Grammar, What Is It Good For?

Okay, okay, I know I shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition (although I’ve heard that rule is more relaxed now than it used to be). Some of us remember grammar studies from grade school with all the joy of a dentist visit. The thought of teaching it is daunting and unpleasant.

Fortunately, just as with so many sticky areas of study, Montessori takes the pain out of learning grammar. The hands-on materials are visual and sensible; the child quickly learns the parts of speech and how they function, and then moves on to the parts of a sentence and how they function.

We have an advantage when we teach grammar, over another area of study like math or geography: we are simply making the child conscious of something they already do subconsciously. A toddler can speak his or her language and use the parts of speech correctly. What we need to do is make sure the child understands the names, definitions, and functions of each part of speech.

I initially thought I would write one post about grammar, but that quickly grew until I have about four of them. That surprised me, too! Stay tuned in future weeks for more fun with grammar. On with today’s post!

Grammar Symbols – What Do They Mean?

Maria Montessori, knowing that children respond well to shapes and colors, decided to use a system of colored shapes to represent the different parts of speech. Each shape and color has a meaning:grammar_symbols

1. The Noun is represented by a black triangle. The triangle stands for the pyramid, one of the first human structures, and black is for carbon, believed to be the first mineral discovered by humans.

2. The Adjective (small dark blue triangle), Article (smaller light blue triangle), and Pronoun (large purple triangle) are part of The Noun Family and so use the triangular shape with different colors.

3. The Verb is a circle, to represent the shape of the sun which gives life. The red color also symbolizes life (blood). The verb gives life to the sentence. The Adverb is a smaller circle and is often pictured orbiting the verb like a planet; it depends on the verb for existence.

4. The Conjunction is a small pink bar which represents a link in a chain; the Preposition is a green crescent to symbolize a bridge. There’s no known significance in the color of either.

5. The Interjection is a gold triangle with a circle on top; it combines the symbols of the noun and the verb together. Interjections function as both noun and verb in a sentence; it may have been the first word spoken by humans (ow!). It is gold because they are the “king of all words”.

Why Do We Need To Know?

Sometimes when we read about the origins of some of the Montessori materials, they might seem a little silly or outdated. The grammar symbols are frequently used by adults and children who don’t know the meaning behind the shapes and colors, but nevertheless find the symbols to be a great way to learn grammar.

However, I do think it can be helpful to know the “why” behind the materials we use; they can help us remember what makes each part of speech special, as well as the relationships that they have with each other. I’ve found that kids enjoy learning the meanings of the shapes and colors.

The Importance of Grammar Study

The study of grammar is to language what the study of anatomy is to science. By studying grammar, we become better writers and readers. Generally, the grammar materials are started in second grade. The child, at this age, has learned to read but is still interested in words, their meanings, and their functions.

Some of the simple introductory lessons (which I’ll cover in the next post) can be done with the 3-6 age group. They are done as sensorial lessons, that is, lessons that evoke a certain feeling or imagery. They are not done with the intention of having the child understand the concept in an academic way.

After the child has been introduced to grammar on a sensorial level, they are ready to understand it in a deeper way. The elementary lessons are done with the intent of academic understanding.

Interested in the rest of this series? You can find the other installments here: Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

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21 Responses to “Grammar, What Is It Good For?”

  • Christi Sewell said at February 10th, 2009 at 10:40 pm :

    Thank you for this introduction. I am looking forward to reading more on this subject. I am really excited about learning the order of introduction and the introductory lessons. I truly appreciate all the information.


  • Lori Bourne said at February 10th, 2009 at 10:41 pm :

    Thanks, Christi! I like how Montessori can take any subject and make it fun & interesting. I’ll be blogging more about grammar soon.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Michelle Irinyi said at March 4th, 2009 at 2:01 pm :

    I love teaching Montessori grammar. I’ve found that my lower and upper elementary students really look forward to their grammar lessons. Thank you for sharing!

