Grammar in the context of meaning

3rd March 1995 at 00:00
OxforD primary english: grammar skills, By Bernadette Fitzgerald and Joyce Hilyer, Foundation Book (pack of 6) Pounds 3.90. 0 19 916740 0 (pack of 30) Pounds, 17.600 19 916735 4. Book 1 (pack of 6) Pounds 5.80. 0 19 916741 9. (pack of 30) Pounds 26.50. 0 19 916736 2. Book 2 (pack of 6 Pounds 5.80. 0 19 916742 7(pack of 30) Pounds 26.50. 0 19 916737 0.

Teacher's Book 1 Pounds 7.40 0 19 916762 1. Book 3 (pack of 6) Pounds 7.80 0 19 916743 5. (pack of 30) Pounds 35.30 0 19 916738 9. Book 4 (pack of 6) Pounds 7.80. 0 19 916744 3. (pack of 30) Pounds 35.30. 0 19 916739 7 Teacher's Book 2 Pounds 7.40 0 19 916763 X, Oxford University Press.

The argument about whether the teaching of grammar skills should arise in context from reading and writing or be taught separately as the one body of knowledge which English as a subject possesses has raged for generations. The practice of most teachers has been a compromise: skills are taught in context, making sure some salient features are covered, while a comprehensive grammar-teaching resource is kept in the stock cupboard for individual reinforcement and whole-class teaching when some identified communal error makes it necessary.

Will the new Order change that, especially in the primary schools? Here, to accompany Oxford Primary English, is a full and systematically conceived series which teachers of Years 3 to 6 - especially if they are not language specialists - may find a godsend. The authors are at pains to insist they abjure "1950s style decontextualised repetitive sentences" and that children need to understand that "grammar is ultimately connected to meaning" and that through correct use of grammar they will "make meaning in the context of their own writing".

The five workbooks cover and reinforce all reasonable features of parts of speech, punctuation and sentence-construction, synonym, simile and metaphor. Each is introduced at as near to the right time, it seems, as will suit the majority in all-ability classes. Simile and metaphor do not arrive until Book 2 (Year 6), which some may think is hedging bets a little. The compilers know well such things are never just taught once and for all: there is plenty of reinforcement and repetition. Exercises and examples are approachable and interesting in their own right.

The Teacher's Books form an effective accompaniment: plenty here will comfort the non-specialist and clarify for the specialist. Photocopiable pages allow follow-up, reinforcement and enrichment. The whole package is well-designed, comprehensive and worth while.

But the authors suggest three uses for the work. In reverse order - alongside Oxford Primary English pupils' books, enabling cross-referencing and contextualisation; as a resource to address language problems as they arise in class; as a freestanding, self-contained grammar course followed through consecutively. The first two are fine. I hope teachers don't try the third - or they may be doing exactly what the authors don't want them to.

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