Grammar: crucial building blocks to writing or wasted time?
Teaching grammar can sometimes feel like banging your head against a wall. Trying to explain complex concepts to your pupils can be really tricky. However, with the right tools and techniques, it can be a really enjoyable teaching experience. Teaching grammar skills explicitly with quick and snappy activities can make a real difference and it is so rewarding when you see real improvements in the children’s writing.
Why is teaching grammar so important?
When I was training to be a teacher, I found the methods to help children improve their writing to be vague and simplistic. Using commas stands out as something I found the most difficult to teach. The advice I was given when I was at school, to “use them in a list and when you paused in a sentence”, just wasn’t cutting the mustard!
I made a conscious effort to identify more explicit ways we can use a comma – after a fronted adverbial, to separate main clauses from subordinate clauses, introducing speech to name a few examples. It was a light bulb moment for me and for the children. Commas started appearing more regularly and more accurately in the children’s writing making a tangible difference to the quality of their writing.
Being crystal clear with our teaching and explicitly teaching grammar can really help children understand how they can improve their writing.
So how do we teach it?
It’s important to try and make grammar exciting by putting it in a context, not just focussing on the theory. Let’s face it grammar can be dry and at times the rules conflict. I love to use drama. It doesn’t have to be a whole lesson of acting where we push the tables to one side (although it absolutely can be). Just taking a snippet of your lesson to get the class engaging in grammar can make the world of difference.
One of my favourite quick activities is for teaching relative clauses. I ask the children to imagine they are actors on their favourite TV programme. We choose a point in the classroom that is the camera for our show – it often helps if you all choose the same point.
The line the children are given to recite includes a relative clause. When they project their line the main clause is spoken to the class but the relative clause is spoken directly to your chosen ‘camera’ spot, as though it is a secret told only to the TV audience. I find turning their head to the camera dramatically for the relative clause gives them a reference point for where the punctuation should go.
This has been a great tool to help my classes understand the purpose of a relative clause as part of my lessons. It really conveys that a relative clause is extra information linked to the main clause and it can’t stand alone.
At first, the children may recite them slightly stilted but as you practise a few as a class, the children become more confident with the flow of the sentence; how it should sound and how the punctuation affects this.
This creative approach equips the children with a tool they can reuse to check punctuation when writing their own relative clauses. It’s also another way to get children talking in class, which we all know is so important for learning.
Isolate the skill in their learning
It is important to allow children time to practise and consolidate their learning. The skill they are learning often needs to be honed in isolation before they can then apply it to the context of their own writing.
Allowing children to answer different styles of questions or mark work that has tried to use a particular grammar feature can help to deepen their understanding.
How Resourcefully can help?
Our grammar activity sheets provide you with ready made explicit grammar teaching tools to help hone your children’s grammar super powers. Talk for learning and working in groups are key focal points when creating our resources.
Many of our bundles contain discussion and activity cards that children can use to isolate and practice their skills and work together to challenge each other. These are great in mixed ability groups where children can play a different role depending on their confidence with grammar and learn from their peers.