Lisa Prejean: Sneaking in lessons one term at a time

Teaching Your Child

April 23, 2010|By LISA PREJEAN

"Mrs. Prejean, tell me again, what is a predicate?"

A student had timidly approached me, and I could barely hear her quiet question.

"That's just another term for verb," I said.

She frowned and cast a disgusted look at her English book.

"Well, why don't they just call it that? What's wrong with calling it a verb? We would be able to understand English a lot better if there weren't all these fancy terms to know."

Indeed. I love being surrounded by teens because they tell it like it is. Perhaps that's why they often connect with senior citizens. One group is too young to fear retribution from their comments. The other group is too old to care what other people think.


Persuading either group to change their minds is a challenge.

That's why those of us in the "in-between" age group often have to weigh our words.

As I teach writing skills, I incorporate grammar terms as simply as possible, but sometimes the students catch on to me. It's rather like sprinkling the oat bran on a casserole without being seen. You want your family to be healthy, but you want them to enjoy the meal at the same time. Sometimes it's better if they don't notice what they're getting.

And so it is with terms such as "predicate." If I kept to the straight definition: "The predicate of a sentence is that part which says something about the subject," my students would look at me with a blank stare.

Doesn't that explanation sound like one a politician would write?

It makes more sense to say, "To find the predicate of a sentence, ask yourself one question: What happened?"

For example, in the sentence, "The stove heated the room," the word "heated" is the predicate.

What happened?


What heated?

The stove.

What did the stove heat?

The room.

This is an example of a subject-verb-direct object sentence pattern.

By dividing the sentence into parts, students can better understand the whole. If they understand how the parts fit together, they can become stronger writers.

Why is writing so important? It is through the written word that we communicate our thoughts and ideas ... even if our thoughts are focused on how frustrating it is to learn English grammar.

It seems that there's no simple way around it. (Just don't tell the students that.)

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

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