Want to get ready for grammar teaching next year? Wondering how you can introduce the grammar terminology to children so that it will stick? Want a copy of our new publication Sentence Toolkit for Teachers plus ideas to use in the classroom? Come and join us on the 10th May for our first Sentence Toolkit for Teachers day. This course is offered at a reduced rate so it is on a first come first served basis. Other dates are available.
Because grammar is about improving writing. And passing the test is a by product of good grammar teaching.
Because grammar will be boring for those who have to put up with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 years of this.
Because grammar should be fun.
Because grammar teaching should take place in context with authentic texts and discussion about the impact.
Because preparation for the test is important but only needs 3 or 4 weeks.
Because if we don’t hold on to what is important in grammar teaching, no one else will.
Whilst I couldn’t agree more with Pie Corbett’s response to the new curriculum and Alan Peat’s letter about the new grammar, punctuation and spelling test, I am a pragmatist and have to deal with the fact that we have the test.
We have been running briefings for schools about the test and as a result of them have devised a few more resources. The first one is an overview of the grammar terminology and when children should be familiar with it. It obviously can not be down to Yr6 to learn and use it all – we need to share that responsibility out across the school. So we have drawn up a chart which details the vocabulary that we think children should be familiar with and able to use in each year group. We do want to make it clear that this is not the first time the children will have come across the term or played around with the idea. For instance children in Yr2 start to play around with complex sentences but they do not need to be able to use that terminology until Yr5. To see the overview click here. There is a downloadable version below the chart.
Linked to each year group are videos that explore the subject knowledge that teachers need to teach each aspect of grammar. These take the form of videos, links to Think Writing and examples of texts which offer the opportunity to teach that aspect of grammar.
Finally we asked Yr6 teachers to go through the test and draw up a list of challenges that children might face. Having done this we then asked them to come up with some strategies that they could use with children to help ensure that they do the best that they can when they sit down to take the test. These ideas are linked in the Yr6 column.
If you have any comments about our grammar pages, please do complete our very short survey (about 3 questions) and enter into the draw to receive a copy of our publications Think Reading and Think Writing.
It is so hard to have examples of a new test but no mark scheme or even any idea of the weighting of the paper. Our work with the new grammar test meant that we needed to examine it in a little more detail, and taking as read that we would rather not test grammar in this way, we do have some points that we would like to make. Sandra has written to Mr Gove with her thoughts. Below is a copy of her letter. We haven’t had a response yet but I am sure we will before the 10 days response time are up.
I understand that further information about the English grammar, punctuation and spelling test will not be released until December 2012 and that further sample questions will be available at that time. Before these are released, I would like to draw your attention to some areas of concern in the illustrative examples published in June 2012.
From the FAQs on the Department for Education’s website I notice that the ‘STA is carrying out a range of activities to ensure that the test is fair for all children’ as part of its duty in meeting the regulatory criteria of minimising bias. I feel strongly that the test should be fair and enable children to demonstrate what they know; it should not cause doubt and confusion. However, I believe there is some doubt over the fairness of the following sample questions.
Sample question 8.
Underline the subordinate clause in each sentence below.
I have no concern about the example given, or the first or third questions, but the second question is of concern. We teach children about subordinate clauses in many different ways: adding further information, noting the conjunction used to add information, noticing that each clause has a verb or verb phrase, considering how the clauses can be manipulated for effect.
In this example, there are three clauses, two of which are subordinate structures.
The twins asked Dad to turn up the heating as it was cold.
nominal clause, filling the direct object slot in the sentence, containing an adverbial clause: as it was cold
While many children will find the conjunction ‘as’ and use this to identify the adverbial clause, others may look for verbs to help them identify the clauses. I cannot speak for other areas, but in Devon many teachers are using the non-finite forms (infinitive, present and past participles) to help children vary sentence construction – even if the term ‘non-finite’ is not used with pupils. Therefore, children will have learnt that the infinitive can introduce a subordinate clause in a complex sentence. Using an example with three clauses will put doubt in their minds about which clause they should underline and may cause anxiety. I am sure that nobody wants that to happen.
Sample question 14
Add a suffix to this word to make an adjective.
There are many suffixes which can be added to words to make adjectives and our language is richer for this ability to transform words from one word class to another. Many children will know that they can change a noun to an adjective through adding, for example, -al, -ish, -ful, but they will also have been taught that they can add –ed and –ing, which, although often used in verbs, can be used in the adjective position to premodify a noun (the frightened child, the giggling toddler). The decision in this question seems to rely on the child not only knowing which suffixes can be used with ‘dread’ to make a real word, but also understanding the word class use and being able to imagine the word in a sentence, in an adjective position, to test it out.
As forms of the word ‘dread’ can be used as a noun (dread), verb (dread, dreads, dreaded, dreading) or adjective (dreadful, dreaded), or indeed adverb (dreadfully), without a context a child may feel that they could add any adjective suffix if it made a real word, e.g. –ing since the word dreading’ would sound right to them. I think it would be fairer for an eleven year old to have some sort of context to support them in their decision and would suggest ‘a dread_____ monster’. This may help them test out that ‘dreadful’ and ‘dreaded’ would make sense, but ‘dreading’ would not.
