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Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop

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Some teachers love grammar and some hate it, but nearly all struggle to find ways of making the mechanics of English meaningful to kids. As a middle school teacher, Jeff Anderson also discovered that his students were not grasping the basics, and that it was preventing them from reaching their potential as writers. Jeff readily admits, “I am not a grammarian, nor am I punc Some teachers love grammar and some hate it, but nearly all struggle to find ways of making the mechanics of English meaningful to kids. As a middle school teacher, Jeff Anderson also discovered that his students were not grasping the basics, and that it was preventing them from reaching their potential as writers. Jeff readily admits, “I am not a grammarian, nor am I punctilious about anything,” so he began researching and testing the ideas of scores of grammar experts in his classroom, gradually finding successful ways of integrating grammar instruction into writer's workshop. Mechanically Inclined is the culmination of years of experimentation that merges the best of writer's workshop elements with relevant theory about how and why skills should be taught. It connects theory about using grammar in context with practical instructional strategies, explains why kids often don't understand or apply grammar and mechanics correctly, focuses on attending to the “high payoff,” or most common errors in student writing, and shows how to carefully construct a workshop environment that can best support grammar and mechanics concepts. Jeff emphasizes four key elements in his teaching: short daily instruction in grammar and mechanics within writer's workshop; using high-quality mentor texts to teach grammar and mechanics in context; visual scaffolds, including wall charts, and visual cues that can be pasted into writer's notebooks; regular, short routines, like “express-lane edits,” that help students spot and correct errors automatically. Comprising an overview of the research-based context for grammar instruction, a series of over thirty detailed lessons, and an appendix of helpful forms and instructional tools, Mechanically Inclined is a boon to teachers regardless of their level of grammar-phobia. It shifts the negative, rule-plagued emphasis of much grammar instruction into one which celebrates the power and beauty these tools have in shaping all forms of writing.


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Some teachers love grammar and some hate it, but nearly all struggle to find ways of making the mechanics of English meaningful to kids. As a middle school teacher, Jeff Anderson also discovered that his students were not grasping the basics, and that it was preventing them from reaching their potential as writers. Jeff readily admits, “I am not a grammarian, nor am I punc Some teachers love grammar and some hate it, but nearly all struggle to find ways of making the mechanics of English meaningful to kids. As a middle school teacher, Jeff Anderson also discovered that his students were not grasping the basics, and that it was preventing them from reaching their potential as writers. Jeff readily admits, “I am not a grammarian, nor am I punctilious about anything,” so he began researching and testing the ideas of scores of grammar experts in his classroom, gradually finding successful ways of integrating grammar instruction into writer's workshop. Mechanically Inclined is the culmination of years of experimentation that merges the best of writer's workshop elements with relevant theory about how and why skills should be taught. It connects theory about using grammar in context with practical instructional strategies, explains why kids often don't understand or apply grammar and mechanics correctly, focuses on attending to the “high payoff,” or most common errors in student writing, and shows how to carefully construct a workshop environment that can best support grammar and mechanics concepts. Jeff emphasizes four key elements in his teaching: short daily instruction in grammar and mechanics within writer's workshop; using high-quality mentor texts to teach grammar and mechanics in context; visual scaffolds, including wall charts, and visual cues that can be pasted into writer's notebooks; regular, short routines, like “express-lane edits,” that help students spot and correct errors automatically. Comprising an overview of the research-based context for grammar instruction, a series of over thirty detailed lessons, and an appendix of helpful forms and instructional tools, Mechanically Inclined is a boon to teachers regardless of their level of grammar-phobia. It shifts the negative, rule-plagued emphasis of much grammar instruction into one which celebrates the power and beauty these tools have in shaping all forms of writing.

