By Robby Ching
NOTE: The following post is the first in a special series featuring excerpts from the new professional learning resource “Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: A User’s Guide.” This resource can be found with the “Overview Documents” under the 3.0 tab in the ERWC Online Community.
Since Cicero, rhetoricians have recognized that the ability to craft effective sentences is a critical part of convincing an audience of an argument’s validity. How writers form sentences is part of their ethos. Even more important is logos. An argument is based on the logic and coherence of its sentences, and that logic and coherence depend to an important extent on grammar.
The sequence of events is conveyed through the verb tense system. The nuances of a writer’s position are presented through the use of active and passive verbs, modals, and qualifying words and phrases. The logical relationships among ideas are expressed through coordination, subordination, and the use of transitions and parallel structures. The logic of an argument can be strengthened by supplying additional information, and appeals can be made to pathos through the use of adjective clauses, participial phrases, appositives, dashes, and colons. Effectively and accurately integrating the texts of others into one’s writing provides evidence for the argument. Rhetorically effective verbs introduce evidence. And following the conventions of the intended discourse community provides clarity while contributing to the writer’s credibility (for more on this rhetorical approach to teaching grammar, see Kolln and Gray, and Micciche).
For grammar instruction to be worthwhile, you will want to make strategic decisions about what to teach and how to teach it. Writing that students do in your class can be used formatively to help you make these decisions. Some students may benefit from more basic instruction about sentence structure, subject-verb agreement, sentence boundaries, and verbs while all students can benefit from exploring more deeply the interface between grammar and rhetoric, including the ways writers qualify their assertions, logically connect their ideas, add information to sentences, and incorporate the texts of others into their writing.
California English Language Development Standards
California adopted the California English Language Development Standards: Kindergarten Through Grade 12 in 2014. These standards represent a shift in how teachers approach grammar from teaching “grammar as syntax, separate from meaning, with discrete skills at the center” to
“an expanded notion of grammar as encompassing discourse, text structure, syntax, and vocabulary and as inseparable from meaning” (164).California English Language Development Standards
In ERWC modules, rhetorical grammar activities highlight the relationship between meaning and grammar and provide opportunities for students to learn how to use English to accomplish their rhetorical purposes. In ERWC modules, rhetorical grammar activities highlight the relationship between meaning and grammar and provide opportunities for students to learn how to use English to accomplish their rhetorical purposes.
Modules labeled ELA-ELD contain activities focused on language and aligned with the CA ELD Standards for ELA classes with Integrated ELD and for Designated ELD classes. They are designed to encourage students to notice and analyze particular grammatical features in the texts they read and then apply what they have learned to their own writing as they learn how English works at the word, phrase, and sentence level, and over stretches of discourse as specified in the ELD Standards
Multilingual students, whatever their level, are entitled to this language-focused instruction integrated into their ELA classes, and all students can benefit from attention to academic language. You may, therefore, decide that you want to supplement other ERWC modules with additional language-focused instruction to support your students’ development of academic literacy. ERWC offers a variety of resources to help you do this, including the rhetorical grammar instruction provided with ERWC 2.0 modules, the High Impact Strategies Toolkit to Support English Learners in ERWC Classrooms, and this User’s Guide.
For more information on ERWC’s rhetorical approach to language learning, please see “Essential Pedagogies for Integrated and Designated English Language Development in ERWC.”
Robby Ching is a professor emerita at Sacramento State in English and a member of the ERWC team since 2002. She has written many ERWC modules, most recently those with an ELD focus.