rhetorical grammar in the translingual composition classroom

In this chapter, we make explicit some of the key philosophies that underscore our work in the PWR regarding teaching and assessing grammar and micro-level writing choices. It is important, first, to understand how we approach language and its relationship to culture and society in order to follow the rationale behind our more concrete teaching strategies regarding grammar. In particular, we acknowledge that this understanding runs counter to traditional, hegemonic beliefs about language and its role in composition classrooms. We begin with a broad statement on linguistic difference that draws on our philosophy of anti-racist and anti-discriminatory writing pedagogy to stress the need for compositionists to actively resist inherited and unexamined biases in language. This in turn, means that–as we assert in this chapter–we have to think carefully about and rethink instructor response to grammar. Such resistance is not only an ethical imperative, but, we argue, pedagogically necessary as well.

PWR Statement on Linguistic Difference and the Teaching and Assessment of Writing Across Difference

While many people subscribe to a “common-sense,” monolingual view of languages as static, discrete systems that can be codified abstractly (e.g.,by listing and defining words out of context as Webster’s Dictionary of the English Language does), in the PWR we understand language instead as dynamic, malleable, consequential, and necessarily situated within the socioeconomic, political, cultural, and material circumstances of the time and place of its production. In short, the meaning of actual language use always depends on its context. Consequently, attempts to establish a decontextualized “true” or “standard” meaning or usage generally obscure the asymmetrical power relations that determine what is “true” or “standard.” We further acknowledge that literacy education in the U.S. has been complicit in delegitimizing (and often penalizing) the language practices, experiences, and knowledges of minoritized and historically underrepresented peoples (See CCCC’s Students’ Rights to Their Own Language and Guideline on the National Language Policy as well as their 2021 Position Statement on White Language Supremacy for more information).

We, therefore, seek to develop writing curricula, pedagogies, and assessment practices that better reflect our translingual reality; that recognize linguistic difference as the norm of communication; that stress rhetorical effectiveness and ethical language use across different contexts, genres, media, purposes, audiences, and writing occasions; and that invite students to practice their fluid language and literacy repertoires across linguistic borders, including (but not exclusively focusing on) their fluency in dominant academic English norms and standards of correctness. So yes, we still teach forms of English associated with specific disciplines or the academy more broadly: we just don’t grant them the final say in what is and is not “correct” or effective in all situations, genres, and contexts.

In line with the PWR statement on anti-racist and anti-discriminatory pedagogy, we encourage pedagogies and assessment that:

  • acknowledge linguistic difference as the norm of any classroom or other context;
  • recognize linguistic prejudice as a form of racial prejudice;
  • create writing occasions through assignment design that invite students to practice their fluid language and literacy repertoires for different audiences, contexts, media, and situations with varying stakes;
  • engage in reading and writing curricula that honor both mainstream voices, knowledges, and experiences and those from marginalized traditions;
  • explore the intersectional relationships among writing, language, power, and social identities such as race, class, gender, sexuality, ability, mobility, faith/religion and citizenship;
  • take a rhetorical approach to grammar, which helps students negotiate their micro-level language and design choices to produce various effects in different writing situations and become more aware of how micro-level choices are linked to macro-level meaning making and argument;
  • facilitate students’ awareness of how and why following various writing conventions (as well as how one’s failure to follow or to strategically refuse to follow them) might produce different effects, meanings, and consequences for diverse audiences and in a variety of genres and contexts;
  • prioritize “higher order” concerns in feedback over correcting grammar to a putative standard, especially in the early stages of the writing process (e.g. generally focus more on the students’ meaning making, argument, claims, and purposes as a priority over marking micro-level errors. Restrict comments on micro-level, “low order” usage, especially in early stages of writing, to those instances that most impede comprehension);
  • develop assessment criteria for grading, peer-reviews, and students’ self-assessment that emphasizes writers’ language choices and rhetorical effectiveness based on the writing occasion, genre, purpose, and audience rather than strictly on monolingual and dominant academic English norms and standards of correctness;
  • draw on and practice embodied, multiple, and vernacular knowledges, for example, by integrating lived experiences and library/academic research that complicate the notions of objectivity and neutrality in academic research.

Grammar as Rhetorical Choice

We do our students a real injustice when we expect them to use the tools of language without telling them how those tools work, without letting them in on what the language can and will do.

– Martha Kolln, “Miss Fiddich Gets a Makeover”

While a monolingual ideology supports the perspective that grammar is simply a static set of rules that can be learned and executed (surely the premise behind various “grammar-checking” computer programs), a translingual (or more broadly, rhetorical) approach recognizes that grammar, like all other aspects of language use, is a flexible, evolving structure that depends on social context, genres, and purpose for its meaning and sense of “correctness.” In other words, grammatical choices—just like organization, crafting arguments, and use of evidence—are rhetorical. Part of our goal as writing teachers, then, is to heighten awareness and performance of intentional writing choices (in this case, micro-level choices) to suit the occasion. A monolingual, prescriptive approach to grammar—which typically fixates on “correct” use of standard academic forms—leaves students with few options for negotiating their language choices, refining their ideas, and crafting arguments that best suit the occasion. Such approaches also may not strengthen students’ understanding of how and why to make choices for particular effects, a kind of meta-knolwedge that can translate to other contexts. In the rhetorical approach to grammar that we are advocating, grammar is fluid, dynamic, context-dependent, and integrally tied to meaning making, cultural practices, and ideological assumptions (as opposed to fixed rules we must unquestioningly master). In this approach, grammar can be understood as rhetorical choices that writers make to best meet the demands of the rhetorical situation, hence the expression “rhetorical grammar.” Rather than ignoring students’ micro-level syntactical and lexico-grammatical choices in their writing, we ask how these language choices might serve as a springboard toward larger classroom discussions about linguistic diversity, race, and the tacit values embedded in such choices.

Introducing Rhetorical Grammar to Your Students

Rhetorical grammar is what we (and others in Composition Studies) refer to as the intentional micro-level choices (and heightened awareness of choices) that writers make for rhetorical effectiveness, given the writing occasion, genre, audience, purpose, and contexts they are writing in. While all four PWR Outcomes develop awareness of and capacities for making language choices within rhetorical situations for various effects, Outcome Four focuses more attention to micro-level choices. For example, the part of Outcome Four that embodies the philosophy and practice of rhetorical grammar and translingualism reads as follows: “refining and nuancing composition choices for delivery to intended audiences in a manner consonant with the genre, situation, and desired rhetorical effects and meanings.”

