Becoming aware of the technicalities of our language and how it works in the PETAA Grammar and Teaching course with Jo Rossbridge has been an absolute eye opener for me. In all these years there is so much that I have just taken for granted about how our language hangs together. I haven’t analysed the patterns, the reasons, the language choices or the craft. Are you the same?
Today, I was teaching a Stage 1 class and we were writing about our findings from a series of S.T.E.A.M. lessons that we have been working on. Never before have I been so conscious and analytical of their choices of pronouns, conjunctions, connectives and the impact of these factors upon their writing. Being better informed helped me to conference intelligently with these students and to have constructive discussions about what was and was not working for their audience.
How much do you know about cohesion? Do you know the difference between a conjunction and a connective? Are you conscious of the fact that conjunctions link ideas and clauses only within a sentence, making them flow and make sense? Are you aware that connectives form ties between sentences and whole stretches of text? Plus, do you know that you should only find conjunctions at the beginning of clauses but connectives can be placed in many different positions? Before last Wednesday I couldn’t have told you this. Have a look at A New Grammar Companion for Teachers by Beverly Derewianka, PETAA publication (p.154), it will tell you much more than the glossary at the back of the English syllabus.
One of the great things about the course is, that we as teachers are assigned readings and then have to present what we have learnt to the rest of the group each week. Two very clever ladies were asked to read and present on Grammar and Meaning by Sally Humphrey, Louise Droga and Susan Feez, PETAA publication (pp 148-154) This was the section entitled Cohesion: Making Connections where it says:
A cohesive text is achieved by choosing language resources that tie the meanings in clauses together so that they become unified in a whole text. There are five main cohesive resources – reference, ellipsis and substitution, lexical cohesion and text connectives. (p. 148)
In true teacher style these two absolutely fabulous ladies, as they called themselves, divided us into five groups and rotated five ‘hands-on’ activities, which each related to a cohesive resource, around the groups. It was quite fun and brought out the competitive spirit in some of us.
All the activities were based on an appropriation of the Little Red Riding Hood story. To find the referring words we had a game with strips of paper and the referring words were left out. These referring words were on cards that we had to turn over. If our word was correct then we kept the strip of paper. The person with the most strips of paper at the end was the winner. Being able to find these referring words; personal pronouns, demonstratives, comparatives and text references (this, these) helps the reader to follow and keep track of the participants as the text grows. Those texts which contain a great deal of pronoun referencing are extremely difficult for our EAL/D students and struggling readers to follow.
For the ellipsis activity we had sentences on strips of paper which contained more words than necessary. We had to fold the paper to ellipse the sentences and remove the unnecessary words which repeated the participants, processes or circumstances. For example ‘Little Red ran away from the wolf and she ran away from the forest’.This can be ellipsed to ‘Little Red ran away from the wolf and the forest’- leaving out the second she ran away from. In the substitution activity we had to replace groups of words with one word and alter a noun to become a pronoun e.g. ‘Red asked the wolf to leave and the wolf left,‘ – ‘the wolf left’ can be replaced with ‘he did’, becoming, ‘Red asked the wolf to leave and he did.’ Ellipsis and substitution help to make the writing flow but can be confusing for some of our EAL/D students and struggling readers who find it difficult to track who is doing what. This needs to be understood by us as teachers and explicitly taught.
Lexical cohesion is another way of saying ‘word associations’ or the way content words or lexical items are linked. EAL/D teachers are very conscious of building vocabulary and explicitly teaching associated words to help NESB (non-English speaking background) students with their comprehension. These sets of words can be broken into different types of lexical cohesion e.g. synonyms, antonyms, repetition, collocation, class/sub-class and whole/part. For this activity we were given a chart and packets of small words to place in the correct parts of the table. This was fun but very difficult … I definitely need more practice! The value of the exercise was the discussion that it generated within the group about the words, their function and their relationships. If I were to do this with a class I would not have as many categories to deal with at once.
For our text connectives activity we were given a cloze passage with two or three choices and had to choose the best one. Examples of text connectives can be seen in the table at the top which comes from, A New Grammar Companion for Teachers by Beverly Derewianka, PETAA publication (p.154)
So why is explicitly teaching cohesion worthwhile? If our students are aware of how words can be left out, substituted or linked and how concepts are related throughout their reading it will help them to decode and tie together the ideas being presented in their texts. This knowledge about cohesion should also inform our choices of which readers to use with our students. If the models aren’t wonderfully cohesive then how will our students cope when they are presented with better examples of literature?
Six sessions down and six to go! There’s still so much more to learn about Grammar and Teaching.