Sunday, October 14, 2012

First Impression - the Montessori Grammar Symbols

First Impressions
By Debbie Vale
We all know the importance of making a good first impression.  In the world of Montessori there are presentations that fall into the category of Impressionistic Lessons.  These lessons are designed to make a deep and lasting impression on the students.  These lessons have impact and ignite the student’s imagination.
One of the materials that often catches the eye of students and parents are the grammar symbols.  A set of the three dimensional shapes holds mystery and wonder.  Children and parents are curious about what these different geometric solids represent and how they are used in lessons.
It is well known that the materials in a Montessori environment are designed to inspire children to learn more about them.  This visual arouses curiosity.  So when a teacher is ready to present a grammar symbol to her students, they are often eager to hear her story and discover what the symbol represents.
As a teacher, I treat these impressionistic lessons with reverence and try to create an atmosphere of anticipation so that the child is ready to absorb the presentation.  It is helpful to make the stories of these symbols your own.  The stories of the word functions may differ from teacher to teacher but I believe the presentations should be simple, brief, and memorable.  It is the ambiance that is created during the stories that engages the students.  I tell the stories as if I am letting the students in on a secret.

The Noun
I place the 3 dimensional symbol in the center of the work rug.  The students gather and I tell the story.
When you were a baby, you learned how to speak.  The first words you probably used were words that named things.  “Mama,” “Dada,” and “blankie” might have been some of your first words.  When humans first began to speak, the first words they used were naming words too.  “Food,” “fire,” and “baby” might have been some of the words they used.  Even though these people lived a very long time ago, the words they used to name the things in the world still exist.  People have names for everything.
Naming words are very special.  They are solid and stable.  They represent the things in our world.  We use this black pyramid to represent these words in our language.  We use a pyramid because it is very old and very stable with a wide base, we use the color black because carbon is a very old scientific element and it has a black color.  Black also seems solid and stable.
There is a special name for these naming words.  They are called “nouns” and nouns are the names of the people, places and things in our world.  The word “noun” actually means name.
Although the story seems simple, it is enough to inspire the children to label all the nouns they can find in the classroom, to make lists of the nouns they see on the way to school and to symbolize the nouns in their sentences.

The Article
I place the noun and the article three dimensional symbols in the center of the work rug along with a pencil, two erasers, and a few beads. The students gather around as I introduce the article.
We have been finding nouns all around us and even in our sentences and stories.  Have you noticed that there are other types of words as well?  Different words have different jobs.  There are three words that have an important job. 
Please hand me THE pencil.  I take the pencil and put a label reading “the pencil” next to it.  Please hand me A bead.  I take the bead and put the label reading “a bead” next to it.  Please hand me AN eraser.  I take the eraser and put a label reading “an eraser” next to it.

I take the noun symbol and place it over above the nouns.  We know these words are nouns.  These other words are not nouns.  Their job is to point out that a noun will be coming soon.  We call them articles.  In our language there are only three.  Some languages have many more and some have none at all.

We use a small pyramid because the article is part of the noun family and will always announce that a noun will soon appear.  The name “article” comes from Latin and means a small part or a member.  The article is a small part or member of the noun family.  Although it is small, it is important.

The Adjective

I place the two symbols we have been practicing plus the adjective symbol in the center of the rug.

We have been practicing nouns and articles and it is time to learn a new symbol. 
Please bring me a pencil.  (The child gets the pencil.)  Thank you but that is not the one I want.
I ask another child to please bring me a pencil.  Thank you but that is not the one I want.
I ask a third child to please bring me a red pencil. (Or another color if a red one has already been brought to the rug.)

It was challenging to find the pencil I wanted because I didn’t add any other words to the word “pencil.”
Our next grammar symbol represents the words we use to describe the noun.  They can be colors, numbers, or many other describing words such as cold, hot, heavy, light, full, and empty.

We use a medium dark blue pyramid because this word is a part of the noun family and always stands between the article and the noun.  Sometimes there is more than one between the article and the noun such as “The new red pencil”.

This type of word has a special name, it is called an adjective and means “to add to”, we add it to the noun to describe or tell us something about the noun.  Let’s see if we can find any adjectives in our other work today.

The Verb
I have a list of cards on the rug.  Written in black are words such as map, cup, book, and bead.  Written in red are words such as jump, clap, smile, and walk. 
Please bring me a map.  The student brings a map and we put the label next to it.  This continues with the other nouns.
Now please bring me jump.  The children usually get up and jump.  That is a good demonstration of how to jump, but we cannot put that here on the rug next to the label.
Please bring me clap.  They clap.  That is a good demonstration of how to clap but we cannot put it here next to the label.
Please bring me smile and put it next to the label.  They tend to think about this but realize they cannot do this.
Can you bring me walk and put it here next to the label?  They answer no.
Do you remember what type of words these are (pointing to the nouns)?  They say “nouns.”
The words on this side are different.  They are things you can do, they have movement and energy.  I take out the noun symbol and the verb symbols.  Remember that the noun is solid and stable; when I push on it it does not go very far.  But watch what happens when I push this symbol.  It goes very far and has energy to move freely in any direction.  We use a red sphere to represent this word because red is the color of fire which has energy and a sphere is the shape of the sun which gives us energy.
This type of word is called a verb.  It comes from Latin and means word par excellence  the most important word in the sentence.

