Before we start, it is important to point out that Functional grammar makes up only a small part of our Real-World Literacy approach. To find out more please click here. Alternatively, you can receive email updates from our blog by clicking the follow button in the top right hand corner of this page.
What Does Functional Grammar Actually Mean?
Functional grammar is about shifting your understanding of grammar and punctuation away from ‘rules to be followed’ to one that looks at its function – why is it there and what is it doing? 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 texts written by professional authors and if they can be given the opportunity to use these ‘writing tricks’ in their 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 own 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 simply told you the rules of a piece of grammar. They often didn’t tell children (or indeed adults) why they might want to use it and the effect it can have on their writing. We were also fed up with the concept of ‘grammar deficit’. This is the practice of continually passing judgement on errors children make in grammar-exercises as opposed to talking critically about what value grammar can have for their writing or the effect its absence has on the effectiveness of their piece. This realisation has transformed our practice and got us the academic results we were looking for. We explain how we now approach grammar teaching below:
Teaching Grammar Through ‘Mini-lessons’
What lessons will have a practical, lasting, positive influence on student writing? – Nancie Atwell
Mini-lessons 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 own writing.
According to research (Fearn & Farnan 2007, p.77), a mini-lesson should precede daily writing time. An effective grammar mini-lesson should be short and be useful for that day’s writing. In most cases it should only last for 10 to 15 minutes.
How To Teach A Mini-Lesson
- Pick the grammar item carefully: Your mini-lesson should start by sharing the purpose and the function of the grammar item and should be something children can apply during that day’s writing. Why do writers use it and what can it do for you as a writer? You should discuss this before moving on to any formalities or rules.
- Share examples: Show them examples from your own, other children’s or professional authors’ real writing.
- Invite children to try it out: During writing time, encourage children to try out the grammar item discussed. Ideally, they will use it in the context of an authentic piece of writing they are currently working on.
- Assess learning: At the end of writing time, ask children to share their writing with others or with the whole class during ‘author’s chair.’ Listen out for children’s use of the grammar item discussed.
The Importance Of Giving ‘Writing Tricks’
Whatever you choose to do in these minilessons, you should ensure that you encourage children to ‘try it out’ that day. See these mini-lessons as a chance to give a ‘quick tip’ or ‘writing trick’ before writing time begins. This changes children’s perception of these lessons for the better. It creates a climate where they feel they’ve been taught something valuable that real writers do and which will be useful to them in that day’s writing time.
This table is designed with teachers in mind. Its major purpose is to inform teachers of the function (the why) of different items of grammar.
Looking At Where Grammar Can Go Wrong
A useful technique we advocate for is discussion of a text which doesn’t achieve its intentions because of poor grammar use. Children will learn that if they ignore grammatical conventions, readers might not understand their writing. Discussions like this 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, you should avoid using worksheets and instead have the children apply their newly acquired learning in that day’s writing time. Remember too that mini-lessons on a particular topic can be repeated many times if required.
Minilessons are just one part of our Real World Literacy approach. To find out more please click here.
If you’d like to receive training on teaching grammar effectively, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
DOWNLOAD our Functional Grammar Table here.
- Andrews, R., Torgerson, C., Beverton, S., Locke, T., Low, G., Robinson, A. & Zhu, D. (2006) The effect of grammar teaching on writing development In British Educational Research Journal 32 (1), pp. 39–55
- Hinsliff, G., (2017) Pity Our Children Are Being Turned Into Grammar Robots At School Online: [https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/10/bad-grammar-gove-english-killing-children-love-language-adverbials-digraphs] Guardian Online
- Kolln, M., (1996) Rhetorical grammar: A modification lesson In English Journal 85(7), 25-31
- Locke, T., (2015) Developing Writing Teachers London: Routledge
- Mansell, W., (2017) Battle On The Adverbial Front: Grammar Advisers Raise Worries About SATS Tests And Teaching Online: [ https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/09/fronted-adverbials-sats-grammar-test-primary] Guardian Online.
- Rosen, M., (2017) Can Split Diagraphs Help Children Learn To Read And Write? Online: [https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/may/13/can-split-digraphs-help-children-learn-to-read-and-write?CMP=share_btn_fb] Guardian Online
- Weaver, C, Bush, J., Anderson, J., Bills, P., (2006) Grammar intertwined throughout the writing process: An inch wide and a mile deep In English Teaching: Practice & Critique, 5(1), 77-101