It's All About the Who and the Do

In order to create better writers, grammar instruction should start early using engaging oral language activities that focus on how words function. Rather than isolating and labeling individual words, teachers should start with the sentence and what it takes to create a complete sentence. As teachers we know that every sentence must have a subject and a predicate, but using this terminology is more likely to confuse students, not help them understand the concept.

Instead, teach young learners that every sentence must have a Who and a Do. Let students experience this by performing simple actions. Call on a student. Ask him to jump then say: My sentence is “Andre jumps.” What’s the Who? [Andre]. What’s the Do? [jumps]. Have the next student stand and tell her to walk. Say: My sentence is “Marisol walks.” Ask: What’s the Who? [Marisol]. What the Do? [walks].

After several demonstrations, point out that the Who is always a person, and the Do is always an action. This provides definitions of the words nouns and verbs by identifying their function. However, don’t add the terminology until students have demonstrated mastery of the concepts. Do this with several more students—or the entire class. “Jenny spins.” “Devon bends.” “Keisha hops.”

In the next lesson, let students in on a little secret: The Who can also be a What. Animals are one kind of what. Have one child name an animal and another student provide something that animal would do. State the sentence. “The lion roars.” Ask: What’s the What? [lion]. What’s the Do? [roars].

You may want to have a third student give the sentence after you have modeled this several times. To teach students that sentences begin with capitals and end with periods, have them pump their fists upward on the first word and extend their open hands forward in a stopping motion for the period at the end of the sentence. Do this for several animals and restate the sentence each time. “The monkey eats bananas.” “The zebra runs.” “The squirrel climbs.” Keep sentences in present tense, so students are also hearing subject-verb agreement.

Next, provide sentences that have things for the What. Plan sentences ahead of time to make sure that you have an action verb. “The leaves fall from the tree.” “The wind blows.” “The ice melts.” “The tire rolls.” After each sentence, identify that the What is a thing. Follow-up by giving sentences with people, animals and things as the subjects. Each time, ask students if the Who/What is a person, animal or thing. Use pictures for the sentences to help with vocabulary knowledge and language acquisition for English learners.

So far, students have engaged in oral language activities, but let’s look at all of the grammatical skills that they have practiced.

·      They have practiced complete sentences and identified what makes a sentence complete.

·      They have practiced subject-verb agreement.

·      They have practiced starting sentences with capitals and ending them with periods.

·      They understand that nouns are people, animals or things and that verbs are actions.

Good writing begins with oral language fluency, so require students to speak in complete sentences and give them many opportunities to talk.

If you found this grammar lesson helpful, find more activities in A Grammar Journey Beyond Worksheets at  

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