Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Practical Strategies for Teaching Grammar

Academic journal article Literacy Learning: The Middle Years

Practical Strategies for Teaching Grammar

Article excerpt

The following strategies are offered as interactive ways to help students understand how language works in our culture. They are based on my experience as a teacher of English and Head of Department in English at a large state secondary school in Toowoomba on the Darling Downs, Queensland. The strategies have also been developed as I have worked as an educational adviser for Education Queensland in the area of literacy.

In recent years I have been working across systems doing demonstration lessons and professional development on the teaching of the ways in which language works in texts. I have also worked with new arrival refugees for over 20 years. In addition, I am a voracious reader of grammar books and have adapted or derived strategies from the work of others. Where I am aware this has occurred, I will acknowledge this.

The reading I have done has led me to the following beliefs about grammar:

* Language is to be studied in the context of the texts in which it is used.

* Language choices vary according to text type and the social context in which that text is produced. Thus students should examine language choice in texts which range from the everyday to the specialised and which are written for a range of purposes.

* Children need to know the rules (syntax) and the tools available to express meaning in order to communicate effectively.

* Patterns of language choice can be identified in text and these patterns may relate to style and purpose.

* Children should be taught that language is a fascinating and powerful subject, not something boring to be taught with decontextualised worksheets.

* Language should be taught in planned ways using real texts, with new grammatical concepts taught using familiar subject matter.

* Teachers need to deconstruct the texts we use in order that we can identify the teaching potential of a text and the potential barriers it may pose. Thus in preparing students to compose text, the teacher should compose a quality sample of that text, in order to understand fully the language demands placed on students.

* Where students are having difficulty mastering a concept, focussed teaching of that concept should occur.

In considering what might be useful to help teachers 'get started' with the teaching of grammar, I begin by listing questions that are useful for identifying a grammar focus. I then describe a range of strategies that can be used in the classroom.

Some questions to ask of text

In identifying the grammar for classroom focus, a number of questions can be useful. These include the following:

General questions:

1. What is the purpose of this text?

2. What text type is it?

3. Who is the intended audience?

4. What do we know about the author and the context of composition?

Questions for expressing and developing ideas:

1. What is the subject matter of this text?

2. How is the subject matter represented? e.g., Does the text take us to imaginary worlds?

3. How are people and things referred to? (nouns, pronouns, noun groups)

4. What kinds of verbs/processes are used? (action, saying, mental, relational)

5. Are there adverbs or adverbial groups and phrases used as circumstances? If so, what type?

6. What types of sentences are used and what sorts of logical meanings do they express? e.g., addition, variation, cause, condition, clarification etc.

Questions about language for interaction:

1. What role is the writer taking? Does this affect the formality of the text?

2. Is there significant choice of statements, commands or questions?

3. Is the language subjective or objective?

4. How is language used to evaluate people, objects, texts and ideas?

5. Has language been chosen to add or remove force? …

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