30 review for Mechanically Inclined: Building Grammar, Usage, and Style into Writer's Workshop

  1. 4 out of 5

    Tanya

    My biggest frustration with teaching grammar is when others say to build it in with what the students are writing. Easy to say, but hard to do. Jeff Anderson provides concrete ways to it. The book will be one I’ll keep by my desk at school. If the kids are struggling with subject-verb agreement, I can easily open up to that section and have something ready to go to help them out. I also like how Anderson breaks down sentences to just three patterns. Students don’t need all of the technical terms My biggest frustration with teaching grammar is when others say to build it in with what the students are writing. Easy to say, but hard to do. Jeff Anderson provides concrete ways to it. The book will be one I’ll keep by my desk at school. If the kids are struggling with subject-verb agreement, I can easily open up to that section and have something ready to go to help them out. I also like how Anderson breaks down sentences to just three patterns. Students don’t need all of the technical terms for grammar parts, but by understanding those basic patterns, they’ll have a better understanding of how to use the comma and what kind of an impact sentences make on the reader. The book is geared more towards middle school, but it will be easily adaptable for my 9th graders.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    I have to say that this is not one of my favorite professional development books. I was thrilled when I read the title, drawn in by the notion of connecting grammar, usage and style lessons into my classroom without boring my students to death. I believe that all grammar lessons should be connected and rooted in student writing and their reading. I have to say that this book has let me down. It did not thrill me with any new or innovative ways of teaching grammar. That being said, I do think thi I have to say that this is not one of my favorite professional development books. I was thrilled when I read the title, drawn in by the notion of connecting grammar, usage and style lessons into my classroom without boring my students to death. I believe that all grammar lessons should be connected and rooted in student writing and their reading. I have to say that this book has let me down. It did not thrill me with any new or innovative ways of teaching grammar. That being said, I do think this book will be a helpful guide/resource when a specific grammar, style and/or usage problems comes up in my classroom. It just doesn't address problems in a fresh or pioneering way. What Jeff Anderson does is cover talking points for different grammar, usage and style issues. What is lacking, is moving beyond the talking points, and providing innovative lessons and exciting ideas for student practice. Another note for teachers considering this book, I think that it is better suited for the middle school teacher versus high school teacher. The mentor texts that Jeff Anderson chooses as guides for his grammar lessons are better suited for the humor and interests of middle school age children. I think there is value in this book, it just was not the value I was seeking or expecting based on the title.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Voigt

    This is an extremely helpful book for teachers who want to, as the title states, build instruction of grammar into a writing-centric classroom. I really appreciated how the grammar instruction was instantly applicable to the students' writing, giving them the opportunity to see certain structures in the context of a short mentor text and then have them turn around and use the structures in their own writing. Most of all, I appreciated Anderson's appreciation of the students' abilities and knowle This is an extremely helpful book for teachers who want to, as the title states, build instruction of grammar into a writing-centric classroom. I really appreciated how the grammar instruction was instantly applicable to the students' writing, giving them the opportunity to see certain structures in the context of a short mentor text and then have them turn around and use the structures in their own writing. Most of all, I appreciated Anderson's appreciation of the students' abilities and knowledge that they bring to the table, continually praising them for the internalized processes that they do right, instead of the archetypal grammar teacher constantly berating students for their ignorance. I use this in my classroom and would encourage any English teacher who teaches 4th grade and up to do the same.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gayle

    Awesome, awesome, AWESOME! (Don't let the "writer's workshop" part of the title scare you!) First, it's a grammar book that is engaging to read. Second, it is designed in a very user-friendly way with 3 parts: method/philosophy, individual lessons (based on the most common student errors in grammar/mechanics-- and the lessons are clear, fast, and FUN!), and an appendix with forms for the lessons. So, you could skip the method/philosophy part and go right to whatever individual lessons you needed Awesome, awesome, AWESOME! (Don't let the "writer's workshop" part of the title scare you!) First, it's a grammar book that is engaging to read. Second, it is designed in a very user-friendly way with 3 parts: method/philosophy, individual lessons (based on the most common student errors in grammar/mechanics-- and the lessons are clear, fast, and FUN!), and an appendix with forms for the lessons. So, you could skip the method/philosophy part and go right to whatever individual lessons you needed. You COULD skip it. But I wouldn't. I thought I would just skim the first part, but I found so many great ideas and other lessons--seriously, almost one per page. This book connects so well to the Common Core. And although it was written for middle school, there were hardly any lessons that didn't cover rules my high school--and even AP--students don't make. You may have to adapt the lessons a little for high school, but most of them could work as they are. BUY THIS BOOK!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Mayfield

    This is a great book to show teachers how to teach grammar in context. We are told that is the best way to do it, then we are given reading series that give worksheets and teach out out of context. I am excited to go to school and try some of his ideas in my class tomorrow.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Christine Engelbrecht

