Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: Part 2

By Robby Ching

Note: This is the second post in a series on ERWC’s rhetorical approach to language learning. For the first post, click here. Please see the teaching resource “Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: A User’s Guide” in the ERWC Online Community for the full text from which the excerpt below was taken.


ERWC is designed to cultivate linguistic dexterity so students can read texts written for a variety of purposes critically and write texts tailored for their rhetorical situation. As educators charged with teaching our students how English works (California ELD Standards), we have to be mindful of the many languages and varieties of English that students bring to our classrooms.

The ERWC teaching resource “Essential Pedagogies for Integrated and Designated English Language Development in ERWC” advocates “teaching about the relationship between language and power” and “supporting the development of academic English while promoting pride in students’ home languages.” At the sentence level, a rhetorical approach to teaching English grammar invites us to take an assets-based approach as we value these languages and varieties of English while inviting students to further develop their ability to enter disciplinary conversations about topics that matter to them.

Encouraging students to use all the language—as well as other multimodal resources—available to them means keeping the focus on meaningful communication rather than correctness for its own sake. We can invite students to incorporate words, phrases, or entire sentences in their language or variety of English into their own writing while at the same time asking them to be clear about their rhetorical purpose for doing so. We can let them know that they are welcome to use translation apps and bilingual dictionaries and take notes or write early drafts in their home language. We can select texts that include other languages, such as The Distance Between Us, and consider Reyna Grande’s rhetorical purpose for using Spanish in a memoir intended for an audience of mainly English speakers.

We can introduce uncomfortable questions about whether the use of academic English is a way of performing “Whiteness,” an issue raised by Vershawn Ashanti Young in “Prelude: the Barbershop” in the 12th grade Language, Gender, and Culture module. We can draw on multilingual students’ own experiences moving among languages and identities tied to language and acknowledge their remarkable accomplishments. Approaching grammar from the rhetorical perspective rather than the traditional rules-based prescriptive approach is, Micciche asserts, “emancipatory teaching” (717).

ERWC encourages students to ask not what makes a sentence correct, but what makes it work and why.

The language of ERWC texts provide rich opportunities to explore the information-dense complex sentences that are typical of disciplinary English (Schleppegrell). ERWC encourages students to ask not what makes a sentence correct, but what makes it work and why. As students observe how skilled writers make use of these language resources—or choose to use simpler language—they can develop their capacity to better understand the arguments embedded in the language of the texts they are reading.

At the same time, they can observe how and why writers use more familiar language, other dialects, and other languages for rhetorical purposes. When students turn to their own writing, they can apply what they have learned to create varied sentences that are effective for their purposes. Most students who are learning to create complex texts will only be able to do this if we help them develop the tools of the craft.

Our job is to guide their inquiry into how English works and help them transfer what they have learned to their own writing with the questions “What did you observe? And how can you apply it to your own writing?”


ERWC teachers can find activities and strategies for teaching language rhetorically, including 2.0 modules with rhetorical grammar lessons, by visiting the Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC section in the online community.

Click on “Modules 3.0” and select “Overview Documents.”

Then click on “Rhetorical Grammar 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.

Rhetorical Grammar in ERWC: Part 1

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.

What Does It Mean to Value the Languages Students Bring with Them?

By Robby Ching

As teachers, we know in theory that we should value the languages that students use at home and in their communities, but what does that look like when we know that our task is to teach them to become proficient users of English? It turns out there are a number of ways to incorporate linguistically sustaining practices into ERWC classes, but teachers may not always realize what these practices are.  

Using Texts that Incorporate Other Languages

Perhaps most obviously, we can select texts for our students to read that reflect their experiences as users of other languages. Even better, some texts also incorporate those languages into the texts. Reyna Grande’s memoir, The Distance between Us, and the poetry of Diana Garcia in “On Leaving” and “On Staying Behind” both exemplify ERWC module texts where the use of Spanish is integral to the craft of the texts. 

However, we should not simply assume students will get the message that Spanish is a valuable resource that skilled writers use; in the spirit of an inquiry-based curriculum, we need to ask students to think about why Grande and Garcia used Spanish when their audience would include many English-only readers. What was their rhetorical purpose? How did they go about doing it so that English speakers were not excluded at the same time Spanish speakers were privileged (for a change!). And then the most important question–what can students learn from these examples about ways and reasons to incorporate their own languages and varieties of English (for example, African-American vernacular or Hawaiian Pidgin) into writing they do for school and beyond. 

Encouraging the Use of Other Languages in Class

Another strategy is to encourage students to use their dominant language as a tool in class. Although the days when students were physically disciplined for using their home languages in school are over, many teachers still believe students should leave their other languages at the door of their English classroom because how can they learn English if they spend time speaking and writing in Korean or Cambodian or Russian or whatever their primary language might be? But we now know that encouraging students to use that language strategically can actually facilitate their acquisition of academic English and not only because it strengthens their own sense of agency. 

Capitalizing on Multilingual Student Expertise

A recent document published by the California Department of Education, Educating Multilingual and English Learners: Research to Practice (Improving Education Publication – Resources (CA Department of Education)) makes this shift clear:

(Pamela Spycher, María González-Howard, and Diane August. “Chapter 6: Content and Language Instruction in Middle and High School: Promoting Educational Equity and Achievement Through Access and Meaningful Engagement,” 354)

Our multilingual students move among varieties of English and from one language to another constantly. Making them aware of this amazing capacity benefits them while using them as experts when questions of language and translanguaging emerge works to the benefit of every student in the class, whatever the varieties of English and other languages they have at the tips of their tongues. 

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.