How Do You Address Frequent Student Grammatical Mistakes?

By Ross Brenneman — May 21, 2014 1 min read
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In his New York Times column today, economist and professor Paul Krugman asks the following question: “How can we incentivize students to stop using ‘impact’ as a verb?”

That word grates on professors and certain Education Week Teacher bloggers alike. It’s become one of those words where use is acceptable as a matter of popular reinforcement, like with the word “selfie,” because we need a word for “taking a picture of yourself” and that’s the best we collectively could do. But that doesn’t mean it’s right.

I can’t say I have perfect grammar, but there are certain things that people, bless they’re hearts, repeatedly get wrong. When your a teacher, how do you deal with it?*

In third grade, my homeroom teacher had a tendency to punish students for saying the expression “um.” She taught us that “um” represents a poor habit. On at least one occasion, I remember a peer trying to answer one of her questions, saying the verboten word, and being cut off for it. (That student might have been me.)

Did her efforts help me in the long run? Um, no. I’m as bad as anyone. But then, in her defense, she had a mountain of pop culture to overcome. Heck, the similar expression “er” was even a central component of a moment in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:

... And finally give me the sound often heard,
During the search for a hard-to-find word...

So teachers (and English and language arts teachers specifically, I suppose), can you help us answer Krugman’s question: How do you approach grammatical issues that students frequently get wrong?

*Besides “your” issues, the thing that actually bothers me the most is “there’s” in reference to multiple objects. “There are,” people.

Image credit: Ross Brenneman

A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.