Your students will be introduced to rhetorical grammar in Chapter 16 of Writer/Thinker/Maker:

When you are forced to memorize a set of definite rules without thinking about why those rules exist, it not only impedes your ability to think critically about why you use language the way you do but also hinders your capacity to be creative in terms of how you are using language. However, […] [our grammar constantly changes depending on what genre we use, what community we’re in, to whom we’re speaking or writing, and according to what version of English we are using. For example, let’s say you had to email your professor to let her know were sick and couldn’t make it to class. You would likely use a formal version of Standard English. However, if you were texting your friend to let him know the same thing, you would probably use emojis, slang, and acronyms—ones that you wouldn’t use to text, say, your grandmother, who might be unfamiliar with that style of writing. It isn’t that your email in Standard English is more correct than your emoji- and LOL-riddled text message—it’s simply that the two styles have their own sets of rules. The key is to use grammatical structure and conventions that best suit your context.

In school contexts, you have likely been taught to primarily follow the conventions of Standard Academic English; however, it is important to note that even academic conventions vary by discipline, genre, and context. Beyond the university, as you already know well, you encounter on a daily basis many forms and uses of English (and other languages and ways of communicating) that follow rules specific to different communities, cultures, contexts, and genres. While it is important to understand and generally follow the rules and conventions specific to your writing situation, these rules can vary greatly and you need to be critical of conventions, reflect on them, and intentionally experiment with and negotiate various ways of using language for effect in your compositions (Grollmus 372-372).

Ultimately, our students, like writers everywhere, need to understand the dominant linguistic conventions for the genre, medium and rhetorical situation of their writing. Our ultimate aim here is not to encourage our students to “break the rules” just for the sake of flouting linguistic hierarchies, however momentarily satisfying that may be, but rather to encourage students to experiment with and become conscious manipulators of grammatical conventions. We also feel that developing a more nuanced awareness of and a more robust capacity to negotiate the various conventions students encounter (even if these are all conventions within academic genres in your class) will help prepare them to better transfer this knowledge to future writing contexts. Finally, drawing attention to students’ micro-level languaging practices offers moments to locate literacies students may feel they cannot bring into the classroom as well as to question the ideologies and often racially-driven historical conditions that foreground such exclusions.

In the English 131 curriculum, there are multiple places to foreground grammar: in the essays from Writer/Thinker/Maker, when discussing the languaging practices that surround different forms of inquiry, and in the texts that the students themselves produce. These sites offer ample opportunities for examining the rhetorical impact of particular choices. In the initial stages of reading an essay, you might find that focusing on the rhetorical choices a writer has made helps students to better understand the author’s argument or position. When describing research methods, you might ask why STEM fields require passive voice for describing their research findings, while library-based research in the humanities often necessitates active voice. Using close reading in the service of writing is another way to encourage students to think about grammar rhetorically. Many of the texts in WTM involve writers using diverse literacies that directly intersect with their discussions of race and sexuality (e.g., Anzaldúa, Baldwin). These texts open up moments to talk about how rhetorical grammar and linguistic identities and prejudice intersect with racial and sexual positionalities and prejudice. When you turn to discussions of students’ own writing, you can also help them to see the connections between their language choices and both the effectiveness of their argument and the particular communities/audiences for whom they are crafting those arguments. For example, in suggesting revision techniques, you might find that a quick explication of transitions helps students marshal their evidence into more persuasive formulations while also making room for students to explain how their own grammatical choices might work better for the audience they are envisioning for their writing. Thus key to all classroom discussions of rhetorical grammar is audience: what audiences are you encouraging students to engage through your writing assignments, and how have you taught students to locate those audiences’ nuanced languaging practices? How can your assignments engage both disciplinary audiences and publics in which students are invested/already members? How can you help students leverage and build on the languaging practices/literacies they already possess to write to those audiences?

The Grammar Conundrum: When, How, Why?

Research has repeatedly shown that the ability to write well is not necessarily tied to the ability to parse sentences and avoid comma splices. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that, like it or not, a paper with many instances of grammar usage that do not align with the tacit disciplinary values of its academic readers will likely diminish the reader’s confidence in the author, as well as the effectiveness of the writing. For example, applied linguists have shown that many academic disciplines have their own “hedging” practices when making arguments (for example, “These case studies likely demonstrate…”). Hypothetically, students making interpretations of literary texts through close reading might be encouraged to strengthen their arguments and hedge less often, while students conducting empirical research in the social sciences may then find their lack of hedging coded as an error by their instructors. Reading always involves a negotiation of meaning, and this negotiation should ideally be generous and aware of the power dynamics at play in language use. However, the hierarchies of academia make it likely that our students will be read less generously than they are expected to read others’ work. For this reason, it is imperative that you consider the disciplinary values you bring to writing instruction and how those values frame the feedback you offer students in revising their language choices.Explaining to students the values that drive your feedback and suggestions about grammar revision will help students understand when/how to transfer that learning into new genres and toward disciplinary/public audiences.

While UW students are high academic achievers in a general sense, they are often unfamiliar with the language preferences of their professors. This does not mean that we as composition instructors must return to the days of papers measured solely by the number of red marks on them: “good” writing and “error free” prose are not synonymous. Nevertheless, we are asking our students, in Outcome 4, to practice “refining and nuancing composition choices for delivery to intended audiences in a manner consonant with the genre, situation, and desired rhetorical effects and meanings.” Grammatical choices are part of this rhetorical nuancing, and one of our goals is to help students understand the likely effects of these choices on their intended audience.

Why is teaching Standard Academic English not enough?

Since we are teaching students to write in rhetorically effective ways, one could argue, given the dominance of certain forms in academic writing, that rhetorical grammar, in practice, just means teaching these dominant forms in a contextualized way, where their “correctness” is transparently assigned to social factors rather than to some imagined internal linguistic necessity. There is some validity to this, and the argument that refusing to teach dominant forms is actually harmful rather than helpful to minoritized groups has been around at least as long as the debate over teaching writing skills versus teaching writing as a process (See, for example, Delpit, 1988). And, we are not suggesting you should deny your students access to Standard Academic English, however this is defined. If we have not already made this clear,, a translingual approach to language does not mean that “anything goes” or that standard forms cannot be taught. In fact, a rhetorical grammar approach requires more, not less, attention to the likely effects of grammatical choices.

