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

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

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

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


Some teachers love grammar and some hate it, but nearly all struggle to find ways of making the mechanics of English meaningful to kids. As a middle school teacher, Jeff Anderson also discovered that his students were not grasping the basics, and that it was preventing them from reaching their potential as writers. Jeff readily admits, "I am not a grammarian, nor am I punctilious about anything," so he began researching and testing the ideas of scores of grammar experts in his classroom, gradually finding successful ways of integrating grammar instruction into writer's workshop.

Mechanically Inclined is the culmination of years of experimentation that merges the best of writer's workshop elements with relevant theory about how and why skills should be taught. It connects theory about using grammar in context with practical instructional strategies, explains why kids often don't understand or apply grammar and mechanics correctly, focuses on attending to the "high payoff," or most common errors in student writing, and shows how to carefully construct a workshop environment that can best support grammar and mechanics concepts. Jeff emphasizes four key elements in his teaching:

  • short daily instruction in grammar and mechanics within writer's workshop;
  • using high-quality mentor texts to teach grammar and mechanics in context;
  • visual scaffolds, including wall charts, and visual cues that can be pasted into writer's notebooks;
  • regular, short routines, like "express-lane edits," that help students spot and correct errors automatically.

Comprising an overview of the research-based context for grammar instruction, a series of over thirty detailed lessons, and an appendix of helpful forms and instructional tools, Mechanically Inclined is a boon to teachers regardless of their level of grammar-phobia. It shifts the negative, rule-plagued emphasis of much grammar instruction into one which celebrates the power and beauty these tools have in shaping all forms of writing.


You may not know it—yet—but the book you hold in your hands is a treasure. I say this speaking as a teacher and a writer. [How can this be?] you're asking. A book on grammar and usage? Will it hold my attention? Satisfy my curiosity? Entertain me? Enlighten me? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Trust me, this is a book engaging enough to keep you awake on the airplane, enough to keep you turning pages into the night, and best of all—from a teacher's perspective—practical and informative enough to actually use, return to, mark up, quote, give as a gift. Put it on a handy shelf very close to where you do your lesson plans because you'll reach for it again and again.

Why? Well, for one thing, even though most of us feel relatively comfortable with grammar, usage, and mechanics (they are different, as Jeff explains so clearly), and very comfortable correcting others' copy, we do not necessarily feel at all comfortable teaching these things. This is easily understood if we think about it. While handbooks, even the best of them, are jam-packed with rules we must know to write in a literate and conventional way, it is rare for anyone to take the time to explain these rules simply and in depth, then provide examples (more than one, unlike those maddening algebra textbooks), and finally, offer us a chance to apply what we have learned—or think we have learned. Many people are willing and able to share conventional rules. The distance between people who will explain the thinking underlying those rules in a way that we understand and remember stretches out before us like a dry, vast wasteland of meaningless worksheets. Then, we come to the oasis …

Jeff Anderson is a true teacher, one who knows that to teach others well, you must teach yourself first. Reading Jeff's work is like having a conversation with a trusted coach. He makes it all simple for us. He makes it come alive. He offers examples ripped from the pages of today's most absorbing literature. And—here's the part I love most of all—he anticipates our questions . . .

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