  • Lori Bourne said at March 4th, 2009 at 2:32 pm :

    Hi, Michelle! I admit I actually liked grammar in school, but I enjoy the Montessori way even more. I probably need a refresher on punctuation, though, right? 🙂

  • Christopher McCulloh said at May 17th, 2010 at 12:13 pm :

    They tried to teach me as a kid and it confused me. I was trying to remember it as an adult, and remembered it thusly:

    Square – Noun
    Triangle – Article/Adjective
    Circle – Verb

    Which *kind of* made sense. So then I looked it up and saw there isn’t a square involved (what???) and there’s no less than FOUR DIFFERENT TRIANGLES? And several circles. It confused me as a kid and now I see why as an adult. It’s the kind of thing a grown up would come up with to try and explain a simple concept to a child in an overcomplicated confusing way.

    Thank you for the post. I was happy to be able to know that I wasn’t imagining someone trying to teach me this. My reply is negative (I was a Montessori kid and it wasn’t for me. I HATED school, now I have a solid example as to why) but I do appreciate you posting the information.

  • Lori Bourne said at May 17th, 2010 at 12:21 pm :

    Hi, Christopher! It’s very interesting to get your perspective. I’ve used the Grammar Symbols with many children, including my own, with no problems at all. But, I can see how they could be confusing.

    I’m also interested in the fact that you said “I was a Montessori kid and it wasn’t for me”. I wondered if you’ve figured out why, now that you’re an adult?

    It’s true, Montessori isn’t for every child.

    The person who runs the Montessori training center where I took the training always told the trainees that she tried to have both her sons in Montessori, but for one of them, it was not a good fit and she ended up putting him in a public school.

    The reason I find your comment so fascinating, though, is that I was in a traditional school growing up (desks in rows, facing the teacher, using textbooks) and I HATED it and always longed for something else. So I guess it would be nice it school choices were as individual as children themselves are.

    Thank you so much for stopping by!

  • T Grant said at December 13th, 2010 at 3:40 pm :

    I have never heard that the verb symbol was red to symbolize blood.

    Rather, I was taught that the sphere (or circle) and color were to represent energy (perhaps like the sun) and action (because that’s what verbs do) …similar to the motion and vibrant energy of a red rubber ball.

  • Lydia said at December 13th, 2010 at 6:14 pm :

    Do you know why the grammar symbol colors are different than the grammar boxes in the elementary? For instance, the preposition box is not green like the symbol is. Thanks for any help!

  • Lori Bourne said at December 13th, 2010 at 8:16 pm :

    Hi, Lydia! Yes, I actually do know that. I was told in my training that different colors were used for the more advanced materials so that the children would not rely on color, but rather on the name of the part of speech.

    I find that a bit odd, after going through the trouble of emphasizing both shape and color early on. I personally would have used the colors consistently throughout all the materials.

  • Lydia said at December 14th, 2010 at 11:27 am :

    I agree Lori, thanks!

  • Kat said at April 4th, 2011 at 7:59 pm :

    Thank you for this Lori. I studied in a Montessori system school from CASA up until high school, so this is just like taking a trip down memory lane. I’m trying to do a bit of refresher to help some kids learn proper grammar. I’m hoping the Montessori methods that worked so well with me would be of help to them.

    The comments are also interesting. I had classmates in high school who didn’t study in the Montessori system before so some of our lessons were odd to them. Yet it didn’t matter since it wasn’t as strict in the higher levels. Also, my knowledge of the verb’s color is similar to T. Grant’s: red for energy because verb is all about action.

  • Lori Bourne said at April 4th, 2011 at 8:53 pm :

    Hi, Kat! Always great to hear from a former Montessori student. I’ve personally found that Montessori grammar materials work really well. Hopefully you’ll find the same!

  • Drami Belkin said at October 15th, 2011 at 9:13 am :

    I’m enrolled in a Montessori educator course – teacher training, Elementary 6-9. We’ve been told that red, in regards to the verb symbol, does correspond to life, the sun, and ultimately energy and movement; action (not blood). I’m wondering if the stories in this case are not all Montessori’s per se, but created by teachers? …That would make sense.

