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Writer's toolkit

Teaching your class to 'expand' their nouns? Richard Hudson and Geoff Barton offer some tips

A Year 7 objective is to "expand nouns". Pupils start with the noun "teacher" and expand it to "young teacher", or "teacher with a sense of humour", or whatever. "A teacher" is any old teacher, but "a young teacher" or (better still) "a young teacher with a sense of humour" is a special kind of teacher. By adding modifiers such as "young" and "with a sense of humour" pupils expand the noun's meaning.

This is all child's play. Just hear them expanding nouns all day - "her smelly trainers", "the girl with the nose-stud". But in their writing you want them to show precise and creative use of nouns, which means nouns expanded well. That's not child's play, and you can help them to grow their skills in this area.

Take adjectives. The most obvious tools for expanding nouns, they are tailor-made for the job. One way for a pupil to grow as a writer is to learn more adjectives - grown-up ones such as "extraordinary" or "metaphysical". But another way is to use existing stock more effectively.

Why stick at just one adjective per word when you could use two?

In class Multiplying adjectives can be both fun and instructive. Start with a random collection of adjectives such as: little, neat, nice, old, red. Then take a noun (say, house) and invite expansions using as many of the adjectives as possible. Watch the phrases grow as you record them on the board:

* Two adjectives: little old house, nice little house, neat old house, old red house.

* Three adjectives: nice little old house, nice little red house, neat little old house, neat little red house.

* Four adjectives: nice little old red house, neat little old red house.

* Five adjectives: nice neat little old red house.

Combining adjectives like this is harder than it looks, so it's a good way of expanding minds as well as nouns.

Now look at the order of adjectives. Try reversing the order: "old little house", "little nice house", "red old house". Do you and your pupils like some orders more than others? What are the principles behind your preferences? Look at the longest phrase: "nice neat little old red house".

One important and very general principle is that we put subjective before objective.

Colour is objective, but niceness is completely subjective. Neatness is less subjective than niceness, but more so than size or age. This grammatical observation leads nicely into a thinking-skills discussion of subjectivity; but the main point is to encourage impressive, rich, well-crafted expanded nouns.

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