Back to Basics


We use this word so often that the true meaning often eludes us. Basic means fundamental, foundation, or starting point. The word is simple to understand, but it is overlooked—especially when it comes to writing.

First consider other academic subjects like math and reading. Basic concepts in math include counting and addition facts. Would a math teacher ever try to teach algebra before a student has a firm grasp of these fundamental skills?

Think of reading. Basic concepts include learning the ABC’s and the sounds each letter makes. Would a teacher ever ask a child to read a chapter book, who had never mastered these building blocks of reading?

Writing is no different. I see more and more students lacking the basic, elementary principles of  writing, yet these students are trying to write academic papers and poetry. And what’s worse: we are expecting them to!

basic learning

It strikes me that we (parents and educators) simply assume that students know the foundations of written language. But it is apparent to me that we need to stop assuming. We need to revisit the basics and hammer these concepts home. Even if it means starting a high school student at paragraph or sentence writing.

So what are the basics of written language?

The foundations of English writing are the 8 parts of speech. How many of our students can name all of them? (Hint: they are noun, verb, adjective, pronoun, adverb, preposition, conjunction, and interjection.) I would guess that if you gathered your entire family around the table and asked this question, few if any could name all 8—though I sincerely hope I’m wrong—and even fewer could define them accurately.

Why are the parts of speech so important? It’s simple – basic really – every explanation of sentence structure and every rule of grammar is explained in terms of these parts of speech. Without understanding or being able to identify these parts of speech, how can we hope to teach the finer points of language?

For example, try teaching a middle school student how to eliminate incomplete sentences from their writing.

A teacher might say: “Remember that every sentence must have a verb.”

Great. Simple. Basic.

But the student asks, “What’s a verb?”

A teacher might try to explain why the word “at” cannot appear at the end of a sentence.

The teacher would say: “A preposition must always be followed by a noun object.”

Great. Simple. Basic.

But the student asks, “What’s a preposition?”

What’s a teacher to do?

Go back to basics. Reinforce the basic principles of language. Teach students to outline sentences.

These are the ways we learned language as children. And let’s face it, the world has changed to become more technology based and fast paced. But children haven’t changed and the English language hasn’t changed. So why are we changing what worked. We are trying to move so fast that we are neglecting to teach children the basics.

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