Playing with Language

Try these games and activities to help your young learners tackle correct grammar usage.

By Dawn Dodson


close-up of the word 'grammar' in the dictionary

Teaching the eight parts of speech is an essential component to any middle school language arts curriculum. Not only do pupils need to comprehend what each part of speech is, they also need to identify and correctly manipulate each one effectively in both written and spoken language experiences. In my own classroom, I navigate this terrain cautiously. For some learners, this is a natural progression over the course of study. However, for my reluctant pupils, this is one of the trickiest obstacles they face all year. How do I engage the reluctant language learner? I design lesson plans and activities that invite pupils to interact with each part of speech in a meaningful and memorable way. Here are a few ideas for inspiring creative learning experiences in your classroom.


Board Games

Once pupils can identify and apply each part of speech, the class is divided into groups of two or three. Each group is given the task of creating a board game to review and apply each part of speech. The requirements for this mini-project are a game board and accompanying cards that guide players through some sort of barrier, or problem, which can only be solved through applying the various parts of speech, as well as written instructions. Some of the best creations have been inspired by other well-known board games, or interests held by the creators. For example, one year a game board was created to look like a hockey rink. Players set their game pieces on marked positions on the board. Dice were rolled to determine which team would begin play, or to hypothetically receive the puck. The team with the puck would draw a card with a parts-of-speech question. The elected referee would read the question and check the answer. If the team’s answer was correct, the team advanced down the ice. If their answer was incorrect, the other team had a chance to answer and advance. The question cards included either a sentence with a word underlined that would require a correct identification, a fill-in-the-blank that would require a specific part of speech word, or true/false questions.

Comic Strips

In an attempt to connect learning to various student interests, I also create and assign a comic strip activity. Although this activity could be applied to any part of speech, I utilized it with the verb and adverb introductory lesson. Using a blank comic strip template I found in a graphic organizing resource and colored pencils, pupils are asked to create a six-panel comic of an everyday routine. Examples discussed included eating breakfast, brushing teeth, tying shoelaces, and even sharpening pencils. They were required to hone in on one of those actions, and both illustrate and describe it using only nouns, verbs, and adverbs. This required careful sentence planning and a concentrated effort to use only the best verbs and adverbs. The illustrations needed to mirror the actions described. The final product breaks down the task and includes illustrations of each step to complete it. The example of sharpening a pencil may include the caption: Joey (noun) swiftly (adverb) turns (verb) the handle (noun). The accompanying illustration depicts a boy with the pencil in the sharpener. The noun, verb, and adverb appear in the caption and can be readily identified. The next slide of the comic may include the caption: Joey hastily removes the pencil. Again, the illustration may depict a boy holding the pencil, standing beside the sharpener.     

Parts of Speech Mystery

As a fan of mysteries, one activity that pupils experience in my class is the parts of speech mystery. I create a scenario where one part of speech is missing. Class members become language investigators and follow the clues to discover who stole the part of speech, and where it can be located. To begin this lesson, a map of the classroom is given to each person. The map details the crime scene—which is something that is missing a part of speech, like a poster, sign, worksheet, or even a piece of literature. An example crime scene, which was my favorite, was a class poster of Maya Angelou's poem "Life Doesn't Frighten Me at All" that had all of the prepositions blocked out. I blocked out the prepositions with colored masking tape.   

At first glance, it appears that random words have been removed. However, once pupils analyze the crime scene, they discover and define the missing part of speech. Once the part of speech has been correctly identified, I read a report that was filed by the lead investigator, played by me. The report outlines all the necessary clues to discovering the whereabouts of the missing part of speech and the identity of the culprit. In the case of the missing prepositions, clues included "The narrator is unaware of the location of shadows" and "Where is the magic charm?" Using the phrases in the poem, pupils consider the missing words. Prepositions such as up and down were missing. Little by little, each phrase was uncovered and the prepositions were revealed. The last clue I read to the class told them where to find the missing prepositions. The clue was, "Once you figure out who we are, look behind the answer." The answer was the closet door where I post the definitions of each part of speech. Sure enough, behind the closet door where the preposition poster was located, were index cards of the missing words from the poem. Each year I revise the mystery, and once pupils solve the puzzle of clues, the location of the missing part of speech is discovered. The clues require the investigators to define the function of the missing part of speech and how sentences are affected by their absence.

Whether playing a game, creating a comic, or solving a mystery, learning the parts of speech can be an enjoyable experience for all. Discovering activities that pique the interests of learners is a great way to achieve this outcome.

Relating Common Core Standard

CCSS. ELA-Language. L.6.1 Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.

More Lesson Ideas:

Perfectly Painless Parts of Speech

These lessons and activities help pupils learn and apply various parts of speech. The activities range from creating songs and advertisements to creating an online web tale.

Picturing Parts of Speech

Pupils utilize their knowledge of the different parts of speech to create a presentation. Activities include capturing an image that depicts a specific part of speech, describing it, and including it in a slide presentation.

Parts of Speech

Here, pupils learn and review specific parts of speech through class discussion and review. Then, they identify the parts of speech in their own writing.

Identifying Parts of Speech

This is a worksheet that reviews various parts of speech. It can serve as a class review, partner activity, or homework practice.  

Language Arts Guide

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Dawn Dodson