Remembering and Using Rules of Written Language: Impact of Attention, Memory, Language, and Higher Order Cognition

Remembering the rules of written language can be a challenge, even for adults. The way in which something is spoken is not always the way it should be written.

To produce writing that is grammatically correct, for example, matching the right form of a verb to a subject, students need to do such things as attend to the task, self-monitor while they are working, and understand how different endings can change the meaning of words. To do this, students need to develop strategies for remembering some rules and be able to recall others automatically from memory.

Here are some strategies to develop and strengthen students' memory and use of rules during writing.

Helpful Hints

  • Make sure to consider the students' native language or dialect spoken at home. This can be important in explaining to students the difference between spoken language and written language.  
  • Help the student understand what type of grammar rules are used when writing. Have students write something the way they would speak it and then work with the student to "translate" it.  
  • Have the student complete assignments that involve him/her supplying the correct agreement and writing sentences with correct agreement. Allow the student to check others' work for mistakes. Make sure that the student understands why a subject and verb agree. Review with the student why a subject goes with a verb. When the student correctly matches a subject and verb, praise the student.  
  • Give the student a list of verb tenses with commonly used verbs. Give the student activities that involve supplying the correct verb tense. Give the student a writing assignment that involves writing in only one tense. Have the student check work for mistakes. Let the student practice conjugation of verb tenses with friends. Praise the student for correct usage of tenses.  
  • Give students a list of adjectives and a list of places and events. Have the students choose five to ten adjectives and one place or event. The students can then write a short story or paragraph using the adjectives to describe the place or event.  
  • Use games for students to practice subject-verb agreements in a fun way. For example, give students cards with subjects, verbs, and adjectives written on them. They can then play a game of cards, drawing and trading cards until they have enough words to form a phrase. Older students can make their own cards by having each group of students write sentences, putting each word in the sentence on a card. They can then trade decks of word cards with another group in the classroom. To avoid embarrassment for students who struggle with this activity, students can play as teams.  
  • Identify verbs students misuse most often. Put these verbs and appropriate subjects on cards and have students play a game of "Concentration" by matching the subject cards with correct verb cards.  
  • If students have difficulty with certain verb endings, provide the students with sentences to fill in the blank the appropriate verb ending. Begin by giving the student choices and working up to having the student generate the words on their own.  
  • Have students find correct use of grammatical rules in their favorite books or magazines.  
  • Cut out pictures for students to write a sentence about each picture or give students a list of words that could describe the picture. Have the students choose which is the most appropriate word. Students can also generate as a team a list of words that could be used to describe the picture (adapted from Miller, 1997).