I am genuinely concerned that children experience as little confusion as possible in this test and hope my comments will be useful for those compiling further sample and actual test questions.
Primary Literacy Adviser
I intend to ask these questions in the next few staff meetings that I am running in schools just to see how adults will answer them. How did you fair with the grammar test?
Title based on a quote from Moliere
If you are working in Yr6 you are probably starting to think about the grammar test that pupils will now have to sit. Whilst it is Yr6 who will have to do the test, the implications are for everyone in school.
We have had a lot of requests for books/resources/practise papers but feel that until we have a bit more detail, we can’t do anything concrete. We know that publishers are selling books that practise grammar tests. However, just because grammar is being tested in a particular way does not mean that it has to be taught in an out of context, name the parts type of way.
So, how can we help?
We have decided to review and develop our grammar pages. For each aspect of grammar that children need to get to grips with, we have included a short video that explains the subject knowledge needed. We have then listed places where we have ideas for teaching the grammar, mainly Think Writing but also some of the more popular books about teaching writing such as Pie Corbett’s. Finally, we have chosem some texts from our texts that teach lists that specifically teach that element of grammar, linked to teaching sequences and some more detailed grammar lessons.
Would this help you? Please let us know via the comments including any suggestions that you have that would make it more useful.
I have never really been sure about how to use the animation Flat Life, first seen on the BFI Story Shorts 2 dvd. However, today I think I might have found an outcome for the film.
Through the post I received my own copy of Building Stories by Chris Ware - a book that is definitely not for children – and fell in love with it. It has a lot of things that I like; beautiful visuals, tactile appeal, an unusual structure, a very appealing front cover/box and a range of text types but all in graphics. Many thanks @literacyadviser for the tweet about this book.
The ’book’ comes in a beautiful cardboard box and consists of 14 different types of book/booklet/poster/newspaper and so on. I think it is like Black and White by David Macaulay on steroids.
I haven’t started to read them in detail yet. I am just scanning my way through everything to sort out how it works and what order I should read them in. I understand from the reviews that it is probably best to read them in order. What I do know is that the book tells the story of inhabitants of a block of flats and it is this that reminded me of Flat Life. It seems to me that the children could create booklets about the characters in Flat Life, using the animation as a starting point and through a series of drama/role play activities, develop the characters and their lives further. They could then tell these in graphic form either by drawing or by using some form of comic creater – Comic Life springs to mind.
It also reminds me of the book 99 Ways to Tell a Story by Matt Madden. 99 different styles of comic telling the same story.
What have you seen this half-term that has caused you to make new links?
In this book a boy finds a camera washed up on the beach with a film inside. I have to say the colours on the roll of film do remind me of Kodak but I am not sure how many children in primary schools will still be familiar with the concept of film and taking the film to be developed. The photos that are revealed tell the tales of incredible goings on under the sea. But the last picture proves to be even more of a puzzle because it shows a girl holding a picture from the film and this image goes on and on and on.
Using a microscope these images reveal that the very first picture was taken a long time ago. The boy continues the idea of taking a picture of himself holding the last photo and then returns the camera to the sea where it continues on its fantastical journey. This is a wonderful book where every page is a visual delight.
I love the fantastical side of the book with the sea creatures taking part in human activities, sitting on the sofa reading or flying in a balloon of puffer fish. But I am also interested in the theme of eyes and lenses that runs through the book. It reminds me of The Viewer by Shaun Tan Gary Crew and another book about the Kraken which escapes me at the moment.
There are several ways in which this book could be used. It could be used as for children to retell the story adding text or it could be innovated upon. If children took the underlying story: something is found on the beach, it reveals something unexpected, it is returned to the sea then there are lots of ways in which a similar story could be developed especially if children are taken down to the beach to see what they can find on shore. The book could be used to develop the idea of character through showing not telling. ‘What do we know about the boy?’ would make a great investigation for children as there are many clues to be interpreted. There is also something interesting to be studied in the framing of the pictures. I particularly like the six small frames that show the boy’s boredom/excitement whilst waiting the hour for the pictures to be printed.
Another possible way to use the book is to take the idea from Houghton Mifflin and create a promotional video for the book. A tool such as Photostory would be ideal.
This book would work well with almost any unit of literacy in KS2. Obvious links are imaginary worlds and familiar settings but if you like the book you will make it work anywhere!
Have you used this book in literacy? If so, how?
Working with some teachers last week, we started to explore the power of wordless picture books and how they can support children’s writing. Here are some of the reasons that we came up with about why we should be using them:
- they allow children to tell their own story based upon their own understanding of the images
- the allow children to control a whole story thereby embedding story structure
- they allow us the opportunity to teach the aspects of writing that children need to get better at in a controlled context, e.g use of speech, figurative language etc
- they allow us to teach visual literacy skills and the ways in which they can enhance writing
- they allow children to orchestrate a greater degree of complexity in character, setting, plot, conflict and theme
- they develop speaking and listening skills
So why aren’t we using more of them?