But before going further, we want to push back on the very notions of linguistic bench-marking concepts like “Standard Academic English” and “Native Speaker of English.” The latter, for example, has no linguistic validity and is generally used to discriminate against minoritized groups (see Canagarajah in Further Reading below) and the former is, like all linguistic taxonomy, far from a monolithic or homogeneous category of language. Even when people can roughly agree on the demarcations of “Standard Academic English,” it is far less dominant in the actual writing of academics than is commonly believed (Young). In fact, the insistence that minoritized people need to learn and use “Standard English” is a well-documented and thinly veiled form of racist discrimination. This is painfully obvious when no actual linguistic difference exists (see, for example, in Lippi-Green, where white listeners routinely judged language as “accented” if they believed the speaker was not white, while judging the same language as unaccented if they believed the speaker was white.) But even when linguistic difference DOES exist, we wonder, as does Young, whether the main question shouldn’t rather be “how do we change the course of racism” rather than “how do we prepare students to get by in a racist world?” (62). Simply put, insisting that our students strictly conform to a traditional academic standard belies the mutability of such standards and perpetuates racist impressions of whose language counts. A rhetorical approach to grammar is fully capable of acknowledging racist realities while also challenging them.

Marking “Errors” or Reading Through?

Traditional methods of instructor response to grammatical issues in college writing classes have tended toward one of two extremes. The first method is to identify nearly every error in student papers, often with stern labels—“Comma Splice!” “Fragment!” “Awk!”—and sometimes with a good scolding: “Your work seems hasty—please proofread more carefully.” Another, and more contemporary method, is for instructors to completely ignore lower order concerns (such as typos and grammatical concerns) to get to more important issues such as argument and support.

The problem with both of these approaches, in their extreme cases, is that they often ignore individual student needs and instructor goals. The first method fixates too much on error and can encourage students to approach writing as little more than uncritically matching an externally imposed standard. This deprives them of the chance to consider the rhetorical effects of their grammar choices and can be devastating and discouraging to students. The second method provides a sort of benign neglect and allows students to feel complacent (even confident) about their skills, and it deprives them the opportunity to understand why some academic readers may not appreciate or accept their language choices. The second method may be more convenient for the instructor but it does not encourage students to think about grammar rhetorically or to develop the metacognitive capacities that would allow them to understand the patterns and effects of their micro-level choices for future writing contexts.

English 131 instructors are more likely to meet their students’ needs if they consider each student and each assignment on an individual basis. Some students actually desire more feedback on certain grammar points, other students will indeed be better served by providing only very limited grammar feedback (perhaps by pointing out patterns or with minimal marking or through mark up of only one paragraph), especially if an assignment is an early draft or component of a larger project. Feedback on grammar does not have to be an all or nothing proposition. You can consider choosing one or two low order concerns to discuss per paper and explain both the kind of choice and the rhetorical effect(s) that will likely be produced. Commenting on a single instance of this issue will suffice, leaving it to the student to decide how to address similar issues in revision and in future work. This can be done for both ineffective and effective grammatical choices. Never underestimate the power of helping students to build upon their strengths!

It is important to reiterate here that the PWR recognizes linguistic prejudice as a form of racial prejudice, and resisting these forms of prejudice is critical to how you respond to students’ intentional language practices. As a point of departure, first consider that students’ micro-level choices are dependent upon audience (more on this below) as well as genre, and that students may be trying to incorporate literacies important to communities/particular audiences in which they are invested into your writing classroom. A key component of anti-racist praxis involves helping students locate timely moments to make rhetorical choices involving familiar-to-them and often devalued literate practices within academic discourse, rather than simply forcing assimilation into academic literacies underwritten by what writing studies scholar Asao Inoue calls “White language supremacy” (Labor-Based Grading Contracts 4-9). However, it can be difficult as instructors to uncover moments when students are literacy linking. We’d like to share an example here from a course Joe Wilson observed at a peer institution in which students were asked to write a persuasive essay. For this assignment, students were supposed to write a 3-5 page paper that utilized secondary sources and that related to their area of study. According to the instructor, the goal of this assignment was to help students develop complex claims, locate reliable sources, and make arguments appropriate in scope for the page length provided. This assignment served a parallel purpose to a Major Assignment that students might compose for an English 131 course at UW. The excerpt below comes from a second draft written by a student named Asad (a pseudonym). As you read his introduction below, think about how you might respond specifically to his languaging practices if you received this paper in your course:

Is Fishing Endangering Sea Species?

Sea, a once rumored unlimited source of fish. This broad, blue surface of salted water has offered humanity a countless pounds of meat from different sea species, and humanity received this offer openheartedly. Many coast societies were very much depended on sea for living that they developed their seafaring and fishing techniques. In the recent half century as the numbers of people increased over the world, fishing the seas has increased from 20 million tonnes in 1950 to 180 in 2012 (Hannesson), and fishing technology and methods has also significantly improved. This made people questions the integrity of our actions against these species. Are we putting some kinds of fish in the danger of extension or in a tremendous decline of numbers? If that is so, what is the solution knowing that in 2011 only in the U.S. 4.7 billion pounds of seafood is consumed and 5.3 billion pounds imported (“Seafood Business”). Illegal overfishing and unhealthy fishing practices have caused harm to many sea species all across the world’s waters. Seafood is irreplaceable from the world’s menu. However, fishing can be regulated, documented and predicted.

Before reading further, take a bit of time to reflect on the following questions–maybe jot down some notes on a piece of paper or directly on this manual in the space below the questions:

  • What do you notice about some of the potential literacy resources this student is drawing on in this introductory paragraph?
  • How could you come to learn about or locate the literacies (academic, cultural, etc.) this student hopes to incorporate into their persuasive writing?
  • How might you imagine different audience(s) responding to or taking up this student’s writing?
  • How might you acknowledge this student’s language choices without either completely ignoring grammar on the one hand or reductively insisting upon an arbitrary notion of correctness on the other?
  • Given your thoughts on the above questions, where would you begin in responding to this introduction?

Just as we’ve done here, an important place to begin when you engage with student work is to ask questions, whether asynchronously through written comments or synchronously during a conference or office hour conversation. For further context, this sample introduction comes from a first-year writing student named Asad, a focal student in Joe Wilson and Hannah Soblo’s (2020) research on multilingual student writing (see full citation at end of section) . Asad self-identified as a multilingual writer as well as an international student from Saudi Arabia. To uncover Asad’s intentional language practices here, the researchers asked himabout his opening two sentences, asking, “This is a really interesting way to start an introduction. Have you ever used sentence constructions and descriptive language, such as ‘broad, blue surface of salted water’” like this before? If so, when?” Just as Wilson and Soblo did here, some of you also likely cued in to these opening sentences as being the most lexico-grammatically and rhetorically divergent from the discursive conventions of introductions in most U.S.-based argumentative essays. However, when the researchers asked the above questions, Asad had an important explanation for what turned out to be a highly intentional set of rhetorical choices.

