Before we start, it is important to point out that Functional Grammar makes up only a small part of LiteracyForPleasure’s writing approach, to read more about this approach we are calling Real-Word Literacy please go here. Alternatively, you can receive email updates from our blog by clicking the follow button in the top right hand corner of this page.
It would do children and teachers the world of good if they shifted their understanding of grammar and punctuation away from ‘rules to be followed’ to one that looked at its function. What can grammar and punctuation do for us as writers and what does it already do for the texts our favourite authors write?
If children can spot grammar and punctuation in real texts written by real authors and if they can be given opportunity to use these ‘writing secrets’ in their real writing, they will not only produce better texts but they will be skilled in the exercise of name-and-identify which is so popular (for some reason) in grammar tests.
It is possible to create pupils who can be their own critics and also be interested and motivated in trying to make their writing as clear and creative as possible for their readers.
We made the Functional-Grammar-Table below because we were fed up with texts which told you the rules of a piece of grammar but didn’t tell children (or indeed adults) why and where you might want to use it and the effect grammar can have on your writing. We were also fed up with the concept of ‘grammar deficit’. This is the teaching practice of continually passing judgement on rule errors in grammar-exercises as opposed to talking critically about what value grammar can have on writing or the effect of its absence has on the effectiveness of a piece. This realisation has transformed our practice. We explain how we now approach grammar teaching below:
Teaching Grammar Through Daily ‘Writing Tricks’ Minilessons
What lessons will have a practical, lasting, positive influence on student writing? – Nancie Atwell
In many classes, minilessons precede daily writing lessons. Whether you’re teaching a grammar, writing-craft or genre study-point, it is useful to follow Tompkins’ (2011, p.53) stages:
- Introduce the topic and its functional purpose ->
- Share examples ->
- Provide information ->
- Guided practice ->
- Assess learning.
Introduce the topic and functional purpose This can be anything from a writing strategy or skill, grammar function or a literary genre concept. Always share the purpose and the function with the class, before moving on to formalities or rules.
- Share examples Look at examples from children’s or author’s real writing.
- Provide information Provide information about the topic and how it can be used in ‘real’ writing. Clarify misconceptions and contrast a good and a poor example to see how the writing is affected.
- Guided practice Children work individually or in pairs to practice what they are learning. Ideally this will be in the context of an authentic piece of writing a child is currently working on (See our Real-Word-Literacy approach for more details on how to do this).
- Assess learning Teachers ask children to consider how they can use this information as they write. They can also reflect on their authentic use of it by leaving a comment in their book.
The Importance Of Giving ‘Writing Tricks’
Whatever you choose to do in these minilessons you should ensure that you teach in context and in a way that will empower children’s writing intentions. Calkins (1998, p.198) suggests that to successfully apply this attitude is to perceive minilessons as ‘quick tip’ giving before Process Writing begins. This changes your perception of these lessons, stops them turning into exercises and instead creates a climate where children feel instructed in and taught something valuable.
So What Actually Is A ‘Functional’ Grammar Lesson And Why Teach In That Way?
These mini-sessions are essential for showing children the hows of writing. The main premise is that the use of punctuation and grammar is a skill to be developed, not content to be taught.
Graham & Perin’s (2007) highly reliable meta-analysis into effective teaching of writing makes it clear that the formal teaching of grammar has always negatively impacted on children’s writing. Functional grammar teaching, on the other hand, shows children how understanding what words and structures ‘do’ – helps them achieve their meaning and intentions in their real writing.
Fearn & Farnan (2007, p.77) suggest teaching grammar in this order:
- Teach the purpose of the grammar and share its meaning potential with your writers.
- Follow this up by allowing them to apply it in their real writing.
- Finally, ensure that children can formally ‘define-and-identify’ it out of context.
Fearn & Farnan (2007) make clear that this is not only the key to good writing, but teaching in this way results in a deeper understanding of grammar for formal testing. This approach is also fully supported by the DfE (2012) in their own research on effective teaching of grammar.
Please see the bottom of this post for our Functional Grammar Table. This table is designed with teachers in mind. It differs from many other grammar tables in that its major purpose is to inform teachers of the function different grammatical items have in writing. It is written in a way that should make these functions easily understood and applied by children.
A useful technique we advocate for is discussion of a prepared text which does achieve its intentions as a result of good grammar use – or sometimes doesn’t. The act of reading requires understanding how writers use grammar to enhance meaning. Children will learn that if they ignore grammatical conventions, readers will not understand their text. Therefore, you should still encourage a culture of speculation about grammar use. This not only makes the sessions more interesting but also allows children to think more deeply and thus gain an authentic understanding of grammar. With all minilessons, whether it be grammar, writing or genre study, you should avoid using worksheets and instead have the children apply their newly acquired learning in their own authentic writing.
Wide reading has a strong impact on personal writing. Explore and promote high-quality children’s literature to understand the grammatical and stylistic choices other writers make.
This approach to minilessons is one part of a much larger approach being devised by ‘Literacyforpleasure’. For more information on our approach to teaching writing, please go here.
DOWNLOAD our Functional Grammar Table here.