of sentences and their key elements: subject, verb, direct object, indirect object, and objective complement. They focus on these essentials and the use of sentence structures that best convey meaning.
The second module builds on that foundation by teaching about modifiers that are added to the key elements, such as adverbs, adjectives, prepositional phrases, adjectival clauses, participles, infinitives, and subordinate clauses. In the third module, Rogers teaches about noun equivalents--phrases and clauses that function as nouns. The fourth module discusses transitions and connections such as conjunctions, compound elements, parallel structures, subject-verb agreement, pronouns and their antecedents, and nominative absolutes.
Rogers uses sentence diagrams to visually illustrate how sentence components work, but he doesn’t require students to create diagrams. Students already familiar with sentence diagrams should find it easier to understand their use in these lessons, but those who are not should still be able to understand the concepts.
In all his presentations, Rogers focuses on the end product—what the writer wants to convey to the reader. Consequently, he also addresses practical topics such as keeping subjects and verbs relatively close together for clarity, when to use (or not use) the passive voice, and when it can be effective to split infinitives.
Grammar for Writers should be useful for at least a few purposes. For instance, students who want to write well should find the grammar instruction a helpful tool for writing with clarity and style, and students who failed to see the point of learning grammar in previous years might come to understand its value.