Acting It Out

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.3.a; L.4.6

What You Need: Individual whiteboard and marker or pencils and paper

What to Do: Jennifer Larson, a grades 4–5 teacher in Northern California who blogs at The Teacher Next Door, says she and her colleagues “love doing any kind of interactive game with grammar to try to spice up the subject and reinforce concepts.” One game students play is charades, to review verbs and expand upon their vocabulary.

Larson begins by reviewing the definition of a verb. She has students brainstorm how to change common verbs into more interesting ones (e.g., verbalize instead of say; strut rather than walk), taking the opportunity to correct any misconceptions about what verbs are.

Then, on an individual whiteboard, she writes either a verb of her choice or a set of clues describing the verb of her choice, and shows it to a student volunteer. (Be sure to choose a challenging verb, such as a recent vocabulary word, or one that is used in a content area, such as science.) The student acts out the verb while the rest of the class guesses. Larson encourages everyone to take a turn, and allows students to form groups to brainstorm guesses or plot ways to act out the verb. As a follow-up, consider having students write full sentences with the verbs to get bonus points or sentences using both a verb and its homonym noun pair (such as rose, bark, and fair).

Grammar need not be a dry subject to teach, says Larson: “When something is boring, that’s the best time to get creative.”

As an alternative, provide all of your students with a few slips of paper. On each slip, have them write down a verb that will go into a stack from which volunteer actors can draw. And don’t limit yourself to verbs—this can be a helpful review for all parts of speech.


Cartooning With Tenses

Standard Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CSE.5.1.c

What You Need: Blank comic strips (try The Curriculum Corner); story action sets that use different verb tenses or conditions; wordless books, such as Journey, by Aaron Becker, or Flotsam, by David Wiesner; writing and drawing tools; sticky notes or paper strips

What to Do: Give your kids a cartooning assignment—it’s a great way to teach writing and grammar! Prepare several sets of story actions. The sets can be single-condition statements or related statements with different verb tenses. For example: The child took a bath because he had gotten dirty while playing on the playground. Or: The soccer team scrimmaged their opponents. Kara couldn’t play in the game because she tripped and sprained her ankle. She watched her team play from the sidelines.

Model the activity for the students. Pick a set of story actions to sequence and then illustrate on a blank comic strip. Think aloud to show how to determine what the sequence of the actions in the set must be according to the verb tenses or conditions. Then, for each action, draw a cartoon frame that illustrates that action.

After modeling, give each student a set of story actions and a blank comic strip. Have them illustrate the story actions on the strip, emphasizing they must draw their frames in the proper sequence. The sequence must match how the events happened according to the condition statements or the different verb tenses. Be sure students use enough of the empty comic-strip fields to accurately depict the actions.

To practice this skill in reverse, provide students with a copy of a wordless book, such as Journey or Flotsam. Have them provide words to accompany the story’s pictures. They can write these sentences on sticky notes or small strips of paper. Challenge kids to use as many verb tenses or conditions as possible when narrating the story.


Animal Chatter

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.L.4.2.b; L.4.3.b; L.4.3.c

What You Need: Interactive whiteboard and Internet-connected computer, dry-erase markers, laminated animal photographs, magazines or catalogs with animal images, writing utensils

What to Do: “Quotation marks are a concept that can be tough to master and practice,” says Amber Ernst, a former fourth-grade teacher at St. Elizabeth Elementary School in Kansas City, Missouri, who currently works for the School Counseling Division at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. During her years of teaching, Ernst, who blogs at SSSTeaching, developed a lesson to help kids practice using quotation punctuation accurately.

After instructing students on how to appropriately use punctuation marks in dialogue, Ernst had them view a video clip of animals “speaking” with funny voice-overs, like those found at or Then, she displayed a selection of animal photographs she had printed out and laminated, and asked volunteers to describe what the animals might be thinking or saying. (Alternately, you could have students browse catalogs or magazines to find pictures to narrate.)

Once everyone understood the idea, she asked them to choose two or three photos and make up their own quotes, writing them down and using proper punctuation and verbs to indicate that someone was speaking. She had them share this practice dialogue with partners or the class to get feedback on proper quotation form.

Ernst suggests having students put together their quotes with images and do gallery walks to see one another’s work. Keep them up for an open house, she suggests: “Parents love seeing these in the hallway, as they are usually pretty funny!”


Pictures With Prepositions

Standards Met: CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CSE.4.1.f; CSE.4.2.c; CSE.5.1.a

What You Need: Devices with photographic capabilities, such as tablets or digital cameras; interactive whiteboard; computers with word-processing capabilities

What to Do: A documentary scavenger hunt can be just the thing to spur grammar review or prepare for essay writing. After reviewing prepositions and coordinating conjunctions with students, set them off on a creative photo search around the school or outside on the school grounds, equipped with tablets, digital cameras, or other devices with photographic capabilities. Have them look for interesting scenes or objects to take pictures of, and then upload their photos to a shared site you’ve set up beforehand.

After reviewing the photos, display one and type a description, using prepositions and coordinating conjunctions. Be sure to follow grammatical rules, such as using commas appropriately in compound sentences with coordinating conjunctions and indenting at the beginnings of paragraphs. Underline or italicize prepositions and conjunctions. Complete these steps with another photo, but this time, write a description with some errors. Have students call out corrections.

Then, post a list of prepositions students can use in their descriptions. Have them write short paragraphs describing either their own or a partner’s photographs, with an emphasis on using prepositions and conjunctions. Students can then pair up to edit the descriptions they have written.

As a last step, post the photos separately from the descriptions and have students guess which photograph matches each description. 


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Photo: Courtesy of Joanne Miller,