The Preposition
I hand each student a gumdrop or lifesaver.
We are going to use these candies to learn a new type of word.  I am going to give directions, I want you to follow them and tell me the position of the gumdrop.
Put the gumdrop over your head.  What is the position of the gumdrop?  They answer “over.”
Put the gumdrop behind you, what is the position?  Behind.
Put the gumdrop under your chin, what is the position?  Under.
Carry the gumdrop across the room, what is the position?  Across.
This can go on for a while until we get to the following command.
Put the gumdrop in your mouth, what is the position?  In.
I show the students the symbol.  We use a green bridge to represent this type of word.  It tells us our position.  We can be on the bridge, under it, next to it, behind it or in front of it.
We call this word a Preposition.  It comes from Latin and means “before”, we place it before the second noun in the sentence.  It shows a relationship between 2 nouns.  A preposition tells the position.
Note: I have also done this lesson relating the student to his or her chair.  They enjoy standing on the chair and crawling under the chair.

The Adverb
I have verbs written in red and adverbs written in orange.  I place the verb and the adverb symbols on the rug.
Here is another symbol that represents a word that can move freely.  As a matter of fact it moves around the verb just as our planet moves around the sun.  Let’s try it.
This word is walk, it is a verb.  I am going to add this word, “slowly” to walk.  Now walk slowly.  After the child does this, I ask another child to “slowly walk”.  Does the activity change?  No.  Does the word order change? Yes.
We continue with clap softly, softly clap, hop silently, silently hop, breathe deeply, and deeply breathe.
These words are added to the verb to tell us how to perform the action.  They are called “adverbs”.
I lay the words on the rug next to each other and under the proper symbol.  If students do not notice that the adverbs end in “ly”, I will ask if they can find something similar about the adverbs and they usually do.  If they do not notice I may say, As we work with these words you may notice something many adverbs have in common, when you think you know what it is, come and whisper it to me.
If they do notice I will say, “It is true that many adverbs end in “ly”, but some do not.”

The Pronoun
 I have hats that I make out of purple construction paper by forming a cone.  Each hat has a word on it; “I, me, we, us, he, him, she, her, they, them.”
I have made these hats for you.  We will use them in our lesson.  I will say a sentence and then we will wear the hats and someone else will say the sentence but they will change the words.
Mary gives the pencil to Bob.  Mary and Bob please stand up and wear these hats.  I will put the hat that says “she” on Mary and the hat that says “him” on Bob.  Now let’s say the sentence.  She gives the pencil to him.
Jack reads a book to the class.  I give Jack the hat that says “he”.  Let’s put the hat that says “us” in the middle of the circle to represent all of us.  “The new sentence is He reads the book to us.”
We continue until we have used all the hats.
These words have a very important job.  They take the place of the noun.  They stand tall and proud, they are purple. I show the symbol.  They are called Pronouns which means “in place of the noun.”
Note:  The students like to take the hats and wear them for the rest of the day!
The Conjunction
I prepare strips of pink paper with the words, “Come join me for a lesson.”  I have a vase of different colored flowers and cut pink ribbons ready on the work rug.
I asked you to come join me at this lesson.  I am going to give you the white flower AND the yellow flower.  Please join them together with this pink ribbon.
To a different student – Would you like EITHER the red flower OR the orange flower?  Please tie the pink ribbon around the red flower OR the orange flower.
To the third student - There is only one flower left, SO this one is for you.  Please tie a pink ribbon around it.
I take out labels with the words, AND, EITHER, OR, and SO and lay them on the rug.  These words join other words or phrases together.  We call them conjunctions which is Latin and means join with. We use this pink rectangle to remind us of the pink ribbon that is joining our flowers together.  Let’s see how many we can find in our work today.
Note – Some students say that the pink rectangle reminds them of a piece of bubble gum, I tell them that is another good way to remember it because gum is sticky and it can join things together by being sticky.

The Interjection
I use a plastic baseball bat to represent a club in this lesson.
I want to tell you a story that happened many many years ago, when people lived in caves and had to go out to hunt for food.
One night a man took his club and told his family he was going to find some dinner.  After being gone for hours he came home all tired and worn out.  His family was waiting for him.  They said, “Dad is home, where’s the food?”
Dad replied, “Oh! No food tonight.”
The next night, Dad went out again.  He came home hours later.  He was tired.  The family was waiting and asked, “Is there any food?”
Dad replied, “Ugh! No food tonight.”
The third night Dad went out again.  It was rainy.  He was gone a long time.  The family didn’t ask Dad about the food.
Dad put some meat on the table and said, “ Hurrah!  Tonight we eat!”  I hold the club up so it looks like an exclamation point.
The family cheered.  “Yippee!”  “Yahoo!”  “Yeah!”  and Dad was a happy man.
I have labels prepared with all of the interjections I used in the story.
We throw words like these into sentences to give them excitement. The sentence will still be fine without it but it is more interesting with words like these.  They add feeling.  We call them interjections from Latin which means to throw something into.  We throw these words into sentences to express our emotions.
Another way to look at this symbol is that the interjection is the key to the emotion in the sentence.  The symbol can be seen as a keyhole.
I allow plenty of time to practice each word and its function.  Using the grammar boxes and letting students analyze and symbolize text help students recognize each type of word.  Using sentence strips and grammar games allow students recall and come up with words in the proper context.  Allowing students to create their own grammar games and sentence strips shows proficiency and is also a lot of fun.


  1. This was very help! Thank you so much!

  2. I am not sure where I heard this but I think of the interjection as the triangle plus the circle (noun plus verb). It is one word or phrase but it acts like a complete sentence, thus the triangle/circle combination symbol.

    Also, the pink rectangle reminds me of a handshake. I like to have each child represent a sentence (like "I am seven," "I am good at basketball") and then the two sentences come together when they join hands.