    This is a nice handbook for every writing teacher's shelf, focusing on each element of grammar or often made grammatical error and how to address it in a writing context. I especially appreciate the mentor texts included in the book for each grammatical errors tat students commonly make. I also think the appendices, the handouts and exercises, are quite helpful. I found it interesting that they included Cloze assessments, which are traditionally used to gage a students comprehension. This is a nice handbook for every writing teacher's shelf, focusing on each element of grammar or often made grammatical error and how to address it in a writing context. I especially appreciate the mentor texts included in the book for each grammatical errors tat students commonly make. I also think the appendices, the handouts and exercises, are quite helpful. I found it interesting that they included Cloze assessments, which are traditionally used to gage a students comprehension.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Kristin

    Wow, I don't think I've been as captivated by a professional book since 2009's Readicide by Kelly Gallagher! I was reading this book every free moment I had visualizing how Anderson's techniques would look in the classroom. I love his authentic and active engagement of mentor texts to support students' writing in a workshop model. I plan to share this with my 6th grade team who will be implementing Writer's Workshop next school year. I hope they find it as motivating and inspiring as I did. Wow, I don't think I've been as captivated by a professional book since 2009's Readicide by Kelly Gallagher! I was reading this book every free moment I had visualizing how Anderson's techniques would look in the classroom. I love his authentic and active engagement of mentor texts to support students' writing in a workshop model. I plan to share this with my 6th grade team who will be implementing Writer's Workshop next school year. I hope they find it as motivating and inspiring as I did.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Todd

    This book is brilliant, very useful. Most education literature is limited in how useful it is, but this one, is a gold mine of useful and practical tools. In addition I've learned how to improve my own writing from it! This book is brilliant, very useful. Most education literature is limited in how useful it is, but this one, is a gold mine of useful and practical tools. In addition I've learned how to improve my own writing from it!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    While Anderson has some valuable ideas about how to teach grammar in the context of reading and writing, please believe him when he says he is “not a grammarian” (page 3). His examples show he doesn’t know the difference between a participle and a gerund, or between a preposition and an adverb (some words can be either, depending on usage). His methodology might be good, but the actual grammatical content is off. Even some of his general writing and his mentor sentences have errors (such as lay/ While Anderson has some valuable ideas about how to teach grammar in the context of reading and writing, please believe him when he says he is “not a grammarian” (page 3). His examples show he doesn’t know the difference between a participle and a gerund, or between a preposition and an adverb (some words can be either, depending on usage). His methodology might be good, but the actual grammatical content is off. Even some of his general writing and his mentor sentences have errors (such as lay/lie on page 54 and who/whom on page 44.) I enjoyed the first 50 pages on which Anderson discussed how to weave grammar instruction into reading and writing (except for the grammar errors.) The rest of the book is basically an attempt at a grammar handbook. If you are a novice with grammar, this part might be helpful since Anderson puts explanations in plain language and gives tips on how to teach the concepts. If you’re already skilled with grammar, pages 51-160 will be pretty useless to you. The appendices have ideas for reminders to paste into student notebooks, games to play with classes, and visual reminders to post in the classroom.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jon DenHouter

    I read this during the Lake Michigan Writing Project this summer and found it a very practical guide for how to teach grammar AS ONE COMPONENT IN THE WRITNG WORKSHOP. This approach makes grammar less of a boring, causing-students-to-roll-their-eyes activity, but hides it in the fun of writing in general (in much the same way that you hide medicine inside a treat for your dog). I also appreciated the way Mr. Anderson is aways on the lookout for mentor sentences, both those in books he and his stu I read this during the Lake Michigan Writing Project this summer and found it a very practical guide for how to teach grammar AS ONE COMPONENT IN THE WRITNG WORKSHOP. This approach makes grammar less of a boring, causing-students-to-roll-their-eyes activity, but hides it in the fun of writing in general (in much the same way that you hide medicine inside a treat for your dog). I also appreciated the way Mr. Anderson is aways on the lookout for mentor sentences, both those in books he and his students read and those written by students. Finally, I like Mr. Anderson's idea of making posters if grammatical elements based on lessons, WHICH HE REFERS TO OFTEN. That last part is key because otherwise, the poster disappears into the classroom decor, never to be noticed by anyone again except perhaps by the visiting substitute teacher.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Nichole Wulf

