Making Language Learning Funner



Recently, I read Sandra Wilde’s Funner Grammar, Fresh Ways to Teach Usage, Language, and Writing Conventions, Grades 3-8. What a lovely little book. Wilde gives the teacher a rationale and respect in allowing for meaningful language study in the classroom. She spells out the fallacy of trying to use worksheets to teach grammar as “not only boring, but useless.” Instead, Wilde offers sound approaches to teaching the absorbing subject of linguistics.

What I love most about this book is the questions that Wilde asks. To wit: “Were your parents annoyed by anything about the way that you talked as a teenager?” “How many languages are there in the world?” “What is language?” What is the most complex language?” “The easiest?” “Will we all speak the same language someday?” These are far more perplexing and child-friendly than diagramming sentences.

I am also grateful for Wilde’s thoughtful unpacking of language and social justice. She provides that to discriminate and stigmatize according to how one speaks or writes, is narrow-minded, as well as foolish. She challenges teachers to stop correcting kid’s speech, instead accept, acknowledge and celebrate the diversity and richness of our contemporary communication. I took this to heart.

Wilde offers an alternative path to teaching children the importance, meaning, joys and beauty of language. It is chock full of lesson ideas that I cannot wait to try out on my fourth graders. Plus, Wilde offers a plethora of bibliographic choices for teachers to explore. Her Kid’s Guide to Citations and Reference Lists, alone, is worthy of appreciation.

Resources for further study:

Below is a sample of resources that Sandra Wilde recommends interested teachers and students of linguistics to explore:

1000 Languages: The worldwide history of living and lost tongues: London: Thames and Hudson

You are what you speak: Grammar grouches, language laws, and the politics of identity. New York: Delacorte Press.

The Language of Names. New York: Simon and Schuster

The infinite gift: How children learn and unlearn the languages of the world. New York: Scribner

Sequoyah: The Cherokee man who gave his people writing. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Ox, house, stick: The history of our alphabet. Watertown MA: Charlesbridge

Alphabetical Order: How the alphabet began [Monde de alphabets]. New York: Viking.

So now what?

More than anything, I am grateful for this book. Wilde does not advocate banishing grammar teaching; rather she gives sensible, thought-provoking strategies towards approaching all things language. It is time well spent and one of the few “teacher books” that I will reread (perhaps, right away!). If you are a teacher or parent of a little one, I highly recommend that you pick up a copy for your library or tablet.

The Pencil and Paper are 21st Century Ed Tech tools too.

Now that I have returned to Hong Kong, I am actually thinking about handwriting. The following is a body of thought about cursive handwriting instruction for the elementary aged child. Each year, I find myself teaching handwriting less and less. Below are some reasons why this will change:

1.Beauty Matters. Writing with a sense of style begins with personalized handwriting. We can regain the lost art of handwriting only through intentional teaching of the subject

2.Illegibility stinks. There are few things more frustrating and embarrassing than not being able to read your own writing. Teach clarity and precision as a habit. Are we supporting students when their handwriting is so hard for others to read?

3. Confidence. Just as kids judge each other by who can most quickly recite math facts, kids judge each other by handwriting appearances. . “Conscious choice of handwriting style gives you control over the effect your writing has on others.“(Edwards 1979) Neat handwriting is a source of pride and yet another opportunity for students and teachers to shine.

4.” Off the grid” learning happens and will for the foreseeable future. Kids are writing on a whiteboards, visualizers, notebooks and such, constantly throughout the day. Why embarrass students by neglecting handwriting skills?

5. My mom says so. My first and finest teacher is quite proud of her beautiful handwriting. She regularly gets complimented still.

6. The late, great Donald Graves says so: “If writing has poor appearance, the writer is poorly judged. Fairly or unfairly, this is still the case.” (Graves 1994) Graves encouraged teachers to analyze students’ work placement, arm and wrist placement, pencil grip, and control.

7. Neurology connections. I am a believer that good handwriting is good for the brain.

8. Opportunity for quick easy wins with parents, administration and children.  Parents and administrators give teachers a nodding approval when they see kids that care about neat script. Also, many of your students’ future teachers will be grateful.

9. Tech folks that tell me handwriting is a dying art. Rarely do they have a convincing argument.  Set your students apart from the crowd.

Tips for producing better lettering among your students:

Early in the school year, Make handwriting intentional as part of your regular word study program. Teach in groups no larger than 6 kids. Differentiate the learning as much as possible. Introduce a variety of lettering fonts and allow kids to discover their favorite. Suggest that they choose a style to develop throughout the school year. Compliment, compliment, compliment personal growth. Use children’s’ own exemplars as inspiration for consistent, quality handwriting.

Children should self assess, reflect, set goals, write reminders, and personalize their learning, They are to notice their improvements.  I will save and distribute early drafts on Evernote for student digital portfolios. I will have my teachers’ assistant post the exemplars on desks for reminders of excellence.

I plan to challenge children to think of their handwriting as a personalized art form and to respect their words, writing instruments, and paper. Of course, I will never, ever have a kid stay in for recess for poor penmanship. Instead, I will teach them the value of neat and stylized penmanship. Keep it in perspective. Substance and content is what matters most in writing.

Good luck and have a great start to the school year.


Graves, D. (1994). A fresh look at writing. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Edwards, B. (1979). The new drawing on the right side of the brain. London: HarperCollins Publishers.