So, what is the purpose of teaching grammar and if its not taught, what are the implications for our students?
Week 2 of the PETAA ‘Grammar and Teaching’ course with Jo Rossbridge and we have been introduced to that integral part of our language, the clause. That was after playing with lexical density and grammatical intricacy …. but more of that later …
All my life, I have always thought that a simple sentence was just one lonely independent clause. Did you know that a simple sentence is not always that simple? Its not always a single clause? Did you know that you can embed a clause, or two, into a simple sentence by adding a few relatives – relative clauses that is – and it is still a simple sentence!
Then on top of that there’s the extended family of clauses the dependent clauses. They’re the infirm ones who can’t stand alone. They hang on in sentences with when, after, because or if. But wait there are more dependent offspring; the non-finite clauses beginning with those pervasive non-finite verbs, the interrupting clauses which insert themselves inside independent clauses and like to be surrounded by commas and finally, the non-defining relative clauses who .. which, like to add more information where they please.
This is the part where the lexical density comes in. Jo says that when we’re speaking we are ‘in the moment’. Our context and purpose don’t need to be as explicit. We don’t need to use as many verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs to give meaning to our sentences. Our sentences are not as structured and we throw clauses in all over the place, leaving out pronouns and connectives as well as stopping and starting without necessarily completing our sentences. We are not as efficient with our language.
The way we order our clauses is very important as well … another piece of new awareness for me. Whatever is most important in a sentence needs to go first. When speaking we may not give as much thought to this but when writing, the order of the clauses can impact on meaning.
So what? Well … most of our students write as they speak. Without bamboozling them with the technicalities, if we as teachers understand language structures we can help move them towards writing in a more lexically dense and therefore efficient and meaningful way – from ‘spoken-like’ to ‘written-like’. By drawing attention to grammatical techniques through modelling, recasting, joint constructions and just playing around with clauses, our students will be better able understand how language works to make meaning in a variety of contexts.
As always, comments and questions are welcome … apparently next week is ‘processes and verbal groups’ … stay tuned.