Origins of FunStruct

Years of teaching writing at a university with a liberal admissions policy taught me that Traditional Grammar was little use in helping my students improve their writing. Traditional Grammar is almost certainly the grammar* you were taught from elementary through high school, beginning with the parts of speech (nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc.) and continuing with word groups, including the sentence. While you may have had a good experience with it, that grammar is such a sprawling explanation of the various parts of the English sentence that I couldn’t count on my students to understand how English sentences work. For most of them, grammar was a bunch of random rules that seemed to be applied randomly.

(*The word “grammar” can have a broad meaning, but I’m limiting my use of it to mean the different kinds of words and word groups and the ways they can be arranged to make sentences.)

Certainly writing is about a lot more than just grammar, but well-formed sentences are an essential part of writing. And understanding grammar helps writers construct ever more complicated sentence structures in which they can express their ideas.

But a majority of my writing students, even in my advanced writing classes, had moderate to serious grammar problems. Further, when I tried to explain the grammar-related errors in their writing, I could tell that most hadn’t developed a general understanding of the sentence into which they could fit my specific explanations: I was just throwing some more random rules at them.

So to address these problems, I started creating a crash-course in simplified Traditional Grammar. But I soon realized Traditional Grammar didn’t start in the right place! For example, by learning the parts of speech along with examples of each one, students later have to unlearn most of the examples: a “dog” is a noun only if it is used as a noun in a word group: “a nice dog.” But it can also be an adjective: “a dog house,” or a verb: “The detective will dog his trail forever!”

Therefore, I decided to start over: I would create a grammar in which students didn’t have to unlearn anything they had learned, and a grammar so simple and organized I could teach the basic framework to my students at the beginning of the semester and then build on that framework throughout the semester. I especially wanted to use what they were learning about grammar as I explained writing errors in conferences. I knew that kind of reinforcement would work!

These are the features I decided my grammar should have:

  1. I know that people have problems remembering lists of more than four items, so four items was the limit for my grammar’s lists. (Did you have a problem remembering all eight of the parts of speech?)
  2. It would provide a single framework, which students could learn easily, and then everything else they learn about the grammar would attach itself to something in the framework they know really well. Learning the entire framework over a few months should help them both see and remember how all the words and word groups work together to create “grammatical” sentences.
  3. It would include every type of word and word group that is included in Traditional Grammar, but if there were any exceptions, my grammar would explain those logically and memorably.
  4. A lot of punctuation is associated with certain words and word groups; therefore, I decided my grammar would teach that punctuation as it explained those words and word groups.

Once I set my goals, I began going through my research on grammar, and eventually I found parts of two grammar theories, functional and structural, that I could use. So I called my grammar FunStruct, because it combines parts of the words “functional” and “structural” and because it has the word “fun” in it!

FunStruct Grammar took some time for me to develop, but it finally came together!

I’ll soon be uploading Lesson 1 under the link “FunStruct Grammar” above the Homepage. Then you’ll learn the basic framework of FunStruct.