“…fooling about with the stuff the world is made of: with sounds, and with shapes and colours, and with clay and paper and wood and metal, and with language.  Fooling about, playing with it, pushing it this way and that, turning it sideways, painting it different colours, looking at it from the back, putting one thing on top of another, asking silly questions, mixing things up, making absurd comparisons, discovering unexpected similarities, making pretty patterns, and all the time saying ‘Supposing…I wonder…What if…’”  Pullman, (2005).

Isn’t this what grammar is all about?  Providing children with choices and options when they are writing?  Grammar study in context of high quality texts should enable children to write more effectively.

Research shows this to be a truth, Myhill et al, (2012) found that embedded grammar teaching had the greatest impact on writing (See Debra Myhill talking about the research here).  The research goal was to open up a repertoire of possibilities for young writers to give them access to authorial decision making.  Isn’t this why we teach grammar?  Fearn and Farnan, (2002), observed simply being able to define and identify grammatical labels is not related to writing skills’.  Perhaps someone needs to have a conversation with the policy makers.

And herein lies one of our problems: the eternal fight between research and policy.  Current policy insists that children name grammatical function words and complete ‘context-less’ tasks. So what do we do in the classroom?

Well my answer is a bit of both.  We need to teach grammar through the context of high quality texts; this is crucial as this is how authors write. High quality texts haven’t been artificially manufactured to prove or show a grammar rule; and so have grammar in context.  Secondly, exploring these texts give children a chance to explore what real writers do; and to steal from Pie Corbett for a moment – to ‘magpie’ the best ideas.  However, we also have testing at the end of KS2 so we also must ensure that children have the language and experience to be able to access the test.

In the best classrooms, there will be a mix of discrete grammar teaching and activity taught creatively with a backbone of quality texts and modelled writing. This can be woven into a unit of work where you can read as a writer and explore texts and their language features, teach the skills discretely and then apply in the modelled and shared writing opportunities you have in class.

Our forthcoming course – Grappling with Grammar looks at the issues discussed in this article and provides practical activities for teaching grammar in the classroom. We also have a FREE downloadable Grammar glossary available here. 

Charlotte Reed – Director, Primary English Education Consultancy Limited


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