Not only does this help learners present their ideas in the classroom, but the world around them as well. Without this knowledge, learners will find it difficult to successfully express their ideas to others as well as themselves.
By the beginning of secondary school, learners are expected to use all the grammar within the National Curriculum. Some of these aspects can be difficult to understand at first, and any teacher who has taught primary students knows that teaching grammar is not always easy.
In this blog, we will look at which key aspects of grammar primary learners should be exploring, and which grammar skills are the most important for each learner.
Building grammar skills is key for literacy development in primary years
Understanding grammar is not only important when a learner is writing, or when they are preparing for their secondary education: grammar can also improve their attention in the classroom and benefits their expression when speaking and writing. Many employers also value good grammar skills when looking for employees, and one of the first places they look when hiring is the job application.
As learners develop, having a deep understanding of the building blocks of grammar becomes even more important, as they will be required to communicate more effectively on complex topics. To teach grammar effectively, it is important to single out each aspect of grammar depending on a learner’s ability and key stage. For example, if they want to write a successful essay on a subject, it’s vital that they can explain themselves effectively and fully comprehend everything they have read.
A poor understanding of grammar can lead to learners experiencing difficulties in completing longer written exams and comprehending complex material, and can even affect social interaction. On the other hand, when well understood, grammar reinforces learners throughout their lives and allows them to have complete control over the English language.
Which aspects of grammar are most important?
Grammar enables us to talk accurately about the language we use. Every aspect of grammar helps learners to understand what they read and hear, helping to ensure their writing is both clear and engaging.
However, which of these aspects of grammar are the most important for learners to fully understand?
Simple sentence structures
All parts of speech and writing are used to make sentences, and the simple sentence is the most basic type of sentence for a learner to understand. The simple sentence is made up of a subject and a verb, and presents a complete idea:
- I dislike vegetables.
Here, the subject is the person that is doing something, and the verb is describing the action. Though the sentence is as simple as possible, it can be expanded to contain more information and more detail:
- I dislike vegetables but, if I’m being honest, broccoli isn’t too bad.
Once your learners have a complete understanding of a simple sentence, they can quickly begin to understand how to write more complex, informative, and engaging sentences. Good sentence structure is essential when writing work that is both clear and interesting to a reader. However, this is a less important aspect, as it requires a strong understanding of other aspects of grammar to master.
Though sentences are the method through which we communicate information to each other, they become difficult to understand without a good understanding of punctuation. Sentences are the simplest way to tell other people what we mean when we write, but they are missing one crucial thing: they do not tell us how they are meant to be read. On their own, sentences cannot tell us anything about intonation. Take this sentence for example:
- It went okay.
What can we learn about the speaker? We know that they have done something, and it didn’t go badly, but it didn’t go very well either. However, it is difficult to learn much else without more information. Punctuation helps to add this information:
- It went okay!
- It went okay…
Each type of punctuation used above tells us exactly how the sentence is meant to be understood. The exclamation mark shows excitement, as if the speaker is surprised it went so well, whereas the ellipsis tells us the speaker is disappointed; that it could have gone a lot better. Even in these simple examples, we can see the importance of punctuation, and how it completely changes our understanding of a sentence.
Punctuation is not limited to intonation: it is also used to create complex, dynamic sentences which engage readers and develop detail. It breaks down the components of a sentence so that we can digest the information as easily as possible. Punctuation is vital for representing ideas accurately with the correct intonation. However, getting punctuation wrong can make sentences sound fragmented and, at worst, can become almost impossible to understand.
English is made up of four main word classes: nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs. Word classes are used to break down and explain the functions of each word within a sentence:
- The dog suddenly ran across to the old man.
With word classes, we can understand how a sentence works in the most amount of detail. Here, ‘dog’ and ‘man’ are nouns, as the words describe a person, place, or thing. The word ‘ran’ is a verb as it is describing the action of the noun, and ‘suddenly’ is an adverb, as it is adding further information to the action. The word ‘old’ is an adjective, as it is describing the noun ‘man’. As learners’ understanding of grammar develops, they will be able to place every word into a word class, from conjunctions to determiners.
Although many learners will already know how to use word classes within speech to be understood clearly, it is important to remember that they will likely lack explicit awareness of them. A strong understanding allows children to be more conscious about the words they use when writing and provides them the freedom to explore how language can affect sentence structure.
Sentences would be impossible to understand without the correct word order and, sometimes, the movement of a single word can completely change its meaning. Without a full understanding of word order, learners will be unable to produce coherent and complex sentences:
- The robbers stole the car.
- The car stole the robbers.
By moving the nouns, the sentence loses its original meaning and becomes nonsensical. This extends to adjectives and adverbs too:
- The old man quickly ran away from the angry dog.
- The old dog ran away from the angry man quickly.