In fact, Asad noted that he felt most proud of his introduction, and particularly these two sentences, when reflecting on his entire essay. This was because Asad was able to incorporate a rhetorical move he associated with Arabic-style writing, what he translated as “to honey the reader,” into his introduction. Asad knew that his opening with a fragment and flowery language might distract an academic reader from the United States, but he did not seem to be concerned about this. Instead, he was more concerned that his Saudi Arabian peers in his class, the same peers with whom he was usually grouped for peer review activities, would recognize this rhetorical move and pay more attention to his paper and thus his paper’s argument. Asad was passionate about overfishing and knew that his peers from Saudi Arabia, all of whom were engineering students whom Asad particularly wanted to reach on this issue, would likely read his paper. As a result, he curated the introduction specifically to catch their attention, while still attempting a parallel sentence structure he had learned in his English class toward the end of the paragraph to demonstrate his learning from the course in his language choices in the introduction as well.

In this example, asking questions was vital for providing feedback that both acknowledged and appreciated Asad’s effort to introduce a rhetorical move learned in Arabic into his introduction and avoid communicating to Asad that he cannot use rhetorical resources he values and instead must assimilate into White academic literacies. Further questions about his use of extension (instead of extinction) might help Asad improve his vocabulary, and a question about how to expand Asad’s final parallel structure, how fishing can be “regulated, documented and predicted,” to more fully give a roadmap of his paper’s major arguments could help Asad improve his organizational strategies. Indeed, in the case of “extension,” Asad was not making an intentional choice, which allows the instructor to code his language choice as requiring revision. In the latter feedback, the instructor becomes able to have a conversation about how parallel structures serve to both highlight complex claims and frame organization of a paragraph, section, or essay.

Understanding when/how to provide feedback to students’ languaging choices in their essays is an acquired skill that you will cultivate throughout your teaching at UW and beyond. Asking questions that both take an interest in students’ languaging practices and uncover the degree of intentionality behind those practices will help students develop their academic literacies and provide spaces to encourage and affirm their effort to broker literacies when composing for assignments in your classroom. Having students compose reflective memos with their assignments to explain their languaging practices, audience selection(s), and goals for the assignment may also give you insights that guide your feedback to their writing.

Wilson, J.A. & Soblo, H. (2020). Transfer and transformation in multilingual student writing. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 44(1), 1-13.

So How Do Grammar and Micro-level Choices Fit into Our Classrooms?

Clearly, working grammar into your class activities can be a challenge. Deciding what and when to teach is only the first of many obstacles, but asking your students to pay closer attention to their language (and to the language they encounter in the readings) will result in improvements in their writing. Consider the following suggestions:

Decide how you will address grammar instruction before you begin your course. Planning ahead will help ensure that your choices regarding grammar are based on principle rather than necessity. Decide when (which days and how much time) and where (in class or in conference) grammar will be part of your teaching. For example, when having students conduct rhetorical analyses, you might ask them to consider the rhetorical effects of a work’s diction, syntax, and mechanics, alongside other issues. And remember: visuals have a grammar, too!

We suggest distinguishing between two different types of grammatical issues and discussing each in a different setting:

  • Consider using small blocks of class time (perhaps one lesson of 10-15 minutes each week) to discuss issues of grammar as rhetoric: passive versus active voice, parallelism, cohesion, sentence fragments, etc. These issues are distinguished from issues of mechanics in that they present writers with viable choices, that is, they can be discussed as options with effects rather than rules that must be obeyed (i.e., grammar as tools not rules).
  • Consider using tiny blocks of conference time (perhaps 3 minutes each conference) to discuss a single grammatical concern that students have themselves identified as something they would like to work on.

Whether you choose to explain grammatical principles in class or in conference, it may be best to begin with a positive model (an example of skillful usage or techniques) drawn from the context of your course—preferably from a student paper, or from a reading. In class, you can have a short discussion about what the writer in question is doing and how that affects us as readers. In conference, try to find a place in the student’s paper where they have succeeded in using the technique in question effectively. Consider following the positive model and explanation with immediate opportunities for the student(s) to put the lesson into practice. Revision and editing activities work well for this.

Reinforce any explicit grammar lessons by calling attention to the principle in later classes, or when commenting on students’ papers. Praise effective usage.

Be patient and supportive. It takes time for people to become familiar with the language conventions of new discourse communities, and the grammatical habits of academia are certainly no exception to this!

As a general rule, English 131 instructors should (1) prioritize identifying patterns of grammatical errors that most interfere with meaning making, (2) help students gain an awareness of and tools for using grammar and making micro-level language choices strategically, intentionally, and persuasively in various situations, and (3) point students toward the network of resources they can use to adapt to different writing situations, such as the Odegaard Writing and Research Center (OWRC), CLUE, the Purdue Online Writing Lab (OWL) or relevant sections of Writer/Thinker/Maker.

Grammar & Audience

Most first-year writing students enter the classroom with an understanding of grammar as a stable and universal set of rules tied to an unknown general audience, but they actually intuitively know how to use rhetorical grammar for different audiences. Just ask students if they use perfect grammar when sending text/Instagram messages (genres they know well), or what the consequences might be to their friendships if they started using “correct” grammar in those contexts. To help students successfully transfer the knowledge they gain about rhetorical grammar from instruction, readings, and written feedback, then, requires that students tap into that intuitive adaptability. One lens through which to view rhetorical grammar is to suggest that students understand their language choices as on-ramps for uncovering academic/disciplinary and community/cultural values. This means making clear the audience for every assignment. Some questions you might ask as you consider linking grammar and audience include:

  • Is the audience you as the instructor? If so, how can you make clear your disciplinary values to students through your linguistic feedback, helping them understand writing for the humanities?
  • Have you built in opportunities for students to compose in public-facing genres? If so, how can your feedback ask questions to uncover students’ knowledge of those communities and their rhetorical and meso-linguistic practices, especially if students consider themselves members of those communities?
  • Is it possible that students envision audiences for their writing beyond those you have assumed as the instructor assigning this piece of writing? How could you uncover students’ conceptions of audience through conferences, class work, and written feedback?

Our students are working to communicate arguments that matter, and often instructors provide grammatical feedback when those arguments don’t quite land because of what instructors perceive as dissonance between students’ actual language choices and their intentions for their argument. At other times, the stakes of an argument may not be quite clear to readers because of students’ word choice or structuring of sentences and clauses. As you encounter students’ texts, try to pick up on grammatical structures that multiple students might benefit from learning more about. For instance, maybe several of your students need to work on cohesion and concision in their writing, or perhaps several students would benefit from understanding how a parallel sentence structure might help them shorten a paragraph-long complex claim.

