Diminish dread

Teaching Your Child

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Teaching Your Child

January 23, 2009|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

Each time I teach a grammar lesson about phrases and clauses, my students ask the same question.

"Mrs. Prejean, why do we need to know this?"

This is what they're really asking: "How are we going to apply this in our daily lives?"

I don't blame them for asking. I used to ask my calculus teacher the same type of questions. He eventually told me just to accept things as he presented them.

He recommended that I forget asking "why" and accept that the concepts were something I needed to know, especially since I was headed to college.

I understood his explanation, but it would have been so helpful to apply those complicated math problems to real-life situations. I think that would have made the concepts come alive for me.


Who doesn't want a practical use for information they've learned? There's no more captive audience than those who know they will be required to use and apply the concepts being presented.

And so, I answer my students with a challenge.

If you are on a sports team, what makes you a better athlete? Someone will invariably mention the importance of practicing. To which I say, aha! As practicing is important to a good game experience, so grammar knowledge is key to good writing.

That's why we do grammar exercises in class - to make students better writers.

We begin this section of grammar by discussing the difference between a phrase and a clause. (Yes, there is a difference.)

A phrase is a group of related words that does not have a subject and predicate.

Perhaps the most familiar type of phrase is the prepositional phrase. This consists of a preposition, its object and the object's modifiers. Here are some examples of prepositional phrases: "after the storm," "in the house," "above the mountain."

It's fun to give students an object and challenge them to come up with as many prepositions that they can think of to use with that object. One time we did this with "tree" - "around the tree" "under the tree" "up the tree" - my students were firing responses at me so fast, I thought they'd never run out of ideas.

Working with phrases can be fun. Clauses also can present a creative challenge.

A clause is a group of related words that has a subject and predicate. "Hagerstown's West End," is a phrase, but it could become a clause if a few words were added to it: "If you go to Sally's house in Hagerstown's West End."

There are two types of clauses: dependent and independent. A dependent clause, such as "If you go to Sally's house in Hagerstown's West End" must be part of another sentence because it does not express a complete thought.

An independent clause expresses a complete thought and can stand alone.

Our phrase-turned-dependent-clause can become an independent clause if the thought is finished, perhaps as this sentence: "Please deliver this package if you go to Sally's house in Hagerstown's West End."

In the classroom, we do a few of these "sentence forming" activities together. When each student adds another word or words, that makes the exercise creative and fun.

Fun is important. Perhaps then the "why" we do what we do will be more tolerable all around.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at

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