Over the next few weeks I will be reviewing wordless picture books that will appear on our texts that teach list.
This is an incredible book telling the story of a little girl in a garage who switches on the light and starts to make and play with the shadows. The shadows become more and more fantastical showing a rich imaginary world. There are only two colours used in the book, black and yellow, the yellow becoming more predominant as the shadows move further into the realms of fantasy.
What I really love is the way in whcih the book is designed with the little girl on one side of the double page spread and the shadows on the other, meeting at the centre of the book so if you hold up one of the pages it really does look like shadows on a wall. The fold represents the line between reality and fantasy. There are similar themes in her book Mirror. Click on the link to the slide show to see what they are.
I can think of several ways of telling the story in this book. The first way that springs to mind is the way in which Rosie’s Walk is told. Sparse text telling the reality of the story but that leaves out all the interesting fantasy elements so I think I would like to retell it in the style of Think of an Eel by Karen Wallace and Mike Bostock which is a text with a dual voice. One text told in straight forward report style and the other told in rich, alliterative language. I think they would work well with Shadows.
What are your favourite wordless picture books?
Spelling is just one of those things – it seems so hard to get it right and to have an effect upon children’s writing but often that is because we need to have all three of the following things in place in order to make a difference.
- Teach – choose a spelling programme that has progression and suggests activities and ways of working. Make sure that is pays sufficient attention to strategies for learning and remembering words, and if it doesn’t add them in. Make sure it focuses on patterns in our words rather than learning lists of words. Model being interested in words, investigating why things are spelt the way they are so that children understand that there is a reason for our spelling. Assess what children are learning about spelling patterns and how they articulate what they know. This does notnecessarily mean setting a list of words to take home and learn.
- Apply – model for children what they should do with spelling at the point of writing. Children need to take the responsibility for this. So show them how to use a have-a-go sheet, trying out different spellings for the words until they can get as near to a spelling as possible. Use that spelling and draw a line underneath it in their writing to show that they need to come back to that word and work on it a bit further. At no point in this process should children ask you as the teacher if it is right. Model using a have-a-go sheet whenever you write and across the curriculum. Model using a wide range of strategies to get to the correct spelling (analogy, letter string patterns, linking it to other words that have similar meaning or come from the same family, mnemonics used etc). Give children time to try and find the correct spellings of these words after writing and then if they can’t, and only then, help them. Give children time to learn these spellings and if parents insist, send these words home to be learnt. Teach children how to work in pairs to test each other.
- Assess – how are children spelling in their writing? What words are they struggling with and therefore what patterns should be included in your teaching. How is what they are doing now progress?
Angela and I have been planning a spelling course today. I always think of spelling as a bit of a Pandora’s box. Once you have lifted that lid, it is almost impossible to close it again and all that is left is hope!.
Every teacher has their own favourite games, activities and ideas and I am no different. I have several activities that I use over and over again, adapting them to fit the children/adults that I am working with.
The first one is most useful with Yrs 3/4 and is based around suffixes and prefixes. This idea comes from Melvyn Ramsden and is a simple grid that allows children to add suffixes and prefixes to root words. From the grid, they can read and write a whole list of words that, if you can spell the affixes, are available to you. It reminds me of ‘facts for free’ in maths.
Image from http://web.mac.com/peterbowers1/Site_38_Visitors/Melvyn_Ramsden.html
I love these grids – I get children to read them, write them and create their own. If you can spell sign, how many other words can you spell? I am at present investigating signet and cygnet. I know that a signet was used instead of a signature so belongs to that family of words but I am not sure about cygnet. Try to create a grid around <velop>.
Another of my favourite activities is to create a word web, one that links words to each other. Start with develop and move out from that: what other words have the prefix de- and what other words have velop in them. You may end up with envelope and from this, enveloping, enveloped, envelops. My dictionary tells me that the prefix en- means inside. This would then lead me off on the trail of encapsulate etc.
This curiosity about words is an essential part of the ethos of a spelling classroom and is obviously not something that can be represented in a spelling programme but miss it out at your peril.
My third favourite spelling activity is the use of a have-a-go sheet. These are used to support children at the point of writing. Every day, whenever you write across the curriculum, pretend that you can’t spell a word. Move over to your have-a-go sheet and try out various spellings until you can get the one that is most like the correct spelling to you. Use that in your writing and if you are still not sure about it draw a line under the word. This signifies that you know you need to come back to it and work on it a bit more. This way of working means that children take the responsibility for spelling words, do not follow you around saying ‘how do you spell…’ and generally get on with writing. It doesn’t slow them down and there is no need to ‘think enormous and write big’ as Pie Corbett would say. You need to model a range of strategies at this point, some of them being:
- sounding out and using phonic knowledge to represent every sound that you can hear
- analogy – likening with other letter strings that you know, e.g. light, fright
- use of patterns of meaning and families, e.g. medic, medicine, medical
- clapping out the syllables and then recording something for every syllable
- visual patterns including ‘does it look right?’
- mnemonics (for a very few words that you continually mis-spell)
Ahh! The joys of spelling. What are your favourite activities?