Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop

By Jeff Anderson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4
Off-the-Wall Grammar
and Mechanics Instruction

Picture in your mind's eye a classroom with almost every inch of wall space covered with sheets of long butcher paper hanging vertically—some white, some yellow, all messy with examples written in marker. You see titles such as [Editor's Checklist] and [Leads that Make You Want to Read.] Right beside these, another chart states a comma rule. Beneath the comma rule are example after example of the comma rule in sentences from the literature of Robert Cormier to Roberto from third period. Meaningful print is everywhere. It looks like Strunk and White's Elements of Style exploded on the classroom walls.

There are no prefab, purchased posters and wall charts—only organic, growing, changing charts that address what kids need to know to survive in the world of writing. And these wall charts are used, referred to, pointed at, moved, and looked at. These wall charts are a living part of my class's meaning-making journey.

Mechanics are a visual skill. Kids have to [see] mechanics in action to absorb the patterns and use them. Requisite rules and examples must be in front of students' faces when they need clarification and stylistic options in the midst of the writing process. And mechanics and craft connections have to be seen repeatedly. Mechanics are meant to serve the writer in meaningmaking; however, to correctly use these tools, young writers must know their options and what those options look like in various contexts. Why not cover our rooms with the examples, rules, and charts? Wall charts are more than decoration; they're brain magic.

Brain researchers Renata and Geoffrey Caine (1994) prescribe that learning should be [a combination of spontaneity and design] (p. 2). These organic wall charts are just that. They grow from my students' meaningmaking. Before I make a wall chart, I ask myself the following:

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