Noticing patterns across examples of your students’ writing will help you know what grammatical topics to address explicitly through classroom instruction beyond written feedback on individual student essays. While it may be tempting to use an example from a literary text to demonstrate a rhetorical move or syntactical construction, or while you may be able to locate some grammar worksheets online, neither have shown in Writing Studies research much benefit to helping students transfer meta-linguistic knowledge into new situations. Instead, try to figure out a way to help students understand the grammatical point you are trying to make in the context of the assignment genre for which they are writing. This often means selecting your students’ own texts that successfully employ the grammatical aspect or structure you wish to teach as models of rhetorically effective writing.

To give you an example of what we mean here, let’s return to Asad’s essay about overfishing. Asad’s instructor noticed that many of his students were struggling with transitions both within and between paragraphs, and that they specifically felt confused by many discipline’s use of subordinating conjunctions, transition words, and dependent clauses. Since all students in the class were composing drafts of persuasive essays in which they had to detail a problem and then offer a solution, the course instructor asked Asad if he could use his paper, and specifically this transition, as an example, “Although damage of overfishing and unhealthy fishing is widespread and substantial, it can be predicted and treated by policy makers and engineers.” Rather than seeing this sentence abstractly, however, students could look at Asad’s entire essay and discuss how this sentence allowed Asad to transition from problem to solution as well as to utilize a dependent clause, launching into a mini-lesson about transition words, phrases, and clausal structures. By utilizing student work to teach rhetorical grammar, you gain context-specific, authentic occasions for writing that allow students to adapt their writing for a similar audience and genre.

Grammar, Persuasion, & Disciplinary Values

Many of our classes ask students to create persuasive arguments—arguments that are convincing both logically and rhetorically. This may be in the context of a persuasive essay, such as the one Asad was assigned, but students may also learn persuasion through other forms of inquiry, such as an archival research paper, a genre translation assignment, a digital mapping project, or an interview-based study report. In addition to discussing the kinds of evidence that are most effective, classroom conversations might also consider the grammatical choices common to writing that follows these forms of inquiry. Doing so can help student writers indicate how the syntactical conventions of different genres reveal the tacit values held by the academic disciplines that take up those genres. For example, in much research in the humanities, personal pronouns and active voice are employed because they highlight the human experience and the researcher’s own subjectivities when discussing the human experience, as evidenced in statements such as “We are arguing that…” in much published humanities research. Meanwhile, many STEM fields, as well as some bodies of research in the Social Sciences, require passive voice and the removal of personal pronouns in order to maintain a focus on the research data and to give the appearance of scientific objectivity. Since students enter the classroom often having received the majority of their writing instruction from high school English literature teachers, it’s important that you teach students the disciplinary values that you hold from your own institutional positionality, and that you help them navigate the evolving meta-linguistic expectations that accompany their writing across different forms of inquiry in the academy. This means explaining why you are encouraging a strong verb and active voice to a student who may have been told in another class to exclusively use passive voice. It also means digging deeper into your own linguistic knowledge and reflecting upon, researching, and understanding the values that guide your own feedback. The UW Writing Center has a variety of handouts and lessons that you can either use in a synchronous section or embed in your course modules that can help students’ navigate these different disciplinary expectations; these are linked here.

Some Example Activities and Assignments

Worksheets are not the answer to grammar exercises, so we do not recommend that you simply distribute worksheets or handouts and ask students to complete them. Planning grammar exercises is most effective when you can:

  • integrate student texts into the discussion,
  • make the lesson relevant to the larger context of your course, and
  • reinforce the skill in use (as in future student writing).

Below we include some example activities you might consider adapting for your classroom, with the caveat that what works in one setting will not necessarily translate easily to another classroom. Our hope is that these examples will help you think about ways to work grammar into your class without resorting to scolding and drills. In addition the examples below, there are many more on the PWR instructor site and in the PWR archive.

Example 1: Sentence Fragments

The following handout suggests one way to work through the conscious use of sentence fragments in student writing.


1. What is a fragment?

An incomplete sentence (doesn’t have both subject & verb)

The dog, the cat, the bird, and my sister.

OR, A subordinate clause that stands alone

The essay was written with a lively, engaging style. But, lacked relevant information.

2. Where are fragments useful?

For emphasis, authors sometimes fragment ideas.

Instead of: Essayists often use sentence fragments to emphasize the important information. John McPhee often uses this technique.

Try: Essayists often use sentence fragments to emphasize the important information. John McPhee, for one.

Instead of: The American West was adventurous, romantic and free. Nonetheless, women and men provided their own manual labor.

Try: The American West was adventurous, romantic and free. But, not without labor. Women and men in the American West provided their own manual labor. Nonetheless, the West was adventurous and romantic. Free.

3. Identify sentence fragments within your own writing. Why do they occur? What purpose do they serve? What point are you emphasizing by placing a fragment in your writing? Look for places in your writing where a sentence fragment might be useful. How can you add fragments for emphasis?

Example 2: The Known-New Contract

In Kolln’s book, Rhetorical Grammar, a discussion of the “Known-New” contract provides a great way to help students recognize patterns of cohesion. The following examples suggest ways of working with and explicating this concept.


Additional ways to fulfill the known-new contract include presenting information which qualifies as “known”:

Using repeated information, like repeated or related words and synonyms.
(Examples: suburbs/suburbananization or borders/edges or eastern/western)

Continuing a previously-stated theme or relying on common knowledge, information that a reader can be presumed to know; this strategy is more subtle and gives ties that aren’t as strong as the use of pronouns or noun phrases.

(Example: The president delivered his State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress last night. Every seat in the gallery was full.)

Adding words or phrases that drop hints about what a reader can expect next and suggest direction; this often turns a statement of fact into an opinion.

(Example: The president delivered his much anticipated State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress last night.)

Below, Adam Gopnik illustrates these strategies for fulfilling the known-new contract in his New Yorker article, “American Studies,” of September 28, 1998.

What is this thing called “The Report”? A four-hundred-and-forty-five page book, among other things, a story to read and criticize—a “narrative,” as its authors proudly call it. What happens if we try approaching it that way? After all, no one has had much success dealing with it as a judicial or a legal document—since judiciousness is a quality it so obviously lacks, and it is directed to no court of law. Nor can it be read as journalism, a reluctantly arrived-at exposé; its elaborations are far too ornate, its attention far too riveted. . . .

