This lesson is designed to help students become “rhetorically savvy” through their analysis of their own and others' grammar pet peeves. Students begin by thinking about their own grammar pet peeves. They then read a Dear Abby column, in which she lists several grammar pet peeves. Using a chart, students analyze each pet peeve and research it to determine its accuracy. By analyzing Dear Abby's “rant” about bad grammar usage, students become aware that attitudes about race, social class, moral and ethical character, and “proper” language use are intertwined and that the rant reveals those attitudes. Finally, students discuss the pet peeves as a class, gaining an understanding that issues of race, class, and audience's expectations help determine what is considered “proper” language usage.
Kenneth Lindblom and Patricia Dunn assert that traditional grammar instruction focuses on rules and correctness, ignoring subtleties of language usage and shifts that occur in language over time. The idea that a person's grammar usage is "correct" or "incorrect," "proper" or "improper" can "perpetuate cultural prejudices regarding class and race." Analyzing grammar "rants" and pet peeves can help students become "savvy writers" who "develop rhetorical knowledge of audience and context" and who are aware that their language use will be used to judge their abilities and intelligence in society (71).
This resource has been aligned to the Common Core State Standards for states in which they have been adopted. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, CCSS alignments are forthcoming.
This lesson has been aligned to standards in the following states. If a state does not appear in the drop-down, standard alignments are not currently available for that state.
NCTE/IRA National Standards for the English Language Arts
4. Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.
6. Students apply knowledge of language structure, language conventions (e.g., spelling and punctuation), media techniques, figurative language, and genre to create, critique, and discuss print and nonprint texts.
7. Students conduct research on issues and interests by generating ideas and questions, and by posing problems. They gather, evaluate, and synthesize data from a variety of sources (e.g., print and nonprint texts, artifacts, people) to communicate their discoveries in ways that suit their purpose and audience.
8. Students use a variety of technological and information resources (e.g., libraries, databases, computer networks, video) to gather and synthesize information and to create and communicate knowledge.
9. Students develop an understanding of and respect for diversity in language use, patterns, and dialects across cultures, ethnic groups, geographic regions, and social roles.
11. Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.
- identify their own grammar pet peeves.
- identify grammar pet peeves in a "grammar rant."
- identify the ranter's reasoning for the pet peeve.
- identify the type of "error" of the pet peeve.
- reflect on issues surrounding race, social class, and what is considered "proper" language usage.
- Begin class by having students write about their "grammar pet peeves" or the grammar pet peeves of someone they know. You could start them off with an example: My aunt always hated it when people spelled "forty" as "fourty."
- The writing should be independent work. Let students know that they will have a chance to share their work later.
- After having students write for about five minutes, ask volunteers to share some of their pet peeves. List their responses on an overhead transparency or board to use later in the lesson.
- Introduce Dear Abby's column "Good Grammar is Sweet Music to Any Language-Lover's Ear" by telling students that even "famous" people have grammar pet peeves. Pass out copies of this column, or have students access it on their computers.
- Give students a few minutes to read through the column, or read it to them. The reading may prompt some discussion from the students.
- Have students use the ReadWriteThink Notetaker tool to write down any of Dear Abby's grammar pet peeves that are similar to their own, or any that strike them as excessive. If you do not have computer access, students can take notes in their notebooks or on looseleaf paper.
- Invite comments from the students about their findings.
- Explain to students that they are going to be analyzing these pet peeves in order to discover the reasoning behind them and to discover what the pet peeves tell them about the author.
- Pass out copies of the Grammar Pet Peeves Analysis Chart, and work through one or two samples together. Students then can work on their own or in groups to complete the chart. One response is done as an example.
- Have students use online grammar Websites and dictionaries or their own grammar handbooks to double-check the pet peeves for accuracy. Dictionary.com and Merriam-Webster Online are useful resources for checking proper word pronunciations. The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation provides common grammar "rules" for "correct" usage.
- For homework, ask students to add their own grammar pet peeves to the chart and analyze them.
- Begin class by following up on the previous session's activities. Using an overhead transparency of the Grammar Pet Peeves Analysis Chart, ask for volunteers to fill in the chart with Dear Abby's grammar pet peeves. (It is not necessary to analyze every pet peeve; just enough to get a good mix of answers is fine).
- Continue the analysis by asking students to add their own grammar pet peeves from their homework.
- After several students have volunteered their pet peeves, begin a full class discussion that follows from the analysis chart. Questions to guide the discussion should focus on those that Lindblom and Dunn suggest on page 72 of their article "Analyzing Grammar Rants."
- What does the author of the grammar rant think is important about language and communication?
- What does the author say about errors or mistakes in people's writing or speaking? What are examples of what this author would consider "errors" or "mistakes"? What do our grammar handbooks say about these uses of language?
- Do the author's claims about what is right or wrong in language always hold true in any communication situation, or can you think of exceptions? Does the author acknowledge exceptions? What does the presence of exceptions do to the validity of the author's claim?
- How do the author's claims about language relate to the socioeconomic class in which speakers and writers have been raised? Does the author acknowledge these connections? What do these connections between the author's claims and socioeconomics do to the validity of the author's claims?
- How does the author's claim about language relate to the race of readers and writers? Does the author acknowledge these connections? What do these connections between the author's claims and race do to the validity of the author's claims?
- How does the author's claim about language relate to the cultural or geographical region in which the speaker or writer is raised? Does the author acknowledge these connections? What do these connections between the author's claims and cultural or geographic region do to the validity of the author's claims?
- What can you tell about the author's connection of language use to the intelligence of speakers or writers? Does the author acknowledge these connections? What do these connections between the author's claims and intelligence do to the validity of the author's claims?
- What can you tell about the author's connection of language use to the ethical or moral character of speakers or writers? Does the author acknowledge these connections? What do these connections between the author's claims and ethical or moral character do to the validity of the author's claims?
- As the discussion comes to a close, ask students to reflect in writing on the lesson, using the Grammar Pet Peeves Reflection Sheet.
- If time allows, have students share their reflections with others.
- Students can bring in other "grammar rants" they have heard. If possible, you might find Bill O'Reilly's rant against rapper Eminem online.
- Henry Higgins goes on a "grammar rant" at the beginning of Pygmalion (and in the Broadway musical My Fair Lady). Students can analyze his rant on dialects of British English.
- This lesson also might lead to discussions on relative correctness in language usage: how Chicago Style "rules" differ from Modern Language Association (MLA) style, which differs from American Psychological Association (APA) style. Students might be encouraged to examine several different grammar handbooks for competing rules on usage.
- If you have access to older grammar handbooks, students may find grammar rules that have changed over the years. Have students look up similar rules on more than one grammar text to see the differences.
- This lesson might lead to discussions on relative correctness in different writing situations (e-mail and instant message language versus more formal letter writing, for instance). Use the ReadWriteThink lesson "Audience, Purpose, and Language Use in Electronic Messages" to explore those differences in audience expectations.
Student Assessment / Reflections
- Have students hand in their Grammar Pet Peeves Reflection Sheet, and use them to assess students’ reflections on their own pet peeves, their attitudes about grammar rules, and the intersection of race, social class, and language usage.