Quick tips for grammar: using question marks

The 2014 National Curriculum requires children in Y1 to be able to demarcate sentences with full stops, question marks and exclamation marks. By the end of Y2 children need to be able to use these punctuation marks whilst also recognising the sentence types with which they work: statement, question, exclamation and command. In this article I look at ways to introduce question marks in Y1 and Y2 and also how to reinforce their use throughout KS2.


Question words

Create a classroom ‘question display’ with the words why, what, who, where, when etc. on display. Add to this over time with further question words such as ‘how’ and ‘which’, and question phrases (or question stems) such as what is the most…how can I tell…who is the… 

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Quick tips for grammar: capital letters and full stops

full stopUsing full stops and capital letters to demarcate sentences is a requirement of the 2014 National Curriculum from Y1 onward. The following activities have been devised by teachers for working with the youngest children in school but they may still be useful to teachers working with older children who continue to struggle with demarcating sentences accurately.

Human sentences

Use strips of paper to create human sentences with children. Say a sentence, write the sentence, cut-up the sentence and then give separate words to different children so that they can then work collaboratively to recreate the sentence. Use the capital letter and full stop as clues to work out where different words go in the sentence. Over time this game can be repeated with the omission of the capital letter and full stop for children so that children can activate their own understanding to punctuate the sentence accurately.

Tennis ball full stop

Use a tennis ball or other small ball to mark the end of the sentence when building human sentences as a class.

Get physical

Create actions and sound effects for full stops. Use these actions and sound effects when reading text as a class. Encourage children to use them to decide which punctuation marks to use when reading unpunctuated sentences.

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“…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.

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One Stop Writing Shop

Some of you may have been following us a while, some of you more recently and we thought it might be useful to reflect on a few of our most searched for and read posts.

This selection relates to the teaching of writing:

Writing is a tricky subject, we know. It is searched for a lot on our blog. One reason is that we don’t always see ourselves as writers so we have written about Teachers as Writers to support you. Just a few thoughts to get your ideas flowing.

As a team we love to use visual images as a starting point or a really good picture book, so here are some ideas to start you off.

Need teaching ideas for persuasive writing? Something to get the children motivated? We can help with that!

Getting your GaPS in a twist? Need to grapple grammar?

There’s lots more too! Just search writing and have a look.

The Primary English Team

Getting to grips with grammar

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

Grappling with Grammar

This week the Primary English Team has been grappling with grammar. The KS2 GaPS test coming up in summer 2013 has implications for schools, and we have been pondering potential problems with our lovely Subject Leaders at our Autumn Term CPD. Here team member Rachel Clarke waxes lyrical about one of her favourite grammar resources.                                                                                                                                                                                                              

For a while I lived near a garage where each petrol pump was adorned with a sign proclaiming, “Smile your being recorded.” It didn’t stop me filling up my car, but I did have to suppress my inner teacher – resisting the temptation to reach into my ‘school-bag’, take out a marking pen and correct the grammatical error. I know I’m not alone. I have a colleague who is unable to use her local chip shop due to an errant apostrophe in “Fish and Chip’s”. This example of ‘the greengrocer’s apostrophe’ is, unfortunately, common and to thousands of pedantic teachers a huge source of frustration.

If you are the kind of teacher who likes all sentences clearly demarcated with a full-stop and capital letter then ‘Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation’ by Lynne Truss is just the type of book you will adore.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it is a simple rant about poor punctuation, with a bit of superior finger-wagging directed at those who commit grammatical misdemeanours. It isn’t. Lynne Truss writes with a light, humorous tone and shares literary and historical insights into the punctuation that we use.

With the implementation of the Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling Test for Year 6 children this academic year, there is a potential new audience for Lynne Truss’s book – teachers who lack confidence with punctuation and grammar.

If you consider yourself grammatically challenged, then this book should be treated as a personal tutorial in improving your dots, stops and dashes. There are seven short chapters, and in each Truss provides a background to the evolution and use of punctuation marks using examples from literature, shop-signs and advertising posters, with the aim of showing how poor punctuation changes the intended meaning. For the less-confident grammarian, it is these examples that provide the tuition that many teachers would find supportive.

So, where did the book get its name?

A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

I’m a panda,” he says, at the door. “Look it up.”

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves.”

Rachel Clarke,  Director: Primary English Education Consultancy Limited

Lynne Truss’s illustrated books for children:

Eats, Shoots & Leaves For Children: Why, Commas Really Do Make a Difference

The Girls Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes!

Twenty-odd Ducks: Why Every Punctuation Mark Counts!

We have a further post about grammar here.

We recommend more resource books for teachers on our Pinterest BoardsDo take a look at our previous blog Looking for a big resource in a small book? for further ideas.

Originally published on LoveToReadToMyClass.Wordpress.com 19th October, 2012