Killer grammar quiz

Mary Bohlen | University of Illinois at Springfield

On the first day of editing, I give a 10-question grammar quiz on the most common grammar mistakes I have seen in my teaching career: passive voice, comma splice, noun-pronoun agreement, noun-verb agreement, dangling modifiers, misplaced modifiers, restrictive clauses, non-restrictive clauses, dead construction and parallelism. I add an extra credit question on confusion between a possessive and a contraction or a possessive and a plural.

I ask the students to write sentences containing each one of the errors and then write the corrected sentences. I tell them they may not make these mistakes in their own writing but as editors they will encounter these time and again and need to know how to correct the errors.

On the first day, no students get them all correct and many are confused by the language of grammar, having not heard such terms as "dangling modifier" or "restrictive clause" since junior high, if then. I don't count the first day's quizzes but rather use them to show the students they need to take grammar seriously and that these are the kinds of things we will be talking about in editing.

During the first few weeks of class, we proceed to go over all of these common mistakes. I also point out that most are listed in the first chapter of "When Words Collide," one of their required texts. One class session I have students draw slips with the mistakes from a hat and pair each student with another to "teach" the rest of the class about the mistake. Students have come up with up creative ways of explaining the mistakes.

Periodically (I'd say every two weeks), I give the same exam again. Any student who passes never has to take it again but automatically gets 10 points every subsequent time I give it. That seems to be a big incentive for most students to study and master the mistakes, but I have had those who are still taking it near the end of the class. I tell them they cannot pass the class if they don't pass the grammar quiz by the semester's end.

Students tell me later the quiz helped them identify grammar mistakes in their own writing and that of others.

I would be glad to talk with anyone who needs more details.

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