  • Drami Belkin said at October 15th, 2011 at 9:16 am :

    O! Looks like someone has already pointed this out. (Just noticed the last few posts.)

  • Lori Bourne said at October 15th, 2011 at 9:52 am :

    Hi, Drami! I think it’s a bit of splitting hairs – the reason “red” represents energy in the first place is because of the red=blood connection. It’s also the reason we use red as the color coding for zoology. The older generation wasn’t afraid of making connections that today, to us, seem a little bit squeamish.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  • Drami Belkin said at October 15th, 2011 at 11:45 am :

    …Really? I find that when we look closely at Montessori’s understanding of spirituality (which she doesn’t explicate too much, admittedly), energy makes more sense. That’s why I pointed it out. I’m not trying to be a pain in the butt. J

    …But we don’t even need to go into spirituality. In other areas, her lessons go into the explication of energy (e.g. science). Energy can have an association with blood, but to reduce energy to (simply) blood, misses much.

    You’ll find that the sun itself is redder (as you move East). And again, really all of this is not to split hairs needlessly. In the long run (in my humble opinion), you’ll find (I think) a much better fit or mesh if it’s interpreted using ‘energy’ and not blood, as others and myself have suggested. This is because, (I think) Montessori was quite wise and wished to guide people towards a deeper understanding of all and the interconnections of all… ‘blood’ in the long run, just won’t cut it. They’ll be a disconnect.

    Personally, after having completed her lessons on science and being thoroughly impressed, re-interpreting in this area (to blood, for example), falls seriously short. It just doesn’t go deep enough or quite as firmly establish interconnections (again: in my opinion).

    That’s all I’ll say for now.

    Most sincerely: thanks for listening to my humble feedback. And you’re welcome!!

  • Lori Bourne said at October 15th, 2011 at 8:31 pm :

    Hi, Drami! I have certainly put an enormous amount of time into thinking about Montessori and spirituality, so my interpretation of the “red” for the verb is not for lack of that. In matters like these, I always go back to my training, and we were taught that “red” can mean blood, life, and/or energy. They are interrelated, so it’s not a stretch to give “red” more than one meaning.

    I think of one of the introductory “verb” lessons where we show the child slips of paper with verbs (commands) written on them like “hop”, “jump” and “run”. After doing each, the child notices that their heart rate speeds up as blood circulates more quickly in order to bring oxygen to the muscles to bring the “verbs” to life.

    This connection is visceral and amazing! Of course, the study of the blood – and how it provides nourishment and oxygen to the body is as deep as can be, on every level. People spend their lives studying it. There is nothing shallow about it. It is a profound inner working of our bodies.

    For me, the interconnection between “red” and the sun (which may appear redder from some places on earth or at some times of the day) is not clearly established enough to see a link there. If I said something to my children about “the sun appearing redder the further east you go”, they would correct me immediately because if you keep going east, you’ll eventually come back to where you started. That concept requires more precision to be scientifically accurate.

    I like that there’s room in Montessori for several interpretations! Thanks again!

  • amber said at October 31st, 2012 at 2:24 pm :

    I really enjoy your page thanks 🙂 and l like your comment on the verb very intresting. My son is doing this in class right now and I know nothing about it so it was nice to read your page on it.

  • Lori Bourne said at October 31st, 2012 at 2:31 pm :

    Hi, Amber! So glad you found this helpful. Thanks for stopping by!

  • Emily Canibano said at March 19th, 2013 at 10:31 am :

    Thank you so much for this information. I have two boys in an AMI school and one did not go through Primary. He does the grammar boxes mechanically and can not explain the shapes to me when we visit during open house days. I started to ask the guide about the meanings behind the choice of shape/color and she simply replied ” they are deliberate”. I will begin a Primary guide training this fall and was craving to start on an even plane with everyone else as far as a base line of knowledge is concerned. Thank you for providing this insight!

  • Lori Bourne said at March 19th, 2013 at 7:18 pm :

    Hi, Emily! Thanks so much for your kind comments. We’re glad you found us!