The information we learn about each subject changes completely, as our knowledge of the situation is dependent on word order. Changing the adjectives either makes the dog scary, or the old man angry. Here are two more sentences with adapted word order:
- John came home on Saturday night.
- On Saturday night, John came home.
Both sentences have the same meaning, but the movement of clauses affects the tone. The second sentence, unlike the first, sounds more dramatic, as if something significant had happened to John.
This use of word order is similar to punctuation, as it allows learners to be in control of how they sound when they write. Ensuring your learners have a good knowledge of word order allows their sentences to be more dynamic. This makes word order an essential part of grammar, as it makes writing more engaging for readers, enabling sentence structures to be dynamic as well as grammatically correct.
Tenses are a key aspect of grammar, and some learners may find them to be the trickiest. Tenses provide information about when something occurred in time and without them, there would be no way to communicate whether something has happened in the past, present, or future. Here are three sentences which use different tenses:
- I worked for eight hours.
- I’m working for eight hours.
- I will work for eight hours.
Though the sentences tell the reader the speaker worked for eight hours, it is impossible to know when this work occurred without the use of tense. Tenses can also be used when talking about indefinite time:
- My car has been to the garage so many times, I’m surprised it hasn’t broken.
This sentence does not describe a specific time frame but allows us to know broadly when something occurred, beginning in the past and continuing to the present.
It is crucial for students to understand tense, as everything they talk about takes place within a time frame. Without this knowledge, they will not be able to effectively communicate what they have learned, or the things they would like to do in the future. Whether they are watching the news or chatting with their friends, tenses are always present and form the basis for communication with each other.
How can each of these be taught effectively?
Learners can often associate grammar with rules and words rather than how to improve their writing. As such, introducing activities can be an excellent way to keep your learners engaged in the classroom, and to link their grammar progress with other subjects and skills.
Colour-coded sentences are especially useful when exploring words within a sentence, such as word classes - verbs can be coloured red, or adjectives blue. This helps to illustrate the roles each word has in a sentence.
For younger learners, you can begin this activity by colouring a single word in each sentence to help them understand its function.
As they gain confidence and more classes are introduced, you can ask your learners to colour-code multiple-word classes in each sentence.
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Spot the mistake
Spot the mistake can be used for every aspect of grammar and to highlight common errors learners make when they first begin to understand how sentences work. At first, you can provide the classroom with sentence examples that have errors with capital letters, full stops, and incorrect word order. For confident learners, you can begin to introduce more complicated sentences with incorrect word order, inaccurate use of tense, and missing punctuation.
Grammar bingo is an effective game to play in the classroom to engage your learners with new texts. To play, hand out sets of cards to your class, making sure that each learner or group has a different one. These cards can show different aspects of grammar, such as punctuation, tenses, or word classes.
Read out a text to the class and, whenever a learner hears an aspect of grammar on their card, they can highlight it with a felt tip pen or a counter. Once they have completed their card, they shout bingo to win.
This game can be played with any writing, which makes it an excellent way to learn grammar for any key stage or ability level.
Common grammar mistakes
When being introduced to grammar in detail for the first time, learners will likely encounter many common mistakes. These should be highlighted in the classroom, as this will reveal particular areas where learners are experiencing difficulty, helping teachers personalise their grammar instruction.
When learners begin to write more, they will begin to encounter homophones. These are words which they may have heard out loud before they have written them, which leads to both incorrect spelling and incorrect grammar. Words such as ‘then’ and ‘than’, ‘hear’ and ‘here’, and ‘are’ and ‘our’ are often mistaken within the classroom, and it’s crucial that learners understand the different meanings of each word to ensure their writing is fully understood.
Commas are one of the first aspects of punctuation taught in the classroom, but they can become confusing when more complex sentence structures are introduced. Mistakes such as comma splicing - combining two independent clauses with a comma - are common; adults often still make this mistake.
Another mistake that affects the grammar of all ages is inconsistent tense. Tenses are especially complicated when first learning grammar, becoming even more difficult when the perfect tense is introduced. Often, learners use multiple verb tenses in their writing, such as using past participles when describing present tense, and this can lead to their writing becoming difficult to place in time.
It doesn’t stop there!
Although there are many aspects of grammar highlighted here, it doesn’t stop there!
Grammar becomes increasingly complex as learners encounter new and challenging academic texts. There are dozens of word classes, and each type of punctuation can be used in hundreds of ways to affect tense and sentence structure.
However, to gain a comprehensive understanding of grammar, learners need to be confident with each of its most basic aspects. This knowledge ensures each of them can develop their sentences into complex thoughts, with adventurous grammar use and dynamic structure.
Forming a complete understanding of grammar guarantees that every learner can communicate effectively. Bedrock’s grammar curriculum provides a platform from which learners of every ability can solidify their understanding of grammar techniques, supporting them to analyse and transcribe accurate sentences.