Playing with words

The first in a series of blog posts considering playful approaches to vocabulary and spelling.

I had a tidy-up in my office recently. As is customary with tidying, I made a great big mess then threw a huge pile of paper into our recycling bin. I also found a long-forgotten notebook. It was whilst flicking through said notebook that I found a list of activities I’d made for teaching phonics, spelling and vocabulary. This rather fortuitous case of lost and found has led to a resource upload and, I hope, to a series of blogs about playing with words.

Roll a plural

Knowing whether to add s, es, or to ‘drop the y and add i’ isa huge ask for some of our little learners. To both learn and practise this key spelling skill, I’ve added my Plurals Cube activity to the Resources Page here on the Primary English website. Just scroll down to the Phonics and Spelling section and you’ll see the resource flagged with NEW!!!. As with all the resources on the page, it’s free of charge to download and you’re welcome to share it with friends and colleagues (please just say where it came from).

It’s an easy resource to use. Simply roll the dice and find a word card from the selection that uses the rule shown on the dice.

Word in a word

Do you ever look at a word and spot the other smaller words within it? I don’t mean anagrams, but instead the words that form as you scan the word from left to right. I know I’ve really annoyed my teenage daughter by doing this on the way to school in the morning – not that I’ve allowed her annoyance to stop me doing it. Here’s the example that annoyed her most recently:

Me (pointing to the Land Rover Discovery in front of us): Dear child, have you ever noticed the number of words hidden inside Discovery?

Dear Child (grunting): No? But you’re gong to tell me about them aren’t you?

Me: Or we could do it together. Okay, we won’t do it together, but let me tell you about them. Disc, disco, discover, is, cove, cover, over, very…

Dear child: Mum, stop it. Please…

I’m happy to admit that I’m quite sad, but I do think this a great activity for learning to spell longer words by spotting the little ones inside it. And of course, it’s a good way to explore new vocabulary by working out where and what the hidden words might be.

That’s it for my first blog of 2019. I plan to be back soon with more ideas for playing with words. If you liked this blog post here’s an old post about playful approaches to vocabulary building: Very Punny vocabulary

Best wishes,


Rachel Clarke is the director and owner of Primary English Education. All content on this site belongs to Rachel and is protected by copyright. Use of Rachel’s content without permission will be challenged. Please do not reproduce, plagiarise or monetise any of Rachel’s content.

Quick tips for grammar: the die is cast

Dice are one of the most versatile resources to be found in any primary classroom. The roll of a die enables children to take control of their own learning, whilst the element of chance ensures fun and excitement that can’t be found in more formalised approaches to learning. In this short article I look at three ways to use dice to support spelling, grammar and punctuation

It’s definitely worth investing in some commercially produced classroom dice. TTS sell a variety of different dice, including dry-wipe and magnetic. I like the foam ones with PVC pockets which come in ‘giant’ suitable for  for class activities and ‘working large’, and ‘regular’ for working at tables and in small groups.

Plurals dice

Mark up some dice so that each face shows ‘s’, ’es’ or ‘ies’. Then provide children with a section of root words to be pluralised. Ask them to roll the dice and then choose a root word which is pluralised using the suffix shown on their dice. Children could be encouraged to record their findings in a table so that it is easier to spot the patterns determining how each word is made plural.

Read More

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 SpellingTest 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 19th October, 2012