So why all the schmutz? Well, Ken Starr and his crew are writing, God help them—they’re trying to dramatize a relationship, depict a mood, evoke a moral atmosphere. Think of “The Report” as a love child of the novel—as what the quarterlies call a text—and maybe that gets you closer to its purpose and to the undeniable spell it casts. . . .

You can almost read it as a novel in the classic tradition. When Richard Nixon got into trouble, the cliché was that there was something Shakespearean about his crisis, and his fall, if it lacked Shakespearean poetry, had a Shakespearean subject: the slow declension of ambition into crime, and of crime into evil. But nobody would call Clinton’s troubles Shakespearean; they’re more bourgeois than that. There’s something vaguely eighteenth century about them. It’s there in the constant references to a higher piety that nobody believes in, and Monica gives new life to the word “wench.” Not since Richardson’s “Pamela; or, Virtue Rewarded,” one of the first novels, had so much ink been spilled on a pas de deux between a guy who owns a big manor house and the girl who works there, with the difference that this girl, unlike that one, succumbs. (So, “Monica; or, Sin Punished.”) Even the special achievement, in Starr’s report, of what Sean Wilentz has accurately called “pornography for puritans” recalls the original novelistic formula: pornography for Puritans is exactly what novels were accused of being. . . . “The Report” is a classic story about adultery, in which the law and human affection are in tension, and it resolves in the usual way. When there’s a choice between law and sympathy, the law must take the lovers, but the lovers take the cake.

The “Known-New” contract is a way of conceptualizing the links between ideas in a text. Just as close reading asks us to examine a passage minutely, the following exercise demonstrates how looking for links and repetitions can produce insights.


The more clinical or “objective” passages from “The Report” (Gopnik) or “the Narrative” (Starr) contain fewer pronouns, and instead of “he” and/or “she,” we get “The President” and “Ms. Lewinsky.” The grammatical choice, in this case is to create a non-rhetorical (factual, scientific, objective, “truth”) report of what really happened.

In light of the President’s testimony, Ms. Lewinsky’s accounts of their sexual encounters are indispensable for two reasons. First, the detail and consistency of these accounts tend to bolster Ms. Lewinsky’s credibility. Second, and particularly important, Ms. Lewinsky contradicts the President on a key issue. According to Ms. Lewinsky, the President touched her breasts and genitalia – which means that his conduct met the Jones definition of sexual relations even under his theory. On these matters, the evidence of the President’s perjury cannot be presented without specific, explicit, and possibly offensive descriptions of sexual encounters.

But, then you do get some pronouns. “He said, she said…” creates the effect of personal conversations, etc.

Everyone in whom Ms. Lewinsky confided in detail believed she was telling the truth about her relationship with the President. Ms. Lewinsky told her psychologist, Dr. Irene Kassorla, about the affair shortly after it began. Thereafter, she related details of sexual encounters soon after they occurred (sometimes calling from her White House office) (14). Ms. Lewinsky showed no indications of delusional thinking, according to Dr. Kassorla, and Dr. Kassorla had no doubts whatsoever about the truth of what Ms. Lewinsky told her (15). Ms. Lewinsky’s friend Catherine Allday Davis testified that she believed Ms. Lewinsky’s accounts of the sexual relationship with the President because “I trusted in the way she had confided in me on other things in her life. . . . I just trusted the relationship, so I trusted her” (16). Dale Young, a friend in whom Ms. Lewinsky confided starting in mid-1996, testified:

[I]f she was going to lie to me, she would have said to me, “Oh, he calls me all the time. He does wonderful things. He can’t wait to see me.” … [S]he would have embellished the story. You know, she wouldn’t be telling me, “He told me he’d call me, I waited home all weekend and I didn’t do anything and he didn’t call and then he didn’t call for two weeks.” (17)

The following exercise combines the known-new contract with practice in using quotations.


We’ve talked about the known-new contract and how it can work from sentence to sentence within paragraphs. This assignment asks you to think about how it can work to successfully integrate a quote into your paper.

The sentences below constitute “known” information. You will be given an ad that is “new” information. Your group’s task is to come up with a following sentence that employs the known-new contract: a sentence that states some known information from the quote and new information from the ad that I will give you. In other words, pretend you’ve used the quote in your paper, and now your task is to think of how to integrate it. Your group will have about seven minutes to come up with a sentence.

For example:

KNOWN: I found myself absorbed by the advertisements. They had a remarkable power over me—to seize my attention and to stimulate, if only for a moment, fantasies of an erotic nature. –Arthur Asa Berger

NEW: [relating the known to a car ad] While looking at an ad of a Corvette, my fantasies may not have been erotic, but the imagined feel of zooming down an unknown backroad at inhuman speed had the remarkable effect of making the Heartbeat of America feel like my own heartbeat.


  1. One thing seems quite evident—knowing the strategies used by people who work at creating and shaping desire is important, for then we can make more rational decisions and avoid manipulation. –Arthur Asa Berger
  2. What were brilliantly brought together were the seemingly opposite worlds of advanced, ever-changing, American engineering technology and laboratory science (traditionally the province of men) and the preindustrial, timeless, beauty-oriented cultural authority of Europe. –Susan Douglas
  3. The upper thigh thus became freighted with meaning. The work ethic, the ethos of production and achievement, self-denial and deferred gratification was united there with egoism, vanity, self-absorption, and other-directedness. –Susan Douglas
  4. Using only the most advanced “delivery systems,” presumably inspired by NASA, the Pentagon, and Star Wars, these creams and lotions deployed “advanced micro-carriers” or “active anti-age agents,” presumably trained by the CIA to terminate wrinkles with extreme prejudice. –Susan Douglas
  5. It is a fascinating business taking advertisements apart to see how they function and determining what they reflect about society. It is also a perilous business for there is always the possibility that we are not examining society’s fantasies, but our own.
    –Arthur Asa Berger

The next exercise combines the known-new contract with a peer review exercise.


The following are two assignments for this weekend that you should do BEFORE you fully read your peer’s essay. Both exercises will be given back to the writer to be handed in on the day the revised draft is due.

1. Looking for Collocational Sets

Find any 4 opening sentences from any 4 separate paragraphs in your peer’s paper. Then:

  • Generate a list of 15-20 words you might expect after each sentence.
  • List two to four collocational sets these words could fall under.
  • DO NOT do this on your peer’s essay. Use your own paper, and on Monday give this completed assignment to your peer. This will help them in the revision.

For Example:

In the evenings I’d sometimes borrow my father’s car and drive aimlessly around town, feeling sorry for myself, thinking about the war and the pig factory and how my life seemed to be collapsing toward slaughter.

