Grammar lessons are about children seeing how grammar is authentically used by writers and being invited to try it for themselves. Grammar lessons like this are essential for showing children the hows of writing. Punctuation and grammar use is a skill to be developed, not simply content to be taught. – Young & Ferguson 2020
Writers are passionate about people understanding what it is they want to say, and they use grammatical devices to help them. Ultimately, grammar helps us say what we truly mean and for our writing to be read how we intended.
Children enjoy learning about grammar when they find out how it can serve them as a writer. That’s why we teach grammar functionally. We know that formal grammar teaching has a negative effect on children’s writing (Young & Ferguson 2021). However, meaning-based grammar teaching, including sentence combining, is far more promising. That’s what this book is about – teaching grammar in such a way that children see how it helps them share their meaning with others. A bonus of course is that it also serves children very well in national assessments like the current SPAG test (Young & Ferguson 2020).
If we boil down our approach to teaching grammar, it is as simple as:
Teach -> Invite
- Teach. Provide explicit and direct instruction to your class on an aspect of grammar you feel they need a better understanding of.
- Invite. Invite children to try it out during that day’s writing time.
Why are they mini-lessons?
There are three fundamental things young apprentice writers need every day. Firstly, they need to receive some high-quality teaching. Secondly, they need an immediate and sustained opportunity to write meaningfully. Finally, they need time to read, share and then discuss how their writing is going (Young & Ferguson 2021). That’s why we recommend you follow this kind of consistent routine:
Mini-lesson -> Writing time -> Class sharing
Six top tips for teachers
- Have a ‘let’s see what this does’ and not a right/wrong attitude towards grammar teaching.
- Consider your instruction to be like giving children ‘tips, tricks and secrets’ of the writer’s craft.
- Don’t plan your lessons too far ahead. Be responsive and teach the things you see children need instruction in most.
- Repeat lessons if you need to.
- Encourage children to have a ‘trying things out page’ next to their drafting page. This way they can experiment with grammar and other literary techniques away from their developing draft. If they like what they’ve trialled, they can then add this to their developing composition.
- You know you’ve taught a good mini-lesson if, at the end, you can say: give it a try during today’s writing time. (Young & Ferguson 2020)
Navigating the book
Grammar is style – Patty McGee
The English National Curriculum’s programme of study for writing isn’t very well organised. At times, you get the impression that certain grammatical features and other devices have been plucked from the air and arbitrarily placed into certain year groups without rationale. This is a shame because, as we have described earlier, grammar is useful, and children find it interesting when they see it as enhancing their ability to write meaningful and successful texts. With this in mind, we have organised our grammar mini-lessons in such a way that they reflect what children are trying to achieve in their writing. This allows teachers to ask: what is it my class actually needs instruction in?
Our categories include: Cohesion, Word Choices, Elaboration, Voice, Rhythm & Intonation, and finally Conventions.
Grammatical features allow us to elaborate or add detail. They ensure that focus and ‘readability’ are maintained through the use of cohesive devices. Grammar can enhance our ability to write with the right voice, including with degrees of authority. Writers think about the rhythm and intonation they want their writing to be read with. They also carefully consider their word choices. Finally, writers try to adhere to the conventions that their readers have come to expect.
Children’s journey from early mark-making to writing starts with composing sentences and choosing and writing words others will be able to read and understand. This is why our diagram begins with Cohesion and Word Choices. Once children are writing short, simple and cohesive pieces fluently, they begin to focus on how they can Elaborate on their ideas, the Voice in which they speak to their readers, and the Rhythm & Intonation they want their ideas to be read with. Incidentally, as their ability to write more detailed texts develops, so their need to return to lessons on Cohesion and Word Choices becomes important again. And so their journey goes on. Conventions come last in our diagram. This isn’t because we don’t see conventions as essential to the development of the young writer, but because children are more willing to focus on them when they feel they are crafting something to be proud of and which they want to share publicly.
We believe orientating your grammar teaching to what your class is wanting (or struggling) to achieve is far healthier and more effective than simply following the chronology of the curriculum. For example, we hope that teachers will turn to our pages on Elaboration if they notice that their class lacks the ability to write with necessary detail. We want you to turn to our lessons on Word Choices if you feel children could benefit from giving more attention to their use of vocabulary. And we want you to teach mini-lessons about Conventions if the children’s writing needs to stand up and be taken seriously by their readers.