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Grammar games

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By Ann Webley Teacher and literacy consultant

A boring grammar activity sheet can turn off even the most enthusiastic writer. Try out these fun games and activities instead – and see children’s interest in sentence-level work soar!

Dog under the table

Children very often practise sentence-level work on activity sheets. However, this rarely helps them to retain grammatical knowledge or gain understanding. This article considers a better alternative – investigating and playing games to improve sentence construction. Sentences always make more sense if they are firmly rooted in a familiar context. If you use a class book, a well-known story, or subjects related to the school to create sentences, the children do not have to struggle to think of content. This allows them to concentrate on the new grammar and puts the emphasis firmly on the learning objective.

Playing games also makes it possible to tap into different learning styles. In recent years there has been a great deal written about VAK (Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic) and the need to consider different approaches when planning lessons. Games offer movement, colour and sound, and therefore have something for everyone. It is important to play sentence games in different ways. For example, a new grammatical structure might be introduced with an active game involving cards, but then you should move on to a whiteboard and oral work.

ACTIVITIES Ages 7-11

1. Making connections

Learning objective: to develop the use of a greater range of connectives in compound sentences.

Investigate a range of connectives by highlighting them in a piece of text and asking the children what ‘job’ they do in the sentence. If the children find this difficult, prepare some examples for them to compare: two simple sentences and one compound sentence linked by a connective. The use of colours will help to make the point. For example:

Billy was hiding from Mrs Brown.

He had eaten all the sausages.

Billy was hiding from Mrs Brown

BECAUSE he had eaten all the sausages.

Prepare some cards of useful connectives (and, but, because, when, so, since, while, although) and fix these on the board. Provide the children with some sentence starters and challenge them to create separate sentences using all of the connectives. I find that children really enjoy this and often come up with ingenious sub plots to well-known stories in their efforts. Try playing this game on card, orally, on a whiteboard or using the interactive whiteboard. Be sure to repeat it often!

2. What’s the clause?

Learning objective: to learn how to start a sentence with a subordinate clause.

In preparation for the lesson, write some main clauses on pieces of card. You could base these on the class storybook or a current topic or subject. Start the sentences with a small letter but cover the small letter with a capital letter written on a sticky note (preferably in the same colour as the card). On a different-coloured card, write a number of subordinate clauses that could precede the main clauses. Each subordinate clause should begin with a connective. Show a main clause to the class and establish that it makes sense as a sentence.

The dog was sent to his basket

Put the subordinate clause in front, remove the sticky note and add a comma on a coloured piece of card:

When Mrs Brown arrived home, the dog was send to his basket

Read the sentence and make a ‘silly’ noise and a curved hand gesture when you get to the comma. Repeat this with another example sentence. Ask the children about the purpose of the addition to the sentence and how it is different from the main clause. Your questioning should draw out the fact that the subordinate clause does not make sense by itself but that it adds information to the sentence. Explain to the children that this type of construction is known as a subordinate clause.

Six reasons why sentence games work

  1. They are very interactive.
  2. Reluctant children get involved. They will join in, play the game – and learn.
  3. Progress is not dependent on speed and the amount children can write.
  4. Understanding can be seen at a glance.
  5. Once generic games are known, they can be played in five-minute bursts at the beginning or end of a lesson – or even in the middle to provide a change of pace. It is important to do this. Playing a game just once will not help!
  6. Game create success. Children begin to talk and then write more complicated sentences. They will then use them in their extended writing – leading to success and increased confidence.

Give out lots of main and subordinate clauses based on a known context and let the children put them together, peel off the capital letters and stick on commas. Finally, everyone should then read the sentences together, with the sound effects and actions.

3. Adapting the game

This game works best if it is constantly revised. One way to do this is to play a ‘silly sentence’ game. Before the lesson, make three sets of cards: subjects, objects and connectives. The children should select one of each then use them to make up a sentence beginning with the connective. Children get very excited by this game and, if they are expected to say their sentences aloud and include the noise for the comma, they will quickly learn to get the punctuation correct.

Other ways to play the games include:

  • putting the connectives in the middle for a compound sentence game
  • replacing the connectives with causal connectives (because, so that, therefore, when, this results in, so, this causes, the reason that) to work on explanations
  • removing all connectives and introducing a nonfinite verb (-ing verb) at the start of the sentence. (For example: Lying in his basket, Billy was full of remorse.)

Billy dreaming

Reviews

  1. Deez
    on 1 April 2010

    great sentence game ideas

    thanks I will be using this with my low ability year 6 group

    5out of 5