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

  • Words a reader might expect: draft, guns, blood, fear, nightmare, depression, loneliness, automobile, road, swine, oink, hooves, skin, meat, steering, windshield, wheel, mother, street, streetlight, painted lines, etc.
  • Collocational sets: (things to do with) meat packing, roads, war, killing, etc.

2. Satisfying the Known-New Contract

This exercise asks you to look sentence by sentence to see if the writer satisfies the “known-new” contract.

In pencil, circle two paragraphs of at least five sentences, and analyze each for the known-new contract.

DO this exercise on your peer’s essay by drawing lines, circles, arrows, and whatever other marginal comments you need to make.

We’ll be going over this in class with examples on how to do it.

Example 3: Grammar & Audience

One effective way to help students think of grammar as a set of choices rather than rules is to make the point that in different situations (and, especially, for different audiences) various grammars apply. This can be done by highlighting “academic” writing (using the readings) or by bringing in non-academic examples for comparison.

Connecting Rhetorical Grammar to Genre and Disciplinary Values

Check out these 2 book reviews from one of the most respected scientific academic journals, Nature. Book reviews are a genre common to academic journals as a way of critiquing and evaluating recently published academic books salient to the field of study to which the journal is dedicated. The first book review you’ll analyze was published in 1953, while the other was published more recently in 2018. Take some time to analyze this genre, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do participants of the target audience have to know or believe to appreciate the genre?
  • Who is invited to the genre? Who is excluded?
  • What roles for writers and readers does it encourage or discourage?
  • What language choices do the authors make? For example:
    • Do they use 1st, 2nd, or 3rd person? Why might they make this choice?
    • Do they use mostly active or passive voice?
    • Do they employ transitions?
    • What vocabulary do they use that might be specific to a scientific community?
  • What attitude toward readers is implied in the genre? What specific language choices in the reading clue you into this attitude?
  • How might the date/time period of production shape the textual choices here?
  • What other key differences can you locate between the two book reviews? What do these differences suggest about how the values of the scientific community have changed over time?



Example 4: Simple or Wordy Writing as a Rhetorical Choice

Eliminating Wordiness

It is easy to get in the habit of being wordy in writing – it not only seems to make your writing more ‘complex’, but it also helps you reach essay page limits. However, wordiness can actually make it harder for your reader to understand your writing. Think about the effects your words will actually have on your reader. If, upon reflection, you think your reader will understand you better with fewer words, then you are almost certainly correct!

1. Consider eliminating words that explain the obvious or provide excessive detail

If passages explain or describe details that would already be obvious to readers, delete or reword them. Readers are also very adept at filling in the non-essential aspects of a narrative, as in the fourth example. Revise each of the following sentences and see how many words you can get each sentence down to, while keeping the reading clear for your imagined reader.

  • I received your inquiry that you wrote about tennis rackets yesterday, and read it thoroughly. (15)
  • It goes without saying that we are acquainted with your policy on filing tax returns, and we have every intention of complying with the regulations that you have mentioned. (29)
  • Imagine a mental picture of someone engaged in the intellectual activity of trying to learn what the rules are for how to play the game of chess. (27)
  • After booking a ticket to Dallas from a travel agent, I packed my bags and arranged for a taxi to the airport. Once there, I checked in, went through security, and was ready to board. But problems beyond my control led to a three-hour delay before takeoff. (47)
  • Baseball, one of our oldest and most popular outdoor summer sports in terms of total attendance at ball parks and viewing on television, has the kind of rhythm of play on the field that alternates between times when players passively wait with no action taking place between the pitches to the batter and then times when they explode into action as the batter hits a pitched ball to one of the players and the player fields it. (77)

2. Consider eliminating unnecessary determiners and modifiers

Readers often get bogged down when there are extra words or phrases that seem to determine narrowly or to modify the meaning of a noun but don’t actually add to the meaning of the sentence. Although such words and phrases can be meaningful in the appropriate context, they are often used as “filler” and can easily be eliminated.

  • Any particular type of dessert is fine with me. (9)
  • Balancing the budget by Friday is an impossibility without some kind of extra help. (14)
  • For all intents and purposes, American industrial productivity generally depends on certain factors that are really more psychological in kind than of any given technological aspect. (26)

Here’s a list of some words and phrases that can often be pruned away to make sentences clearer:

  • kind of, sort of, type of, really, basically, for all intents and purposes, definitely, actually, generally, individual, specific, particular

3. Think about omitting repetitive wording

Watch for phrases or longer passages that repeat words with similar meanings. Words that don’t build on the content of sentences or paragraphs are rarely necessary and may cause your reader to lose focus.

  • I would appreciate it if you would bring to the attention of your drafting officers the administrator’s dislike of long sentences and paragraphs in messages to the field and in other items drafted for her signature or approval, as well as in all correspondence, reports, and studies. Please encourage your section to keep their sentences short. (56)
  • The supply manager considered the correcting typewriter an unneeded luxury. (10)
  • Our branch office currently employs five tellers. These tellers do an excellent job Monday through Thursday but cannot keep up with the rush on Friday and Saturday. (27)

4. Take a second look at any ‘redundant pairs’ in your writing

Many pairs of words imply each other. Finish implies complete, so the phrase completely finish is redundant in most cases. So are many other pairs of words:

      • past memories
      • sudden crisis
      • unexpected surprise
      • various differences
      • past history
      • free gift
      • each individual _______
      • final outcome
      • end result
      • basic fundamentals
      • terrible tragedy
      • future plans
      • important essentials
      • true facts
      • very unique (illogical)


  • Before the travel agent was completely able to finish explaining the various differences among all of the many very unique vacation packages his travel agency was offering, the customer changed her future plans.

5. Pay attention to redundant categories

Specific words imply their general categories, so we usually don’t have to state both. We know that a period is a segment of time, that pink is a color, that shiny is an appearance. In each of the following phrases, the general category term can usually be dropped, leaving just the specific descriptive word:

      • large in size
      • of a strange type
      • extreme degree
      • often times
      • unusual in nature
      • in a confused state
      • of a bright color
      • of an uncertain condition
      • honest in character
      • heavy in weight
      • of cheap quality
      • economics field
      • period in time
      • at an early time
      • round in shape
  • During that time period, many car buyers preferred cars that were pink in color and shiny in appearance. (18)
  • The microscope revealed a group of organisms that were round in shape and peculiar in nature. (16)

Consider those times when your GOAL is actually to confuse the reader!

In some writing situations, it might actually be in your interest to confuse the reader. Comedy routines make great use of confusing language to make people laugh. Not so funny is the way that banks use confusing language to prevent their customers from understanding how they will be charged fees.

