With the new Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling test this year, there is a lot of discussion at the moment of the best way to teach the necessary grammar skills to the children. At the school where I work, there has always been a high emphasis on word and sentence level work and we have never really let go of the old National Literacy requirements. Our Literacy coordinator has always required all teachers to do a lot of written work based on word and sentence objectives and this has needed to be in visible in their books.
I have always felt slightly uncomfortable with this requirement and never really felt that isolated exercises necessarily help the children to become better writers. In the same way that a child can learn a list of spellings and not remember to use any of them in their independent work, they won’t necessarily transfer skills from stand alone exercises into their own writing. I have also seen research that finds that boys especially are not helped by this type of discrete exercise.
I have therefore tried to create a way of producing word and sentence level work that will show my liteacy coordinator evidence of what I have taught and also be useful for the children. To do this, I try as far as possible to link my word and sentence work directly to the text that I am teaching.
Last week we were looking at the poem Miller’s End by Charles Causley and I wanted the children to write a diary entry explaining what might have happened to Billy. As a lesson starter, I showed a picture of a frozen landscape to the class and asked them to create similes or expanded descriptions of the scene. This meant that they immediately all had a descriptive phrase that they could use directly in their diary account.
In the coming week we are studying The Listeners by Walter de la Mere. My sentence objective for the week is to secure the use of commas in embedded clauses so the exercises that the chidlren will be doing are all linked directly to the poem. An example would be “The traveller, who had arrived on horseback, knocked loudly on the door.” By giving the children lots of opportunity to create sentences like this, I hope that they will then use them in their independent work later in the week. I also have lots of examples of the sentence types displayed on the working wall so that they can either use the actual sentence or just alter it slightly to fit their own work.
None of this is world shattering or new and a lot of what I try to do is directly influenced by Pie Corbett either from his books or more recently his blog so I don’t claim to be original in any way. However, it does seem to impact upon the children’s independent work and seems more logical to me than using pre set exercises from a book or web site.