Having fun with grammar and punctuation: Find it, Play with it, Use it.

When teaching grammar and punctuation, we know that there are many different aspects to be covered but what we ultimately want is for our children to see how these different aspects come together as a whole and for them to have a love of writing.  

Reading has to come first, that’s where the main learning focus and the inspiration lies.  Start by focusing on good examples of grammar and punctuation in the books they read and then let them play with adjectives, with speech marks, with relative clauses.  Finally, let them put it all back together again by becoming authors themselves.

Find it:
  • Allow pupils to access as many different types of text as possible.  This can easily be achieved by encouraging children to read to themselves and by having others read different texts aloud.
  • Use appropriate texts to identify parts of grammar or examples of punctuation. This can be done either as a class activity, pointing out when you notice as you read the text together, or as an individual task. What punctuation has the author used here? Why have they used it?
  • Have pupils read texts aloud in pairs or small groups, using clues from the punctuation and grammar
  • In small groups or pairs, have pupils act out a text using clues in the author's punctuation and grammar.  What do they know they need to do when they see a full stop?  What effect is the author creating if there are a lot of full stops, ie, they are writing in short sentences.  How do you read differently?  If they see an exclamation mark, a question mark or a dash, what do they need to do with their voices?
  • Try writing your own text using pupils or examples from your own class to fit in the grammar and punctuation you have been teaching.  These examples will be engaging and memorable for pupils! 

Play with it:
  • Start by using real objects found in your classroom to focus on nouns. Once they have got the hang of this you can create expanded noun phrases to include unusual objects, using brackets to include additional information.
  • Link word work to topic work across the curriculum.  Talk about word classes in other areas of the curriculum. Build up a picture of life in the period of history you are studying by introducing new nouns and adding adjectives, verbs and adverbs to think about what people did and how they did it.  Can you describe a picture painted by an artist you are looking at?
  • Put different aspects of grammar and punctuation together.  For example, sentence structure and punctuation.  Use the same sentence structure several times but substitute different words. Or swap parts of the sentence around to see if they still make sense. Where can the adverbial or the relative clause go? What effect does it have when you move it? Which way sounds better?
  • Start with a sentence and then change the tense, or the pronoun, or change from singular to plural. Use to practise what the pupils are learning now and what they have learned in previous years.
  • Use word and punctuation cards (which pupils can write) to move around and experiment with. Sort words into hoops – this could be word classes or verb tenses. It could be sorting conjunctions depending on the question they help to answer (when? where? or why?)
  • Act it out – this is most obvious for pupils to show their understanding of verbs and adverbs, but they could also ‘be’ a noun which then changes with the addition of different adjectives, eg, a fast car, a broken-down car; a frightened rabbit, a playful rabbit; boiling water, dripping water.
  • Be dramatic with sentence building and punctuation. Ask children to ‘hold a sentence’ by counting the words, saying it out loud and acting out the punctuation.  Get the class to make up their own actions to show capital letters, full stops, exclamation marks, question marks and commas. Take photographs of them to put on display and refer to.
Use it:
  • Make sure that pupils can see the links. Words make sentences; sentences make paragraphs; paragraphs make a text.
  • Give dictation sentences using everything you have been learning, including spelling. For younger, or less able pupils, orally rehearse before writing down.
  • Write a narrative or a piece of non-fiction together. Ask pupils to contribute sentences and create a class text. Depending on what stage they are at, sentences could be written in different colours to stand out. Put on display and label each sentence with the author’s name.
  • Talk about content and structure before writing. Discuss it as a class, discuss it in groups, discuss it in pairs. Give pupils the opportunity to support and inspire each other.  
  • Make sure that pupils are clear about what they are going to write and how they are going to write it before they start. Prompt them with questions, so that the ideas are coming from them and not from the teacher.
  • Have fun with editing.  Model the whole writing process yourself, stage by stage, so that pupils can hear your thought processes and then have the opportunity to edit your ‘mistakes’ before they work on their own. Have this embedded as early as possible as younger pupils are likely to respond more positively to ‘believing’ that you can make mistakes than older ones!
  • Give pupils a special ‘editing’ pen or funny ‘editing’ glasses to edit their own writing.
  • Share writing. It’s important for pupils to be able to spot their own mistakes or areas for improvement, but they can miss things.  They will be very enthusiastic about looking for their friend’s mistakes.
  • Have pupils reading aloud their own writing.  Give them a sense of pride in what they have achieved.
  • Photocopy any particularly good examples and put into a collection for others to read in the book corner.
Yes, children need the technical knowledge and they need to be using specific points of grammar and punctuation in their writing – but for fluency, for their own and others’ enjoyment, the objective is for them to be using all of this automatically. That’s when writing becomes a lifelong skill and, hopefully, a pleasure. 

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