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Strategies for Tutoring Grammar

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Here are some key concepts tutors might remember as they work with grammatical (or sentence-level) issues. However, while we hope these concepts are helpful, tutors should always follow their own writing center's guidelines for tutoring grammar.

Defining “Grammar”

Grammar is frequently used as a catch-all term for every aspect of the writing process. Students, including both native and international speakers of English, may want help on other parts of the writing process but may lack the necessary vocabulary to identify precisely their concerns; therefore, they may resort to one of the most commonly associated terms for writing, grammar. The tutor should clarify with the student what they mean by “grammar.” Defining this term can help the tutor guide the tutorial session in the most effective direction.

Pet Peeves or Real Grammatical Issues

Tutors must be careful not to let pet peeves, or personal preferences about grammar, interfere with the focus of the tutorial session. Work to identify recurring grammatical issues or patterns of inconsistency in order to help focus the tutoring session around the most important needs of the student. Though it may be tempting to address all grammatical problems in a student’s paper, tutors should remember that doing so can easily overwhelm the student. Thus, tutors might select only the most pressing grammatical concerns, which are either hindering or disrupting the student’s meaning.

Tutoring Grammar and the Editing/Proofreading Process

Although writing centers typically are not editing or proofreading centers, they are a resource in which students can find helpful insights and guided instruction in the writing process. In short, writing centers help students in every aspect of the writing process, including the editing, or proofreading stage.

If tutors are working with students in this stage of the writing process, they may need to address certain grammatical issues for the sake of creating a polished piece of writing, having a professional tone, or adhering to formatting or style guides. Depending on the student's level of knowledge about grammar, tutors may have their tutees work more independently. Tutors may have the tutee search for, highlight, and correct grammatical mistakes, pointing out what the student may have overlooked, or the tutor may work more collaboratively with a tutee to provide more detailed instruction and guidance.

This collaboration can include modeling proofreading strategies in one paragraph and having the tutee apply those same strategies to other paragraphs or identifying grammatical mistakes for the student on a separate sheet of paper and then having the tutee find those mistakes within the document. The idea, here, is that the tutor is demonstrating how the tutee can become a better proofreader. Admittedly, tutors may have to spend some time explaining certain grammatical concepts to a student and how to correctly use them, but the tutor should strive to keep the student engaged in the tutoring session. At no point should the tutor do the work of proofreading for the student. The ultimate goal of tutorials is to help students to better understand the various aspects of the writing process and to gain greater mastery over their writing. However much tutors may want tutees to grasp or implement the concepts discussed in the tutorial, they should always ensure that it is the work of the tutee, not the tutor, which produces results.

Finding Your Way

Most tutors have their own individual approaches with sessions that involve grammar concerns. Here are some practical tidbits of advice for tutors when it comes to working with grammar.

  • Never be afraid to admit what you do and do not know – tutoring sessions can be an opportunity to learn for the tutor as much as for the student; sometimes being a good tutor means knowing where to look.
  • Thus, when in doubt, find resources to aid you or ask for help from a fellow tutor – there is no shame in turning to others for their suggestions and guidance.
  • Finally, never let your explanations be the end of the matter – always have students demonstrate their understanding of a concept. While this idea applies to all facets of tutoring, it holds especially true for tutoring sessions concentrating on grammar. Students should exhibit their comprehension of a concept either by explaining it in their own terms or employing it in their writing.