Teaching the Parts of Speech: What to Keep and What to Part With

I’ve taken on the challenge of teaching the parts of speech at the request of a YouTube viewer. The request brings up the old question of how much terminology is worth knowing. Obviously, knowledge of all the terms doesn’t equate with fluency. As I state in my three-part lesson, knowing how to use words is more important than knowing what to call them. Nevertheless, a close look at the parts of speech can raise awareness of syntax. I decided that teaching the parts of speech would be a worthy lesson if I keep in mind the end goal: better understanding of what words do and where they go in a sentence.

How many parts of speech are there? I decided to list nine, and so I designed a three-part lesson: Part 1 covers nouns, pronouns, and determiners. Part 2 covers verbs, adjectives, and conjunctions. Part 3 covers adverbs, prepositions, and interjections. Back in elementary school, we never learned about determiners as a word class, but as an English teacher I’m happy that many sources now agree on giving them this distinction. It helps explain how noun phrases can be built: determiners > adjectives > head noun.

Truthfully, I don’t think there’s only one right number. When you teach the parts of speech, you’re presenting a way to look at language and how it breaks down. As long as you remain logical as you identify function and explain syntax, then everything should be fine.

What about overlap? As I just said, just be logical. I explain that determiners could be grouped under adjectives as words that modify nouns and pronouns, but I distinguish adjectives as words that describe or classify. Determiners don’t do that, and so I’ve separated them into their own word class.

I explain further that possessive adjectives and possessive determiners refer to the same set of words. This kind of clarification is helpful if learners intend to do any amount of independent grammar study because valuable information can be listed under different key words.  I mention alternative names for other groupings, such as linking adverbs. How confusing it can be for a learner who tries to search online for a list of linking adverbs! In Part 3, I give other names for these kind of connecting words: conjunctive adverbs, sentence connectors, and transition words.

How detailed should an explanation be? I decided to be quite thorough in my presentation, but I also kept in mind that I had to cover three parts of speech in each segment. The major word classes received more attention, but in many cases, my lists of examples aren’t always complete. Is it really worth anyone’s time to look at an extensive list of transitive and intransitive verbs? Or would it be more beneficial to teach what these terms refer to and emphasize the necessity of learning the grammar of new vocabulary? Similarly, it’s easy to list reciprocal pronouns, but it’s more challenging to name all the interjections in contemporary American English. So instead, I present only several interjections to show a range of emotions. My three-part lesson is more of an overview. Working with a teacher or tutor would allow a learner to go more in depth.

Is it possible to be simple while being thorough? I tried to walk this line. For example, I decided not to break down prepositions into multiple groups based on function, such as time or location. I divided them into just two groups: prepositional phrases that behave like adjectives and prepositional phrases that behave like adverbs. For further study and practice with collocations, I encourage students to use my playlist on prepositions, in which I do talk abut time, location, purpose, etc.

I also wrestled with the task of how best to break down adverbs. Sticking to only three or four types wouldn’t satisfy my advanced viewers, who know that adverbs go beyond modifying single words. However, taking the time to list up to ten or eleven types might make everyone’s head spin. I present seven types of adverbs, grouping some together when possible. I lumped adverbs of time, frequency, and duration together. I also explain that adverbs of manner, place, and time can all fit into the group called circumstance adverbs, which can be remembered by the basic questions how, where, and when?

What do you think is the hardest thing about teaching the parts of speech? Do you feel that students benefit from an overview? Feel free to post your thoughts.


Photo credit: Blocks, Colorful Toys, Child by Barni1. Retrieved from the Public Domain at https://pixabay.com/en/building-blocks-colorful-toys-child-659158/.


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Arun Goyal says:

    Thanks, Jennifer. I could make out your thought process when I viewed part III of your series today. Now you have yourself described the currents in your mind in the post. I personally found the jump to preposition phrases used as parts of speech very imaginative. I think active to passive and vice versa is a challenge for most learners. Same with reported speech. They just can’t do the transition in verb tense right. Arun I am trying to start English classes for semi literate women. Am banking upon your videos. Medium of instruction will be the local language, Hindi

    On Fri, 27 Apr 2018 at 11:55 PM, English with Jennifer wrote:

    > englishwithjennifer posted: “I’ve taken on the challenge of teaching the > parts of speech at the request of a YouTube viewer. The request brings up > the old question of how much terminology is worth knowing. Obviously, > knowledge of all the terms doesn’t equate with fluency. As I state ” >

    1. As I wrote, presentations of the parts of speech can vary greatly. That’s okay. It’s about trying to paint the larger picture for learners and also showing which parts make up that picture. We can see it a bit differently. That’s okay. Also, some learners aren’t ready to see the finer parts. For example, a lower level student, will first learn circumstance adverbs, then probably comparative/superlative forms, and then maybe adverbs of degree. Linking adverbs are for upper level students. The overview I created is likely going to be more helpful for advanced students who need to gain perspective on all they know and for teachers in training, who need a good review. 🙂
      Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts here. Regards!

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