Discovering Grammar


Generally people think Grammar is difficult. This is because grammar is seen as a separate entity that should be learnt in the classroom and should be forgotten after writing exams. We often hear students and even adults saying grammar was “the toughest” in school. Many even feel that as grammar is difficult and of no use for the students, and has to be removed from the school curriculum, or make it as simple as possible. All this is because of the way and time grammar has been taught.

Dr Maria Montessori has a very different approach to grammar which is still working and logical even to date. The child of 2 ½ years when he starts schooling he already has a language. He can express himself clearly in his mother tongue without any grammatical mistakes to a certain extent. The language program in the Montessori classroom has three objectives apart from enriching his vocabulary.

  1. Phonetic analysis: help him understand that his language is made up of sounds, symbols for the sounds, expressing himself graphically which is writing, and interpret what others have written which is not mere reading.
  2. Grammatical Analysis: Every word he uses in the language has a function, what those functions are
  3. Logical Analysis: There is a logical structure for words in the language

The child is helped in all these areas parallel to each other. The grammatical analysis comprises of parts of speech. The child is presented with the word origin of each “parts of speech”.

Ex: The Noun. Noun is derived from the Latin word “Nomen” which means “a name”.

The child is asked to bring some things in the classroom

Bring me a pen

Bring me a pencil

Bring me a plant.

Bring me a book.

What did you bring?

Pen, pencil, plant, book

All these are names. These names are called nouns.

Everything, seen and unseen, touched or not touched has a name. Most part of language is made up of nouns. Try to count how many nouns we use in a day.

Then we introduce the symbol for the noun. The symbol of noun is a black square pyramid to represent noun. Pyramids stand majestically as a symbol of human creation since 5000 years. There is no wind strong enough no flood big enough to destroy the pyramids. Just like pyramids noun is a human creation. Like coal which formed during Carboniferous period noun was formed long ago.

What about Article? Article is a small limb that is attached to the noun. The Article tells us how to make choice.  If we have a choice of many nouns and have to choose one among them then we use the article ‘a’, when we do not have any choice and have to choose whatever is available then we use the article ‘the’.

Adjective is something which adds on to noun. While teaching the adjective the teacher says to the child, “Bring me a pencil”

The child goes and gets a lead pencil. The teacher says, “Not this one”. The child goes and brings a colour pencil. The teacher says, “Not this one dear” the child again goes and brings some other colour pencil, the teacher goes on saying not this one and finally the child reaches a point where he/she asks “what kind of pencil you want” the teacher says, “I want small pink pencil.” The child gets the small pink pencil. The teacher summarises, “You could not bring the pencil I wanted because I did not give you enough information about the pencil. The big, small, red, blue, thick, thin, one, two etc. add on to the name. These are called ‘adjectives’.

Noun family: article, adjective and noun belong to noun family. Noun is the mother.  Article is the baby and adjective is the big sister. The baby (article) cannot leave without the mother. So it is always with mother. The adjective is like a big sister though big adjective needs the support of the mother. Thus the noun holds adjective, adjective hold the hand of the article. It denotes the way they appear in English, first article followed by adjective and noun.

Dr Montessori’s greatness lies in her explanation of verb. It is presented in this manner.

The teacher asks a child,

“Smell the flower” the child smells it.

“Pour the water in the glass” the child pours the water.

The teacher asks, “Where is the flower”. The child shows the flower.

“Where is smell” the child wonders and starts thinking about it.

“Where is glass” the child shows the glass.

“Where is water” the child shows the water

“Where is pour?”

The child becomes aware that there are words which tell us to do something. All these pour smell etc. tell us to do an action. These action words are called verbs. The word verb is derived from a Latin word Verbum which means “a word”.  The verb gives energy to the noun. It completes the thought that started from the noun.

The symbol of the verb is “red sphere”. It is like the sun. Sun is a symbol of energy. It gives life to earth. As sun gives life to earth verb gives life to noun. Compared to the stable noun, verb is fluid and rotates around the noun.

Now let us look at the class hunt the action.  Can you see any action going on in the class? Reading! Who is reading Ajith is reading. Anything else do you see? “Thinking”. “Who is it that thinking?” “Bhavyata is thinking”. The child can hunt the actions in the classroom. He writes the sentences and symbolizes with the symbols.

Preposition – a bridge which connects two nouns. The symbol is primitive green hanging bridge.

Adverb – orange sphere – derived from ‘adverbium’ means close to the verb.

Pronoun – purple pyramid of same height as the black pyramid but the base is smaller – Derived from the Latin word ‘pronomen’ which means in the place of noun.

Conjunction – pink strip – Derived from the Latin word ‘conjugere’ which mean to join together.

Interjection – combination of pyramid and sphere – ‘interjecto’ which means to throw between – these are the words which are thrown in between to express more emotion or emphasis.

Every time a parts of speech is taught the child is helped to apply it to a miniature environment or a doll house then to the real environment like classroom. The child is helped to know the transposition in each “parts of speech”. Transposition is changing the place of the words. Sometimes the meaning of the sentence is completely changed when the places of the words are changed, sometimes they sound absurd. For ex:

Book on the table

Table on the book

On the book table

Table book on the

The first one is the sentence which has the intended meaning. The next two are grammatically correct but distort what intended meaning. The last one has no meaning.

Each “parts of speech” has a command box. The command boxes have command cards which help the child become aware of the minute difference between different parts of speech. For example for verb we have a command card which reads,

“Ask one of your friends to listen carefully to what you say. Murmur a short sentence as though you were speaking to yourself. Mutter the same words in a louder voice and see whether he understands. Whisper the same words in his ear. Grumble the same words and watch how your friend looks at you. Speak the same words aloud and as distinctly as you can.”

“Take a book and a large piece of cloth. Lay the book on your table and cover it with the cloth. Take the cloth and wrap it around the book so that the book cannot be seen. Tie a string around the cloth, so that the book will not fall out. Undo the bundle and return each object to the place where you found it.”

(Advanced Montessori Method Vol. II)

The child literally has to perform these actions and experience the difference. Then there is a material which is called “Grammar boxes”.  Grammar boxes help the child to consolidate his knowledge regarding parts of speech and their position. A word, which is an adjective in one sentence, would be a pronoun in other sentence.

All these activities are repeatedly presented in first, second and third standard. That means the lesson is attended by a child who is very new to this concept, a child who has heard of it last year, the one who has heard and understood and has been working at higher level.

Like grammatical analysis which deals with the function of words there is Logical Analysis which is of the structure of the sentence, structure of words in a sentence.

Logical analysis is taught after the presentation of verb. All the words revolve around the “Verb”.

Mary sings a song for her brother

Which is verb in this sentence?


Who is it that sings?


Mary sings what?

A song

For whom does she sing?

For her brother

The word which answers the question who is it that or what is it that for the verb is “subject”, the word which answers the question “What” and “Whom” for the verb is the “Direct Object”, the word which answers the question “for whom” for the verb is the indirect object.

The logical analysis helps the child who can understand English and are not confident enough to speak. The students are motivated to form similar sentences and sometimes try the words at different places and discover how some sentences have objects and some sentences do not, which will lead to the lesson on transitive and intransitive verbs.

Thus the presentation of grammar in the Montessori environment is interesting, innovative and productive. It doesn’t restrict the grammar learning to the four wall of of the classroom but help the child discover grammar in their own language. It stimulates learning and the learning goes on, not for writing examinations but for the urge of making one’s own discoveries.