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Tutoring Grammar

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The degree of attention writing tutors should pay to grammatical concerns is, to be sure, highly contested. Many scholars have concluded that even college teachers cannot agree on what constitutes a “significant” grammatical mistake.* Nevertheless, many writing center users request help with language-level concerns. Language usage, including grammar and syntax, are an aspect of the writing process and will, at times, require attention during tutoring sessions.

While there are several pedagogical approaches to grammar instruction, typically falling within the two camps of prescriptive and descriptive, any can be beneficial in a tutoring situation, depending on how they are used, the context of the tutoring session, and the needs of the writer. In other words, a situational understanding of these pedagogical approaches – and when best to employ them – will likely prove more beneficial than a rigid application of one or the other.

This resource contains the following two sections. "Rationales for Tutoring Grammar" discusses reasons why tutors might work with tutees on grammar concerns. "Strategies for Tutoring Grammar" offers practical pieces of advice for tutors. However, when leading a tutoring session, always follow your own writing center's guidelines for grammar instruction. These resources are intended to provide background information on tutoring grammar and may not account for your own center's policies.

*See, for example, Joseph M. Williams, “The Phenomenology of Error,” College Composition and Communication 32, no. 2 (1981): 152-168. Patrick Hartwell, “Grammar, Grammar, and the Teaching of Grammar,” College English 47, no. 2 (1985): 105-27; Robert J. Connors and Andrea A. Lunsford, “Frequency of Formal Errors in Current College Writing, or Ma and Pa Kettle Do Research,” College Composition and Communication 39, no. 4 (1988): 395-409.