Knowledge organisers and how we might use them

Michael Tidd’s latest blog post about knowledge organisers is very interesting. I haven’t heard of these before and, like him, I am not a hundred percent convinced that they should/could be used in primary schools. They seem to be used mostly in secondary schools where there is  a strong knowledge-based curriculum. However, I can think of two ways in which they might be used in Primary English:

  1. Teachers could create a knowledge organiser around a grammatical element that the class are learning about. I am thinking here more about KS2 rather than KS1.  As a developmental activity for teams to complete, it would be an excellent tool to bring together understandings and identify areas where there is a need for further staff development. We are, in effect, just re-organising the grammar curriculum but it goes much further than that. I have had a go at creating a knowledge organiser for clauses for Yr6. The benefits of this are that it could be used for revision, sent home for parents to refer to (you may need a parents evening to introduce it and the subject knowledge) and to direct and mark key learning points in a sequence of sessions. It covers all the work from Yr1 where and is introduced right up to Yr6 and this means that gaps can be filled. It would be fascinating to see and compare the chart that they Yr3, Yr4 and Yr5 teachers created for their year groups in the same area. This would go along way to developing consistency of understanding of key elements of learning in grammr. You can see the organiser here. It was struggle to get this all on one A4 sheet – thank goodness for font size 10!
  2. When I looked at the example on Michael’s blog my immediate thought was that it was what children needed to complete when researching and gathering information to write an invent, non-fiction  piece of writing.  Children could be given a blank chart towards the start of the sequence which they could then use at home and during lessons to collect the information they will need to write effectively.  My first worry about the way its use as described by Michael is that if the whole class uses the same one it over-scaffolds writing, ending up with 30 pieces of similar writing. This would be alright at the innovate stage of writing because there you would be showing the class how to use the organiser to support their writing. However, for an assessed piece of writing, I don’t think it meets the spirit of independence as described in the Moderation Guidance documents. But, if children created their own organiser to write about their content of their choice then I think that would meet the idea of independence.

I have found one primary school who have shared their curriculum with parents using knowledge organisers. I particularly like those that include essential vocabulary as it seems to me that we need a much greater emphasis on developing depth and breadth of understanding in this area. Interestingly they don’t have (or haven’t shared) the organisers for their English curriculum.

What do you think about knowledge organisers?

Managing shifts between levels of formality

I have been working with several teachers on the end of KS2 statement

manage shifts between levels of formality through selecting vocabulary precisely and by manipulating grammatical structures

The exemplification files for Leigh and Frankie show some good examples of what this can look like in writing.

  • in narrative they have shown the difference in formality between the story and some of the speech used by characters
  • in an explanation the text is more formal with a much more informal tone when relating the information to the writer’s own life
  • in a newspaper report the formality of the journalists report is contrasted with the informality of the direct and reported speech
  • in a diary different levels of formality are used to emphasise a point
  • in a letter the personal reflection on what will happen is more informal to show the excitement and enthusiasm of the writer

We then went on to think about texts that would model this for the children. One that we had to hand was My Secret War Diary by Flossie Albright – author Marcia Williams.  You can open this book on any page and find some examples of shifts in formality. We happened to open the book on p60 and found diary entries in very informal, spoken language which doesn’t always have subject verb agreement.


Flipping heck, I’m scared. I don’t want to sleep all alone downstairs no more. The Luftwaffe has begun to attack British Ships in the channel; our pilots spotted dozens of German aircraft dropping bombs on a convy near Dover.  Cook says it’s their invasion tactic to draw British planes into battle and then destroy them … I hopes we got enough planes.

This is then contrasted with a war talk in assembly from Miss Duncan on p61. It is more formal, although it still uses the pronouns you and our but it also contains the passive to distance and separate ‘us’ from the downed pilots who are prisoners. Another good page to use would be p22 and 23 where the informality of the diary entries is contrasted with a more formal newspaper report and within the report there are shifts of formality as well.

Which texts have you used to teach this? Has anyone used a film that would support the teaching of this element?

