Some of my children are mad keen readers and dyslexic. For those kids, even though they love to read*, the acquisition of grammar (and spelling skills) has simply not been a natural learning process. They needed to be taught the rules, and they still need to consciously practice the rules.
(We had a funny conversation about the value of grammar once: driving past a billboard with grammar that messed up the meaning of the sign, I had a minor rant about how hard it is to understand signs when apostrophes are out of place. One of my dyslexics said “Seriously, if you’re supposed to be such a good reader then surely you can work out what that means – it’s not that hard.” Fair call.)
It’s tricky, I’ve found, to explicitly teach grammar in a way that doesn’t suck the joy out of reading. That’s one of the reasons I really like the latest from Tohby Riddle - The Greatest Gatsby: A Visual Book of Grammar.
It runs through a whole slew of grammar rules in a way that's visual, fun and (most important of all to me) not smarmy or sarcastic about times when the rules aren’t followed. That’s a big deal because, if you're finding grammar hard, the last thing you need is a book that points out the gravity of your mistakes!
As an example: the page about adverbs gives a definition (they’re describing words for verbs, adjectives and other adverbs), tells us where the term originated (the Latin ‘adverbium’) and then gives some categories and examples (how, when, where, to what extent, comparative and superlative). And that’s it. Add some explanatory and attractive illustrations and we’re done. No labouring the point, no finger pointing, no patronising.
Since we’ve had The Greatest Gatsby in the house, we’ve found that even for those of us who have already internalised the rules of grammar, it’s a very useful quick reference point. The dyslexic members of the family say it’s really clear and easy to translate into their own writing.
We’ve used it to settle arguments, to check that a sentence is constructed correctly and as a coffee table book to browse. (I swear we’re more fun than that sounds.) We also have some family members who are fascinated by the way words go together and they've really enjoyed its clever visual representations and the nod to etymology and the history of the English language.
The illustrations and design in The Greatest Gatsby are pretty hip and funky which makes it appealing to older kids and even teens and adults. They take an abstract concept and make it concrete, which is brilliant for visual or spatial learners.
The ‘outro’ (think opposite of intro) reads:
“Fear not the rules of grammar. They are there to help you communicate. They are a guide to clear speech. Grammar is your friend.”
True enough. And with The Greatest Gatsby on hand, the rules of grammar will be considerably easier to understand.
P.S. Author Stephen Krashen also has two books you might like. He writes this “…reading results in more literacy and language development when reading appears to be effortless, and we are so focused on the message that we don’t notice that it contains language (grammar and vocabulary) that we have not yet acquired.”
and this: “Although free voluntary reading alone will not ensure attainment of the highest levels of literacy, it will at least ensure an acceptable level. Without [free voluntary reading], I suspect that children simply do not have a chance.”
* There’s a great debate at the moment, about whether children (or adults) can learn grammar simply by reading.