Curriculum development is a never-ending process. My language arts classes have always emphasized grammar study, utilizing sentence analysis to teach students to write, stretch, and revise sentences for clarity, brevity, and style. This year, I’ve introduced the Montessori shapes, inspired largely by my son, Noah, who inspired me to dive deeply into the world of Montessori. I quickly became attached to the Montessori Grammar Symbols. They bring grammar to life, make sentence patterns obvious and intuitive, and captivate one’s attention by stimulating more senses than more traditional forms of grammar work. My students became instantly attached to these symbols.
But, the Montessori Grammar Shapes didn’t provide everything I needed. They cover the parts of speech, and a few sets touch on parts of sentences and phrases, but none provide the depth of analysis my curriculum is founded on.
And my students started to wonder — what about our other levels of analysis? “I am working on it. I haven’t quite figured it out yet,” I told them.
Today, some of my microschool students took on the challenge. Determined to utilize a Montessori approach for the remainder of their Grammar studies, they set out to design their own symbols for the second level of analysis– the parts of a sentence. They spent more than an hour debating the merits of different ideas, determining that some were too difficult to write, others just “didn’t feel right,” and some others lacked the intuitive connection they felt with the original Montessori Grammar Symbols.
They decided that the symbols for objects should match; they should go together in some way, and the symbols for subject and predicate should flow together. They wanted action verb predicates and linking verb predicates to have similar symbols that would also be easily distinguished. Because I always tell them that linking verbs are like grammatical “equal signs,” they felt like this should be represented with the symbols as well. They wanted something easy to draw that could also be turned into a real 3D manipulative.
They settled on an arch for subjects and predicates; the arch sits below the noun or pronoun triangle to represent a subject. A single arch wraps around the top of a verb to represent an action verb predicate. A double arch, akin to a bent equal sign, above the verb represents a linking verb predicate. A single solid line underlines a direct object; the same line is placed above an object to represent an indirect object. A single line with a crescent, reminiscent of the preposition symbol, sits below the object of the preposition.
After deciding on these symbols, we wrote wordless sentences with them, analyzed sentences (with words), and spent time considering how we could bring them to life in a 3D way.
They wrote and revised sentences, testing out their new symbols.
My students took it upon themselves to assemble A “Montessori Inspired Grammar Dictionary,” with each grammar symbol — including the original parts of speech shapes and their inventions for the parts of the sentence.
This self-directed project opened the doors to a whole world of learning as they set out to evenly space words on a page and to draw scale versions of the Montessori Grammar Symbols. We figured out the value of a remainder in long division, representing it as both a fraction and a decimal, as they realized the remainder wasn’t providing the data they needed to evenly divide a 12 cm wide page into 9 equal parts. We dabbled in geometry to find the height of our equilateral triangles, and we learned about ratios and proportions. We discussed significant digits and applied our understanding of place value and rounding when we ventured to find the height of our equilateral triangles and ended up with square roots that didn’t relate to perfect squares.
They added fast facts on the parts of speech, learning new roots and some history of the English language along the way, and they immersed themselves in this grammar study for hours.
Some of our plans and goals for the day were left unmet, but there’s no substitute for the learning that occurs through discovery – through following their curiosities. In just one day, they developed a deeper understanding of grammar than many students develop in a lifetime.