Connected learning in grammar

Many people will be aware of Haylock and Cockburn’s connective model of learning in mathematics.  It is based on the idea that a developing

mathsconnective understanding is constructed through making connections between what we already know/experience and new knowledge and experiences.

If we cannot make connections then we have to resort to trying to learn by rote. The more connected are our experiences, the more secure and the more useful is the learning. (Haylock with Thangata)

The four aspects of this diagram are linked by arrows in all directions which represent the talk that is the means by which children make the connections.  When reading this, I was struck by the similarity with grammar teaching and learning.  Debra Myhill’s literature reveiw of grammar teaching identified elements necessary for effective learning.  Myhill talks about looking at grammar in context, offering the children patterns or models to base their ideas around.  Without this, grammar becomes a very abstract idea and leads to misunderstandings.  In very simplified terms this can be shown by the fact that when looking at word classes we don’t say that  a word belongs to a particular word class, e.g light is a noun.  It could be used as a verb, noun or adjective depending upon the context it is in.

The language in the model is about the technical terminology so we call a verb a verb rather than a doing word.  This means that when children are talking and investigating a particular aspect of grammar we are using the terminology and actively encouraging them to name it in their talk,  not as rote learning but as a way of describing what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve.

The images is an interesting aspect because we don’t have images for grammar but we could!  The idea behind our Sentence Toolkit is that for each element we have a real tool that provides a way of linking what can sometimes be quite an absract idea to a concrete one.  For example, we use a tape measure for expanded noun phrases and as we model ways of making noun phrases, we stretch our tape measure.  This then brings in the fourth element which is an action.  Here the stretching symbolises what is happening when we modify the nouns.  Hammering our fist into our palm when we hear verbs reflects the necessity for a verb in a sentence and indicates where it is.

gapsconnectionsAll of this brings us to our connective model of grammar learning.  We have the context, terminology, symbol and action all connected by talk.  Without all the elements, the connections will be shallower and the learning less useful to the children.

It provides us with a useful model that enables us to build rich learning experiences for children that will help them develop their writing and pass the grammar test.

Sentence Toolkit for Teachers – making grammar sticky!

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.

On the day we will share ways in which grammar terminology can be introduced to children through activities based on real texts (texts that teach) which includes film. Each activity will cover the subject knowledge necessary to teach the aspect plus ideas for introducing and teaching it in the classroom. Delegates will receive a copy of our Sentence Toolkit for Teachers which offers a set of tools that act as a visual and kinaesthetic mnemonic for children to make the terminology ‘sticky’. The toolkit includes tools for a wall display, stickers to use when giving feedback and most importantly activities to use the tools in grammar teaching. These are accessed via our blog through the use of a password available in the publication and are added to regularly.
This day is also running on the 2nd July at Broomhill, The Toorak Hotel in Torquay on the 10th July and the 17th July at St Mellion Golf Course on the Devon/Cornwall border.

Why shouldn’t I buy lots of practise grammar tests?

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.



Yr6 Grammar Test

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.


Grammar, which knows how to control even kings

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.

Dear Sir,

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.

Yours faithfully

Sandra Murchison

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



The past is always tense, the future perfect.

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.

February’s Facebook Series – grammar subject knowledge for teachers

For every work day in Janury we posted a warming up the word game on our Facebook page.  One of the things that struck me was how many of the games could end up with children creating poetry out of the game.  I do wonder if we should be doing 2 or 3 days of poetry at the start of evey unit to tap into the unused wordhoard that children have and to put words together in unusual ways whatever the text type.

grammar1This month we are posting grammar subject knowledge videos, about two a week.  These are short videos that explain grammar for teachers and are made up of all the bits of grammar that we talk to teachers about regularly.  The videos would be suitable for teachers and those training to be teachers, teaching assistants, one to one tutors and anyone else who supports children in developing their writing.  They will be released on Facebook or they can all be seen on our website.

Sandra our resident grammar expert is making the videos using Smart Notebook and the smart recorder. What a powerful tool!  We have worked out a series of videos which she is in the middle of making.

The first six are already up on our site, but what we would like to know is which aspects of grammar you would like explained.  If you let us know by leaving a comment, we will create a video explaining it.