Getting Interpersonal with our Grammar


After a break of two weeks, the participants of the PETAA ‘Grammar and Teaching’ course were back for Round 9 ready to interact with each other and the technicalities of grammar as we investigated how certain uses of language make us feel.The topic this week was ‘tenor’ – ‘interacting with others’. ( A New Grammar Companion Derewianka, p.109 PETAA)

Jo Rossbridge, in her role as presenter and expert, is guiding us, the learning participants, through the subtleties and complexities of English grammar. As we defer respectfully to her deep understanding we are learning how the placement or rearrangement of words within a clause can alter the whole tone of what is being communicated. In our class interactions we had fun playing with language as we discussed how its structure varies depending upon the relationships between the participants and the context of their communications. We also focused on how important it is for our EAL/D students to learn social conventions and appropriate forms of address when they interact in English so they are not mistakenly perceived to be rude or aggressive.

Jo gave the example of students in a school who had been taught that ‘must’ was a word of high modality to be used when writing persuasive texts. Later, when these students were writing to their local council to ask for the council’s action on a certain issue, they told the council that they ‘must’ take action. Such an attitude would not have been received favourably if the letters had ever been sent. The question needs to be asked, ‘Who has the power?’ If we are trying to persuade someone who is in a position of authority to do something for us we need to do so with low modality language. So we need to teach our students to which words to choose that are calm and respectful in tone and how to place those words within a clause.

The seesaw diagram from Conversations About Text 2 by Joanne Rossbridge and Kathy Rushton explains the effect of age,gender, knowledge and position on the language choices that we make.

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From ‘Conversations About Text 2’ by Joanne Rossbridge and Kathy Rushton p123 PETAA publication

I found the initial grammatical explanation of interactions a bit tricky to grasp. Here is a statement from Jo Rossbridge that I will attempt to unpack – ‘The mood block is the part of the clause that makes interaction possible’. Out of context the mind boggles as to what ‘mood block’ might be as mood has various dictionary meanings, but let’s break the statement down;

  • A clause by definition is, ‘the basic unit of meaning. Clauses do many different jobs. In terms of representing the world, a clause provides information about what is going on, who/what is taking part, and any circumstances surrounding the activity (When? Where? How? etc)’ A New Grammar Companion Derewianka, p.13 PETAA
  • Interaction is defined as ‘an occasion when two or more people or things communicate with or react to each other’ (Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press)
  • Mood in grammar according to Google is described as a category or form which indicates whether a verb expresses fact (indicative mood), command (imperative mood), question (interrogative mood), wish (optative mood), or conditionality (subjunctive mood).
  • Block in this sense is a group of words. In this case the subject of the verb and finite verb or finite part of the verb placed together.

Beverley Derewianka in A New Grammar Companion Derewianka,pp 114,115 PETAA talks about the Mood system as being the ways in which clauses are structured for different speech functions. The key elements to look at are the subject of the verb (participant) and the auxiliary part of the verb group (the finite) – the part of the verb group that tells the tense e.g. has, had,will, would, does, did, shall, should. The Mood system can also  involve modality as it expresses the speaker’s opinion.

Subject + finite = Statement Mood Block     Finite + Subject = Question Mood Block

In the early years we teach the difference between statements, questions and commands. Our students who have English as their first language can differentiate between these without too much trouble as they have learnt the word order through early exposure to the language. Our new EAL/D students have difficulty constructing questions and will often ask a question by making a statement with raised inflection at the end of it. Some might say that many Australians do likewise and sound as if they are asking questions all the time.

Here are some examples of the different Mood structures;

Statement (Declarative Mood)

We have learnt a great deal.     We = subject,  have = finite auxiliary verb

We + have = Mood Block

Question (Interrogative Mood)

Have we learnt a great deal? Have = finite auxiliary verb,  we = subject

Have + we = Mood Block

Command (imperative Mood) 

Learn your work!

Learn = base form of the verb, Subject is omitted. …. Here I am not sure if there is a Mood block as there is only one word, unless the one word is the block. The subject is the person being spoken to.

So why do we need to teach the strategies and language for interacting with others? I will leave you with the words of Beverley Derewianka.( A New Grammar Companion Derewianka, p.109 PETAA)

The interpersonal dimension is being increasingly recognised as important in creating the conditions for learning and for critical awareness. While teachers are often hesitant to intervene in students’ interpersonal language development, it is possible to extend their repertoire by deliberately modelling effective language use, drawing their attention to relevant features and explicitly teaching a range of interpersonal strategies. 







5 thoughts on “Getting Interpersonal with our Grammar

    1. Yes. I found this one tricky. I was working with my EALD Kinder students this morning trying to teach them how to ask a question. I need to find a way to make it easier for them if I can. Giving them the starter words, who, what, where, when, how and why helped a little. Will just have to play more games with it I think.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I didn’t know you were working with Kinder students. I thought you were mid-high school. (Now I wonder does ‘Kinder’ refer to kindergarten or kindness? I like the idea of kindness students!:) )


      2. I teach EAL/D students from Kindergarten to Yesr 5 this year. The new arrivals beginner English Kindergarten students I withdraw for small group lessons. The others I team teach Literacy and language rich lessons that link to Other key learning areas. Each day has great variety!

        Liked by 1 person

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