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Its not my fault you're kids don't know grammar

If you're cringing at the title of this article, you understand my biggest pet peeve: students aren't learning proper grammar.

I know, with text messaging and auto-correct, they don't have full control over words. Acronyms are faster than writing full sentences. Besides, as my teens often point out, "It's just texting, not a real paper."

That's a poor excuse, and not true. When my daughter visited Northeastern University last fall, I was horrified that the admissions officer felt it was necessary to remind applicants that their essays should be proofread. Specifically, he warned them to check their grammar, word choices (your/you're, its/it's) and -- what's worse -- that they should not use "text-speak" abbreviations: LOL, TMI, FWIW and the like. The audience laughed at that bit of advice, but the college representative assured us that he was serious.

I'll admit it, poor grammar and lack of proofreading have always disturbed me. The reported death of the Oxford comma (http://oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-is-the-oxford-comma) sent me into depression for weeks. The fundraising letter with horrible grammar was sent back with an offer to donate my services to help with the organization's written literature (never heard from them again). I've tossed books aside in disgust after incorrect word choices have distracted me from the story once too often.

As a result, I've taught grammar since elementary school, and am pleased to report that my children have started to pick up my (admittedly sometimes annoying) habit of laughing at and correcting written errors.

Fear not! Even if you've avoided grammar lessons so far, you can still teach your teens the basics in time for those college essays and resumes. There are many online sites that offer useful tools. Here's a handful:

  • The best known grammar guide is, of course, William Strunk's The Elements of Style (http://www.crockford.com/wrrrld/style.html). While it has been updated since the 1918 printing linked above, the rules still stand, and are an excellent starting point and reference.
  • Guide to Grammar and Writing (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/index.htm) teaches everything you need to know, from parts of speech and sentence structure to proofreading and paper writing. The interactive quizzes (http://grammar.ccc.commnet.edu/grammar/quiz_list.htm) are an excellent way to test and review skills.
  • eLearn English Language (http://www.elearnenglishlanguage.com/) is a site maintained by writer Laura K. Lawless. While not a complete course in English grammar, the pages on "English Difficulties" are incredibly useful, and cover many of the most common causes of confusion. No more there/their/they're confusion!
  • Jack Lynch, a professor at Rutgers University, offers a similar site, The Online Grammar Guide (http://www.world-english.org/grammar.htm). He covers a wider range of topics, but in less depth than Lawless' site.
  • If you are looking for a short course, rather than references or quizzes to back up your other lesson plans, The Internet Grammar of English (http://www.ucl.ac.uk/internet-grammar/) is wonderful. Each lesson ends with a quiz to test the student's understanding of the topic. Note, however, that this is a British site, so some of the spelling and phrasing may seem odd to Americans.
  • Still looking for more references? University of Minnesota's Online Grammar Handbook (http:// www.OnlineGrammar.org) offers links to numerous other sites and guides.
  • For the true grammar geeks (and I raise my hand proudly at that title), there's my absolute favorite site: the Reed-Kellogg Diagrammer (http://1aiway.com/nlp4net/services/enparser/). Type in any sentence, it will diagram it for you (traditional diagramming, not that newfangled parse tree stuff). It will also go through the words and give you information about parts of speech. If there's ambiguity in how the sentence should be diagrammed, the program will work out each version. It's somewhat embarrassing to admit, but this site has become a major time sink in my house -- we spend far too much time playing "stump the diagrammer!" So far we've not succeeded -- not even with the buffalo sentence (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_buffalo_Buffalo_buffalo).