Teaching tips

Make it fun

It is easy to think of grammar and punctuation as being dull and boring. This is probably down to how it was taught in the past. However, there is absolutely no reason why this should be the case. Any subject matter can be brought to life by great teaching (and great teachers). Choose interesting, exciting or bonkers things to write about. The children should be begging you to let them start writing their sentences. Think about using songs, actions, dance and drama to introduce concepts. To help children really get to grips with their new skills, ditch dull worksheets and start playing

Brush up your own knowledge

Many adults (teachers included) have some gaps in their grammatical knowledge. Having gaps is not a problem in itself but if you are teaching sentence structure to children then you will need to know where to go to fill in some of these gaps. The internet is full of information and a great place to start is BBC skillswise

The books below also come highly recommended.

What on earth is a sentence anyway?

This is an interesting question to try asking your class. We expect children to learn to write in sentences but it is hard to write in sentences when you aren't sure what they actually are. In fact, sentences are very hard to define but we can encourage children to identify common features that sentences share. They need to know that:

A sentence is a group of words that makes sense on its own

The best way to get the hang of this is to look at lots of sentences (and non sentences) and decide whether or not they make sense on their own. You will need to clarify with the children what you mean by making sense. A sentence can be very silly (The green, spotty dog flew upside down.) but in this case it still makes sense.

A sentence needs to have a verb in it and it needs to have a subject (be about someone or something)

The best way to help children explore this is to use drama.

Sentence punctuation is there to help the reader's understanding

Sentences need capital letters at the beginning and a full stop, question mark or exclamation mark at the end. This punctuation lets the reader know that they need to take a small pause before reading on. Ask children to try reading passages of text with no sentences marked (or you can read the passage to them). Discuss how hard it is to work out what is going on. Encourage them to try re-reading and pausing in different places until they can figure out where the punctuation should go

Talk it - Write it - Check it

Encourage children to always try saying what they want to write before actually putting pen to paper. It is generally much easier to hear when something doesn't sound right than it is to see errors in witing. It is equally important that children get into the habit of checking what they have written as soon as they have written it.

Less is more

In lessons where your main learning intention is based on sentence structure or punctuation, don't let children write too much. I'm sure that most teachers have experienced children presenting them with a piece of work that goes on for pages, has no punctuation and makes very little sense. Where on earth do you start trying to help this child correct their work and learn from their mistakes? The simple answer is that you can't in any meaningful way. You need to cut back and tackle manageable chunks of writing. It is perfectly possible to spend a whole lesson writing just 2 or 3 sentences (or even just 1) on whiteboards. Children can then work on improving, altering and generally playing around with them. This helps children to really think about what they are doing and makes self and peer assessment much easier and more meaningful. Obviously, children should still be given lots of opportunities for doing much longer pieces of writing. Just try not to get hung up on this being grammatically correct and perfectly punctuated until children have really mastered the skills that they will need.

Self Assessment

Children's sentence writing will only start to dramatically improve when they get into the habit of always assessing themselves. For children to be able to do this, they need a good understanding of what sentences are and good training in the art of self assessment. A great way to start this is to train children to use Punctuation Marking Men.

See the 'How to use...' pages with each game on this website for ideas about how to use peer and self assessment as an integral part of playing the games.

Progression

There has been very limited support for teachers recently in terms of progression within sentence teaching.

The APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) materials for writing are designed for assessing progress but they can also be really useful to refer to as an outline of progression and are helpful in determining next steps for individual pupils.