Here is an example from Bank of America (the 3rd page of a 14 page explanation): Additional accounts. For accounts linked to your Interest Checking account, we waive the monthly maintenance fee on the first three linked Interest Checking accounts and on the first four linked savings accounts of any type. The minimum amount you need to open each additional account, and other terms and fees, apply to each linked account. While you can also have us link more accounts, this waiver of the monthly maintenance fee does not apply to them. Transaction limits apply to savings accounts. See “What are the transaction limitations on my savings account?” in the Frequently Asked Questions About Accounts section on page 14.

From: https://www.bankofamerica.com/deposits/resources/personal-schedule-fees.go?request_locale=en_US

In Conclusion . . .

These are merely a few thoughts about how grammatical choices might be highlighted within your curriculum. As the quarter continues, we hope to revisit this topic and to continue the conversation. For additional lessons and explanations, please consult the PWR website, Writer/Thinker/Maker (Chapter 16), Martha Kolln’s Rhetorical Grammar: Grammatical Choices, Rhetorical Effects, and the resources listed below.

Further Reading

Reader Reaction to Student Error

Horner, B., Lu, M.Z., Royster, J. J., & Trimbur, J. “Language difference in writing: Toward a translingual

approach.” College English, 73.3. 2011: 303-321

This article from Horner et al. is an early and oft-cited explanation of what a translingual approach to writing could be. The authors articulate their dissatisfaction with monolingual ideologies

and explain that actual language use, including writing, is never purely “monolingual.” They argue that composition instructors would better serve their students by reading patiently, with a respect for linguistic difference and an attitude of “deliberative inquiry” rather than with an attitude that immediately seeks to correct perceived error. They also briefly address some of the confusions (e.g. Does translingualism mean that there is no such thing as “error”? No!) and concerns (e.g. Will a translingual approach hurt my students’ chances at getting a job? Also no!)

Krall-Lanoue, Aimee. “ ‘And Yea I’m venting, but hey I’m writing isn’t I’: A Translingual approach

to error in a multilingual context.” Literacy as Translingual Practice: Between communities

and classrooms. Edited by Suresh Canagarajah, Routledge, 2013: 228-234.

In this book chapter, Krall-Lanoue offers a detailed look at translingual practices in a multilingual writing classroom. She offers specific demonstrations of how teachers who wish to adopt a translingual approach might respond when encountering three common types of errors: tense, word choice, and sentence boundary issues.

Sohan, Vanessa Kraemer. “Relocalized Listening: Responding to All Student Texts from a Translingual

Starting Point” Reworking English in rhetoric and composition: Global interrogations, local interventions. Edited by Bruce Horner and Karen Kopelson, Southern Illinois University Press, 2014: 191-206.

Sohan here explains how a translingual approach can also work with “mainstream” students, rejecting the implication that translingualism is only helpful and applicable for multilingual or otherwise marked groups. Her chapter focuses on how translingual precepts (e.g. assuming difference is the norm, acknowledging an individual writer’s agency) can help us “challenge the myth of monolinguality with our students and instead to see how we are all meshing [language] on a daily basis” (204). She offers her own reading of a “mainstream” student responding to Anzaldúa as an example.

The Politics of Grammar

Canagarajah, A. S. “Interrogating the ‘native speaker fallacy’: Non-linguistic roots, non-

pedagogical results.” Non-native educators in English language teaching, Edited by George Braine. New Jersey, Lawrence Erlbaum. 1999: 77-92.

Canagarajah builds on the work of Robert Philpson, describing in detail why the category of “native speaker” is a linguistically meaningless term that serves instead to prop up colonial legacies of linguistic imperialism. He further describes the many harms that this term generates in language and literacy education.

Delpit, Lisa “The Silenced Dialogue: Dialogue: Power and Pedagogy in Educating Other

People’s Children.” Harvard Educational Review 58. 1988: 280-98.

In this article, Delpit observes that the push for a process orientation in composition, while good-intentioned, may actually result in the further discrimination of minoritized students. Specifically, she notes that composition curricula too often do not take minority perspectives into account, instead assuming that the majority understanding of “best practices” is universal.

Lippi-Green, Rosina. English with an Accent : Language, Ideology and Discrimination in the

United States. New York: Routledge. 1997.

In this book, Lippi-Green offers the reader an abundance of empirical evidence to prove her principal claim: Children and adults are taught to rank linguistic difference, with the language of minoritized individuals, in most circumstances, being ranked lowly. On page 64 she explicitly indicates how accent can be a more socially acceptable excuse for racism.

Young, Vershawn Ashanti. Other People’s English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African

American Literacy. New York: Teachers College Press. 2014.

In this collection, several authors, including Young, offer their philosophical support for expanding and redefining notions of what is acceptable language in a classroom. Different sections offer different perspectives, ranging from theoretical elaborations on the meaning and importance of terms like “code-meshing,” to a classroom teacher’s practical look at how code-meshing can be integrated into (and indeed already exists) in classroom situations. As its title suggests, the book is centered on African American literacy, but the theories and practical implications are generalizable to any classroom setting.

Grammar as Rhetoric

Dawkins, John. “Teaching Punctuation as a Rhetorical Tool.” College Composition and Communication 46.4 (1995): 533-48.

Dawkins looks at language as a series of clauses linked according to intended meaning by punctuation. His approach to teaching punctuation relies not on the “rules” (which he is quick to point out are often broken) but on the effect that the author wants to produce. This meaning-based approach to teaching punctuation allows students to “learn by doing.”

Micciche, Laura R. “Making a Case for Rhetorical Grammar.” College Composition and

Communication, vol. 55, no. 4, 2004, pp. 716–737.

Micciche explains that the reaction against teaching grammar from progressives is not a productive way to combat linguistic inequality, and instead argues that ethical composition instruction should involve a rhetorical approach to grammar. She provided practical examples from her own teaching to demonstrate the advantages of this approach

Instructor Attitudes Toward Grammar

Brosnahan, Irene and Janice Neuleib. “Teaching Grammar Affectively: Learning to Like Grammar.” In Hunter and Wallace: 204-12.

Brosnahan and Neuleib suggest that grammar must be taught affectively. They favor replacing grammar rules (at least initially) with the idea of unconscious and conscious grammar—helping students discover the grammatical choices they are already making in order to formulate the “correct” ways of using language. The lesson is well-taken: “If grammar instruction has been used only to punish students for their language choices, then certainly they are right to want to avoid grammar. Their fear of punishment must be replaced with an anticipation of success and enjoyment if future teachers are to be successful in their grammar classrooms” (212)


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