Mothers Create a Grammar Guide for the Text Generation

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Geraldine Onorato had noticed that the grammar skills of her son Hunter were beginning to slip while he was in middle school at Junior High School 167 Robert F. Wagner on the Upper East Side. Still, when she sat down to work on grammar exercises with him one evening, her son’s confusion over the word “slowly” took her by surprise.

“I said to him, ‘That’s an adverb,’ ” she said. “And he said, ‘What’s an adverb?’ ”

The question led Ms. Onorato, 55, a graphic designer from Manhattan's East Side, to begin a two-year project on a 16-page grammar guide, "Facts for English." More than 1,500 copies of the green booklet were given to the parents' association at Wagner middle school earlier this month.

Ms. Onorato began the project in November 2009, and about six months later she teamed up with Donna Harrow, 54, a longtime friend and parent from the Upper East Side. In what the two mothers call today’s texting culture, both felt that students needed a few reminders on basic structure. So they took inventory, asking other parents, students and teachers about some of the most egregious grammar blunders.

Verb agreement, use of the double negative and when to use “I” or “me” in a sentence all made that list.

“It’s important to form the basic skills of grammar that we were raised with,” said Ms. Harrow, whose daughter Madison, 15, attends the Brearley School, a private school on the Upper East Side.

Although Madison receives about an hour of daily grammar instruction at Brearley, Ms. Harrow said, the language she uses with friends often bleeds into her classroom training.

“It’s typical of this generation,” Ms. Onorato said. “They text, they BBM, they write on their Facebook pages. Everything is an abbreviation, and punctuation is so nonexistent that it becomes difficult to separate their personal lives from their professional writing.”

Ms. Onorato and Ms. Harrow said they planned to have a second grammar booklet out in the next nine months.