Understanding sentence structure is harder than you think.
This reminds me of an experience I had years ago, when I was trying to tutor some 15-year-olds in writing. I wanted to teach them about subject-verb agreement, but I realized they didn't know what a verb was. So I gave a standard definition--"an action word." Then I showed them sentences and asked them to identify the verb in each one.
One girl confidently told me that the verb in a sentence was "concert." When I asked her why she thought that, she said, "Because, you know, when you go to a concert, everyone is moving around a lot." I suspect the same thinking was at work in the choice of "gymnastics" as a verb.
I think the problem is that definitions are too abstract for many students to truly grasp. The only thing that may work is repeated practice in distinguishing sentence "fragments" from complete sentences--and understanding why the fragments are fragments (followed, ideally, by turning them into complete sentences). Anyone familiar with The Writing Revolution may recognize that as one of the sentence-level activities that are part of the method.
I've seen grammar books which focus on the more-technical aspects of the words, such as the positions they can take and whether they conjugate/decline. Often changing something and seeing how it changes the rest, can be useful (Its vs it's particularly!)
For the gymnastics question, perhaps pointing the subject "they" is plural, then asking which word would have to change if it were made singular? They prefer --> He prefers. It shows how subject-verb agreement works, and points out which word is the verb.
I've seen something similar with the adverb/adjective problem. The source pointed out that adverbs can take almost any position in a sentence and can be moved around, while adjectives need to stay close to the noun they modify:
Happily, they danced. They happily danced. They danced happily.
She wore a red dress. She red wore a dress. She wore red a dress. Red she wore a dress.
The gap between having curriculum outcomes and having pupils actually learn them, seems to get wider with each curriculum revision that’s implemented. My “thing” is maths, and it’s beyond discouraging to hear the edu wonks proclaim that the kids are just fine and the teachers are doing a brilliant job...all the while student achievement has plummeted.
The science of learning should be a trademark of the teaching profession, and like most other credible professions, that will not happen unless the educationists are banned from ever entering a school or teacher conference. Thanks for this post and I wish you continued success with our kids.
One of my favourite sentences in the English language is...
Nice one Daisy!