My brilliant idea - Writing's on a roll


Ages 11-14

I use this to help Year 7 boys understand syntax, sentence formation, and the difference between content and function words. They love it because it's practical and the main item involved is a cardboard toilet roll.

I use David Crystal's books about grammar to teach the main parts of speech, including function words (determiners, prepositions, conjunctions) - and content words (nouns, verbs, adjectives). Pupils often struggle to remember these. What if they could somehow generate their own syntax, in a fun way, until they understood it? Cue the toilet roll. The boys cut narrow strips of paper, long enough to loop round the roll, and tape the ends together. Each loop must move around the roll. They draw divider lines along each strip, so each resembles a row of bricks.

In each goes a different type of word. Each strip must have a good mixture of content and function words, and they should not have the same word classes together. Colour each word class the same colour, and label all the cells, so all the yellow adjective cells could have "adj" in the corner, and so on.

With at least eight strips looped around their roll, pupils see if their "sentence generator" can make grammatically correct sentences by reading down the roll, so each part of the sentence comes from a different loop.

You get gems such as: "Fred the evil giraffe swam spectacularly on hairy mouse" or nonsense such as: "It my ugly was angrily green by cats slowly."

I recap the rules, and they write up their findings. The generators can also be used for reference.

Cassandra Hilland teaches English at Hampton School in Middlesex.

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