Once not long ago, if you had asked me what a noun group was I would have said, ‘Its a noun with its adjectives’. Perhaps this is because I have been teaching Lower Primary and beginning EAL/D students and this is as far as we ever ventured … stuck in the early stages of the English curriculum. Maybe you were under a similar impression? If so, allow me to enlighten you as I have been by Jo Rossbridge in this PETAA ‘Grammar and Teaching’ course.
Beverly Derewianka in the text A New Grammar Companion for Teachers says ‘a noun group can consist of a single word …or can be expanded to include very lengthy descriptions’.p. 41 Her footnote on the same page states that these noun groups are sometimes called nominal groups or noun phrases.
Noun groups can be a bit complicated and to better understand them, I have benefitted from reading our PETAA text books; Beverly Derewianka’s A New Grammar Companion for Teachers and Grammar and Meaning by Sally Humphrey, Louise Droga and Susan Feez. They explain the parts of the noun groups like; participants, processes and categories of participants. There are also different types of adjectives which have their own position and order; First the pointers, followed by quantifiers, then the describers and classifiers. Sometimes, included in the noun group, after the main noun there are also prepositional phrases and embedded clauses.These are called ‘qualifiers’ and help to further distinguish and describe which participant is being described.
The diagram below from p. 33 of Grammar and Meaning (Humphrey, Droga and Feez) might make this clearer to understand.
Now, you may be thinking, that’s all very well but how will this help my students? What’s the point? How can I teach this if I don’t understand it very well myself? Or perhaps you are saying … I’ve gone through University and have been teaching quite well without this full understanding ..Why should I bother?
How many of us have edited students’ work with them and said, ‘Where can you add more details or how are you going to paint a picture with your words so that the reader can clearly understand what you are trying to communicate?’ When we write we want to ‘make meaning’. As we craft these noun groups we are packing greater meaning into each clause.
I put some of this new learning to the test this week with a couple of the Stage 2 classes that I support. We have been building field knowledge and vocabulary over the past two weeks that is associated with learning in HSIE and Science. Now, using some of the ideas from this course, Grammar and Teaching, the students and I worked on jointly constructing noun groups.
Both classes enjoyed the exercises. It was interesting to have the discussions about whether to use articles or pointers as well as which types of verbs were needed to match singular or plural pronouns. The students could see for themselves that their writing was more interesting and they were keen for me to read what they had written independently as they felt proud of their ‘quality work’. It doesn’t matter that I’m not an expert – the secret is one step at a time as the students and I learn together.
Postscript: This blog post doesn’t do justice to the ‘Grammar and Teaching’ session that we had with Jo on Wednesday night. Most of our time was spent discussing the importance of the context and purpose of the language being used.
This was the theme as we looked at the importance of the positioning of verbs in a clause; how this position changed the tone and purpose from a statement, to a question or even a command or suggestion. When we analysed a piece of writing we were asked to think about which type of person could be writing it, to whom they were possibly writing and for what purpose.
We also discussed Basil Bernstein’s theories about restricted and elaborated code. We concluded that a restricted code of language was one which excluded those who did not understand the jargon, idioms or specialised terms whereas an elaborated code was one that was accessible to most speakers of that language.
The relevance of this learning to us as teachers is, that we need to be aware of our speech and jargon so that we can communicate meaningfully with our students and parents who usually operate using different codes of the same language. We also need to help our students to learn and communicate meaningfully using the elaborated code of Standard Australian English in order for them to access the curriculum equitably.