    I used DOL in my classroom until I discovered it wasn't effective, but I had nothing to put in its place. Now mentor sentences are taking over and I love this concept; however, it's not easy to shift my teaching practice. This book was packed full of ideas and a great guide for teaching in this way. Overall a wonderful book; the more advanced version, though, for those of us moving to mentor sentences. I will need the Mentor Sentences for Dummies first. I used DOL in my classroom until I discovered it wasn't effective, but I had nothing to put in its place. Now mentor sentences are taking over and I love this concept; however, it's not easy to shift my teaching practice. This book was packed full of ideas and a great guide for teaching in this way. Overall a wonderful book; the more advanced version, though, for those of us moving to mentor sentences. I will need the Mentor Sentences for Dummies first.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Sasha

    As an English teacher, I did not major in grammar or English in college. I often need to look concepts up when teaching writing and/or grammar. This book not only defines the mechanics of grammar, but provides examples and lessons one could use. There are pages that can be copied and distributed to students to be used in the classroom. The book is extremely short and focused to the task at hand. (The majority is the index and lessons.) I am really glad that I read this book for a Book Study.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Karen Cullison

    Again....LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. It's NOT overwhelming, BUT inspiring. I CAN do these things and I think I am seeing progress in my kids. It's exciting and brings back that rewarding feeling teaching USED to have on me! Great resource! Again....LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. It's NOT overwhelming, BUT inspiring. I CAN do these things and I think I am seeing progress in my kids. It's exciting and brings back that rewarding feeling teaching USED to have on me! Great resource!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Erika Reynolds

    Super useful book! I love it more for the lessons and worksheets/grammar guides in the back of the book than for the philosophy in the first half. This has definitely changed my thinking about grammar instruction, and I appreciate the amount of resources Anderson provides.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Rachel D.

    Great read to help teachers who want to teach mechanics within the context of students’ reading and writing. The mini lessons are practical and easy to use. These were great for me to use with summer school classes.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tiffany Heitman

    An invaluable resource for all English teachers. He provides ideas that can work in grade school language arts all the way to college-level composition. I will have to remember to keep this one handy at all times.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Eden

    As a new teacher, this book is going to be infinitely useful to me! Even if I don't use the lessons exactly as Anderson wrote them, it's nice to at least have a starting off point. He's done a lot of the work, and all I have to do is adapt it for my classroom. I love teaching books such as this one. As a new teacher, this book is going to be infinitely useful to me! Even if I don't use the lessons exactly as Anderson wrote them, it's nice to at least have a starting off point. He's done a lot of the work, and all I have to do is adapt it for my classroom. I love teaching books such as this one.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tjerria

    Dr. Jeff Anderson is the greatest reference for anything English teaching matters. Grammar is overlooked in the US CCSS, however, the practices he lists here can definitely be implicitly applied as a teacher teachers Language and Writing Standards.

  19. 4 out of 5

    KJ Jones

    I read this book a few years ago, and I re-read it to refresh myself on Mentor Sentences. I like that this book has pre-selected Mentor Texts and Sentences to use and that it gives some lesson options for common grammatical misunderstandings.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Augustin

    One of the only books I still go back to. I credit him and Jon Ostenson for making me confidently love teaching grammar.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Giese

    Good book, just really technical. I got a lot of great information out of it for teaching writing. I am a little less afraid of grammar now :)

  22. 4 out of 5

    Donna Johnson

    More for older writers (middle/high school), but lessons that can be adapted for upper elementary.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Mick O'Seasnain

    Practical use of grammar with embedded instructional practices.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca Reads

    Practical and effective

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jamey Badger

    Excellent book about integrating authentic grammar practice into classroom reading and writing.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I revisited this book recently, and found inspiration (again) to teach grammar the way it's supposed to be -- as a tool for the writer to release a perfect message to a reader! WHY do we have punctuation? WHY do we write like we do? My students and I have been playing with "sentence stalking" and discovering our own styles in class, and we encourage anyone to join us in the fun! Grammar is NOT boring in this book! I revisited this book recently, and found inspiration (again) to teach grammar the way it's supposed to be -- as a tool for the writer to release a perfect message to a reader! WHY do we have punctuation? WHY do we write like we do? My students and I have been playing with "sentence stalking" and discovering our own styles in class, and we encourage anyone to join us in the fun! Grammar is NOT boring in this book!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Angela

