Ensuring that all children make progress in their grammatical understanding has been high on the agenda of many schools in recent times. Many have produced progression documents setting out what is to be taught and where. Some are still working on these plans and some are yet to begin. Whatever stage your school is at with developing its grammar teaching it’s worth considering how grammar will be taught, how it will be applied into writing and how it will be assessed. Grammar is not something that stands alone. It is intrinsic to children’s reading and writing which is why this post looks at grammar in the broader context of teaching and learning.
1. Ensure that all staff and children use the correct grammatical terminology (as outlined in The National curriculum in England: Framework documentation for consultation. February 2013). When we change terminology from one teacher to another it confuses children. To some children a sandwich clause is something different to an embedded clause. Continuity of language makes it easier for children to learn.
2. The best learning takes place in context and the grammar of our first language is usually learnt through social interaction. Appendix 2: Grammar and Punctuation (The National curriculum in England: Framework documentation for consultation. February 2013) points to the importance of additional explicit grammar teaching, but recognises the importance of context by saying, “This knowledge is best achieved through a focus on grammar with the teaching of reading, writing and speaking”. So, if you want to deliver some discrete grammar lessons it’s ok. But, these lessons should take place as part of the literacy teaching sequence and the examples used should be evident in the text you are using to ensure context for pupils’ learning.
3. Modelling sentences orally, as well as in writing, makes grammar teaching multi-modal. The more modalities we use the greater our chances of recalling what has been taught. So, if you were teaching relative clauses you could model an oral structure such, “Mrs Clarke, who is a teacher, drives a red car.” The children could then invent their own sentences using the same structure e.g. “James, who is an ace footballer, supports Coventry City.” Once they are accustomed to the oral sound of this sentence move into modelling the written representation, including the correct punctuation. Children should then write their own versions. This method will need repeating again, and again, and again so that the sentence structure becomes second nature.
4. Be selective in the elements of grammar that you teach; particularly in KS2 where there seems to be so much content. Use your assessments to select an objective and cover it frequently so that it becomes ingrained in the children’s minds. Flitting between objectives or rushing through content rarely saves time in the long run.
5. Be creative. Find 1001 ways to teach the same thing. Use Grammar for Writing and practical tactile approaches in addition to written examples to keep the children interested.
6. Grammar does not stand alone, once you’ve introduced children to a grammatical concept you need to provide them with opportunities to apply their skills across the curriculum. You could develop an ‘ingredients’ approach to success criteria for cross-curricular writing which supports the application of grammar. For example, “Did you/have you included…” – making sure that the success criteria include aspects from the current grammar focus.
7. Developmental marking comments can be difficult to formulate. Save time and give purpose to your grammar teaching by weaving your grammar comments into your developmental marking. Try giving a sentence for completion or request an example linked to the current grammar focus. E.g. “Could you improve this sentence so it starts with a ‘ly’ adverbial?”
8. Creating cohesion in your grammar provision can also include what you do for pupil interventions. Do you have a group of pupils who need a focus on grammar? Cherry pick resource ideas from Grammar for Writing, ALS (Additional Literacy Support) and FLS (Further Literacy Support) to meet the specific needs of your pupils.
9. Strengthen links between home and school by incorporating a grammar focus into homework tasks. E.g. Write a story…can you make sure some sentences start with a ‘ly’ adverbial?…
10. Try developing a ‘Book talk‘ approach to grammar. Encourage children to find examples in texts to illustrate the effect of grammar. This will then support AF5 – Reading in addition to AF5 and AF6 writing. E.g Find examples of adjectives in the text. Why do you think the writer chose these? What’s the effect of their choice? What would be the effect if we changed them?
These suggestions are just a ‘starter for 10’. We’d value hearing how you have developed a whole school approach to grammar teaching.
For further reading about grammar see our post ‘Grappling with grammar’.
Rachel Clarke, Primary English Consultant