I’ve been meaning to write a series of blog posts about grammar for a while. The new expectations in primary require a high level of understanding from pupils (and therefore teachers), and the terminology list is daunting. There is lots of discussion about ideological and political connotations related to grammar, which I don’t want to get in to here. There is also some discussion over the validity and reliability of the grammar tests in primary school. I have views on this, but won’t express them here.
This post was provoked by a twitter discussion in which the classification of the word ‘bright’ was brought in to question when used in the sentence ‘the bright red coat’. It’s a useful example to sharpen our intuitions against. In the rest of this post I’d like to discuss adverbials, and if it seems useful I’ll write a series of posts on teaching grammar in primary school.
It’s a very complicated subject, and although I’ve endeavoured to improve my subject knowledge, I’m bound to get things wrong. I’d be most grateful to anyone who can point out any errors so that I can correct them.
Before we begin, it’s worth noting that grammar has different levels (sentence, clause, phrase, word, and morpheme), and we can look at texts focussing on any of these levels. It’s also worth noting that words, phrases and clauses can do different jobs and be described in different ways. This makes teaching (and learning) grammar confusing because words, for example, can often be classified in more than one way. Similarly, the classification of a word can change depending on its context, or the job that it is doing. Individual words can broadly be split into either words that carry meaning (nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs), or words that help with structure (preposition, conjunctions, prepositions, determiners).
Adverbials provide a good example of the dangers of over-simplifying grammar when teaching children. For a long time, I believed that adverbs were “-ly words”. There a clear examples of where -ly words aren’t adverbs (e.g mayfly), and there are also lots of examples of adverbs that don’t end in ‘-ly’.
Adverbs are single words which provide extra information, usually about time (soon), place (everywhere) or manner (carefully). We can see that in the final category, adverbs will often (not always, for example: fast) end in -ly. So if that’s all we teach when we talk about adverbs we are only giving part of the story. When I teach this I usually display a simple sentence (Jon played football), then split my flipchart into time, place and manner, and ask children to think of single words that will add that information (e.g. Yesterday, Jon plays football).
Adverbs can also combine with adjectives to make adjective phrases. If they do this (as in the case of the bright red coat) we call them ‘intensifiers’ which is a special kind of modifier (lots of word classes can be modifiers). Adverbs can also combine with other adverbs to make adverb phrases (extremely quickly, very slowly).
The word ‘adverbial’ is the name we give to the component of a clause when investigating at a sentence level. This could mean an adverb, or adverb phrase, like we were just looking at (we call these adverbials ‘adjuncts’), but it could also be a link between two sentences (e.g. moreover; we call this group conjuncts) or to provide a commentary on the preceding sentence (e.g. However; we call this group disjuncts).
With grammar, the more you learn, the more complicated is seems to get. Just when you think that you’ve cracked a term, you see a ‘but…’. For me, this is half of the fun. Once the basics have been taught, you can have interesting discussions and debates with your class, which will help with depth in understanding.
This is only a brief introduction to adverbs. The next step would be to talk about adverbial clauses. But we’ve all worked very hard and so I think it’s time for a break now.
If this was useful do let me know. I’m thinking of putting together a bit of a guide, starting at the start, working up through the primary curriculum. I might even do some videos so that I can model ideas of how to teach different concepts. Let me know if this is something you’d like.