How to take a creative approach to teaching primary grammar
WHEN I WAS at school, we were never taught grammar in English lessons. These days, my colleagues look to me as the grammar expert, but most of what I know about grammar I learnt from A-level German and from teaching English as a foreign language during the summer holidays.
Many primary teachers, who – in the main – don’t tend to have have a similar languages background, were completely thrown when the government announced an increased focus on grammar halfway through the last academic year. Teachers need time and support to get to grips with the demands of the new primary curriculum, but so far there hasn’t been enough of either of these things.
And with so many of us being products of a time when grammar was kept to the secondary modern foreign languages classroom, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we feel unsure about the basics and, consequently, find it hard to come up with creative ideas that will get primary children excited about learning grammar.
But there is plenty to be enthusiastic about when it comes to teaching grammar. Not all children are natural writers, but you can teach them formulas that will help to demystify the writing process, so that even those who don’t have natural literary flair can pick up the patterns and feel like they can be good writers, too.
So, to help those teachers who are grammarphobes, here’s a guide to some of my favourite creative teaching ideas for teaching grammar in the primary classroom.
1 Zombie outbreak
This is by far the easiest and most memorable way to teach the difference between the active and passive voice. It’s rather simple: if the words “by zombies” can be added after the verb in a sentence, then the voice is passive. For example:
The hole was dug by zombies = passive.
The zombies dug a hole = active.
To make learning this piece of grammar even more interesting, you could try a game that I call “zombie outbreak”. Give the pupils a map of the school grounds, relabelled to include landmarks – a bank, hospital or supermarket, for example. The aim of the game is to be the first team to capture three of the landmarks, by reaching the point, converting a hidden message from active to passive voice and then placing your flag or marker on that spot.
2 Top TRaMP
TRaMP is a near-acronym for time, reason, manner and place that can be used to help your students practise up-levelling sentences. Start by taking a simple clause, such as “it slithered” and then ask the following questions: When did it slither (time)? Why did it slither (reason)? How did it slither (manner)? Where did it slither (place)?
Pupils should use their answers to make a sentence. For example:
In the dead of the night (time), it slithered slowly (manner) across the bedroom floor (place) because it was time for feeding (reason).
If you’ve already embedded the use of adverbials into your pupils’ repertoire, but you’re looking for an engaging activity to revisit this, you should play Top TRaMP – a card game for a small group of pupils. You will need to make the cards, but once you have done this particular task, you can play as many times as you like.
One pupil takes a card with a simple clause on it. After that, the pupil rolls the die to choose two different types of adverbial. You will need to attribute a type of adverbial to each number. For example, number one might indicate “time” and number two might mean “manner”.
The group then have a few minutes to add the chosen adverbials to the original clause. Once they have done this, each pupil should read out their sentence. The most effective sentence is chosen as the winner and the writer then keeps the card. The first pupil to reach a set number of cards wins.
3 Grammar Olympics
Hold your own grammar Olympics by getting your pupils to use everything they’ve learned in grammar so far to participate in competitive races with their peers.
This year, I based quite a few of my PE lessons on grammar during my SATs preparation. I organised different stations in the school hall or outdoors. I had a “hit the target” station, a “balancing on the beam” station and a variety of relay stations.
At the end of each track or area, I set up mini whiteboards and whiteboard pens and I gave each group of pupils a grammar task, such as asking them to name five determiners, write a sentence with a fronted adverbial in it or name four modal verbs. The first group to complete their PE activity would be the first group to reach their whiteboards and begin the grammar task, and the first group to complete both tasks would win that round.
The class loved it and it was an excellent way to get them to revise terminology without being sat down.
4 Correct the celebrity tweet
Celebrities are not always the best role models when it comes to grammar and this activity allows pupils to see their celebrity heroes in a brand new light. Take a tweet, analyse its grammar with your class and make corrections. It’s as simple as that.
My pupils enjoy rewriting the tweets using correct grammar and sharing them with their peers. Whether they’re correcting members of One Direction or reality stars from The Only Way is Essex (pictured, left), this task is sure to make your pupils see how bad grammar can make you look quite silly.
A word of warning: make sure that you vet the celebrity’s tweets before giving them to your class to make sure that the language and themes involved in them are appropriate for primary school pupils.
5 Improving lyrics
This year, my pupils and I cannot help but hear the bad grammar in popular songs and wish we could do something about it.
Meghan Trainor’s Me Too, Justin Bieber’s Boyfriend and Gwen Stefani’s Rich Girl are all guilty of wilfully misusing and abusing the subjunctive form – “If I was you, I’d wanna be me too”, “If I was your boyfriend” and “If I was a rich girl” respectively.
Or for a real anti-grammatical treat, why not check out The Way I Are by Timbaland, featuring Keri Hilson.
It’s hilarious seeing how irate your pupils will become when discussing these songs. They don’t see why they should have to learn the correct grammar, when pop stars can apparently get away with writing whatever they like. Why not harness that raw anger by getting your pupils to rewrite the verses to make new, grammar-friendly versions of the originals? And once you’ve done that, crack on with a bit of karaoke and let your pupils belt out their new verses for guaranteed laughs all around.
Mitchell Hudson is a Year 6 teacher, English lead and key stage 2 lead at a primary school in Telford and Wrekin. He blogs at grammarsaurusblog.wordpress.com @_Grammarsaurus_