A Functional Grammar Table by @lit4pleasure


What lessons will have a practical, lasting, positive influence on student writing? – Nancie Atwell

In many classes, minilessons precede daily writing lessons. Whether it be a grammar, writing or genre study session  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.

This is a re-blog post originally submitted by @litforpleasure and published with kind permission.

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Introduce the topic and functional purpose

This can be anything from a writing strategy or skill, grammar function or a literary concept (related to the current genre topic). 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 working on.
  • 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 ‘Tips’

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.

Functional Grammar Lessons

These mini-sessions are essential for showing children the hows of writing. 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 before,
  • finally ensuring 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 is discussion of a prepared text which does not achieve its intentions as a result of poor grammar use. 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. However, 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 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.

DOWNLOAD our Functional Grammar Table here (pdf).

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