    This book is an incredibly quick read. The organization makes different sections easy to navigate, and I can already envision using different lessons in my own classroom. Anderson focuses on using authentic texts, both published and student-written, which makes the concepts more meaningful and more likely to actually be applied to student writing.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I have yet to figure out how to teach grammar and mechanics without turning English into the most hated, most boring subject there is; therefore, I teach very little of it. This book makes the case for why grammar and mechanics are so important to teach and offers a lot of practical ideas for how to do it. First, I like his approach -- there is a reason that students make the mistakes they make. To teach mechanics, you have to start with the reasoning behind the mistake students are making. In o I have yet to figure out how to teach grammar and mechanics without turning English into the most hated, most boring subject there is; therefore, I teach very little of it. This book makes the case for why grammar and mechanics are so important to teach and offers a lot of practical ideas for how to do it. First, I like his approach -- there is a reason that students make the mistakes they make. To teach mechanics, you have to start with the reasoning behind the mistake students are making. In other words, it's not a mistake so much as a failed attempt to apply linguistic logic. Next, he makes the obvious argument that you have to teach grammar and mechanics one step at a time. Marking every error or doing correct-alls at the beginning of class means students learn very little because it's too much to take in at once. For instance, I teach all the rules of commas at once. Even that, the author argues, is too much. His lessons break down the rules of commas separately. In addition, he has great suggestions for using a journal in class. I have had trouble with students who don't know what to write, even when given a prompt that seems very approachable. He uses quick read-alouds (many from children's books) as pre-writing for journal entries. My one hesitation when it comes to the author's approach to teaching grammar and mechanics is that it seems like his curriculum is weighted heavily towards these concepts. When we read literature, I prefer to discuss the ideas, themes, and characters' motivations rather than why an author used a comma in a particular sentence. I know you can do both, but in the short amount of time we have with students, I don't know how to do both effectively.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Taylor Troncin

    This book focuses on Jeff Anderson’s first hand experiences with teaching editing (and grammar). He found that students generally hate these skills due to how they have been taught in the past. Part 1 focuses on the background information and his reasoning behind what he discusses in part 2. Part 2 is not on this tip sheet, but provides a great deal of advice how to approach some common grammatical errors (I couldn’t just pick one or two – I would have had to copy the entire section of the book! This book focuses on Jeff Anderson’s first hand experiences with teaching editing (and grammar). He found that students generally hate these skills due to how they have been taught in the past. Part 1 focuses on the background information and his reasoning behind what he discusses in part 2. Part 2 is not on this tip sheet, but provides a great deal of advice how to approach some common grammatical errors (I couldn’t just pick one or two – I would have had to copy the entire section of the book!) • “No matter how well-intentioned, if I deluge my students with too much of anything, they remember nothing – especially rules and the exceptions to those rules” (6) • ADVICE FROM NANCIE ATWELL: “She said marking every error did about as much good as yelling down a hole” (9) • “Correct-alls are the prepackaged editing programs that overwhelm students with sentences so riddled with errors that it is impossible to spend sufficient time on each type of error, much less see through the maze of corrections on the overhead” (15-16) • “Writing is the life of the composition party” (29) • Teach skills in context (43) • Potential picture book: Punctuation Takes a Vacation by Robin Pulver (45)

  30. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    Full of great examples from mentor texts and real-life classroom dialog, this is a great how-to book for ELA teachers who are using (or thinking of using) writer's workshop in their classroom and who want to teach GUMS in a more authentic way. It contains explanations, both of the techniques and of the conventions (and in case you never knew, didn't understand, or have forgotten them, Jeff doesn't make you feel like a fraud--he even admits he's the last person who ever would have thought he'd wr Full of great examples from mentor texts and real-life classroom dialog, this is a great how-to book for ELA teachers who are using (or thinking of using) writer's workshop in their classroom and who want to teach GUMS in a more authentic way. It contains explanations, both of the techniques and of the conventions (and in case you never knew, didn't understand, or have forgotten them, Jeff doesn't make you feel like a fraud--he even admits he's the last person who ever would have thought he'd write a book on this particular topic!), and dozens of lesson plans as well as an appendix of handouts. Next on my list I'm planning on tackling his second book, Everyday Editing. I also just found out he'll be presenting at a workshop near me in the fall and am hoping my principal will let me go!

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