Top tips to help your children improve their grammar, punctuation and spelling

When the Key Stage 2 Grammar, Punctuation and Spelling papers were introduced in 2016, everybody was surprised by the subject knowledge expected from year 6 children. However, over the years, schools have developed detailed units of work to ensure that children have the knowledge and understanding of this key area. Here are some ways that you can help:

  1. Reinforce definitions and challenge misconceptions: Sometimes children learn part of a definition and cling on to this as if it is the full definition. Talking about the job that a word does in a sentence is a valuable exercise. Ask your children, ‘What job is ______ doing here?’ Verbally reason about the function of words.

  • An example of this is when children define a verb as ‘an action word’ or ‘a doing word.’ This is not incorrect; however, children must also remember and understand that verbs are ‘being words’ too. When a child thinks a verb is solely an action word and are faced with a question asking them to circle the verb in the sentence ‘I am sad’, many will circle sad as they think it has an action (to cry). The correct response ‘am’ has no action.

  • Some children learn that adverbs are ‘ly’ words. Many adverbs do end with ‘ly’ such as ‘quietly, happily, noisily, beautifully’ etc. However, not all adverbs end with ‘ly’ and children need to know and understand the function of an adverb – ‘Can modify a verb, adjective or other adverb and there are five types of adverb (manner, time, place, frequency and degree).’ Children who do not understand the function of an adverb will struggle with a question like this one: Circle the adverb in this sentence, ‘I will see a butterfly soon.’ The correct response is ‘soon’ as it is modifying the verb to see. However, the word ‘butterfly’ is deliberately chosen to distract children as it ends with ‘ly’. The word ‘butterfly’ is a noun in this sentence so children who know what an adverb is will select ‘soon’.

  1. Is that the right word to use? Children are exposed to language and encouraged to use dictionaries and other aids to assist them to use challenging vocabulary. However, sometimes they use language incorrectly as they are unsure of what it means. For example, in a recent lesson I observed a pair of boys using a thesaurus to improve their language choices. They were writing a story for a younger year group and I noticed they had written, ‘Just behind the tree he noticed a miniscule squirrel eating some nuts.’ The boys explained that they had looked in the thesaurus for a better word than ‘small’ and found a new word ‘miniscule’. When I informed them that ‘miniscule’ means extremely small as in microscopic, they changed the word to small! If we ask for a ‘small’ piece of cake, very few of us mean ‘miniscule’ and would be very disappointed with a microscopic slice! Equally, some children use ‘desolate and crestfallen’ to indicate a character is ‘sad’ when really, they all mean different strengths of sadness.

  • Explore what words really mean with your children by drawing a line and plotting the different strengths of the word, for example;


happy       content        delighted                chuffed             over the moon       elated      ecstatic

This is a fun activity where together you can justify and reason about where words should go on the line, for example ‘Is chuffed stronger than delighted?’

Have fun talking about our weird and wonderful English language!

Find out more about our Achieve Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation SATs Revision resources and order online here.


Madeleine Barnes is an experienced primary school teacher and senior leader who is currently a full-time English Advisor. She offers bespoke training to support schools locally, nationally and internationally. Madeleine still regularly teaches in the classroom and includes live-teaching sessions in most of her training. Madeleine is an established educational author, writer, blogger and series editor for a range of educational publishers (including our Achieve Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation SATs Revision series). She is a DfE QA proofer for grammar and reading.


Achieve, curriculum, English, english teaching, Grammar, Spelling and Punctuation, Grammar, homework, key stage 2, ks2, primary, spelling

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