2. Being a word detective

It is important in language teaching to focus on the meaning of the language, stressing the importance of communication, but at the same time working to develop pupils’ competence in grammar. Activity 2 gives an example of how to use a praise poem written in English to do some work with pupils on verbs and adverbs. This kind of work can be done with a wide range of texts, focusing on a wide range of structures. Make sure that you also focus on the meaning of the piece of writing, and don’t simply use it as a device for teaching grammar. With younger children, the focus will be on the meaning and enjoyment.

Stories usually use the past tense, while descriptions are usually in the present tense. These are good contexts in which to give your pupils practice in tenses.

If you do not teach English, think about what pupils find difficult about the grammar of the language that you do teach, and adapt Activity 2 to suit this language.

Case Study 2: Discussing grammar at a teacher workshop

At a workshop in Kampala, teachers had a lively discussion about grammar. Henry Woneka said he had read that grammar is the bones or skeleton of a language and other words are the flesh. Both bones and flesh contribute to meaning. The teachers agreed that pupils need to develop understanding of how the structures of a language work, but they also complained about pupils’ lack of interest in grammar lessons.

Ruth Kagaba teaches in a rural area and lessons for her pupils had been in the local language for their first four years of school but they are now in English. She tries to include activities that focus on language structures when her Primary 6 pupils are reading interesting stories or poems. For example, after reviewing the main verb tenses in English, she asked pupils to suggest why the writer of the story or poem had used past, present or future tense. Then she asked them to decide which verb tense or tenses they needed to use to write their own story or poem to make it more interesting for their readers.

To help with their English grammar, Ruth makes big charts on the backs of old calendars. These give pupils information about the present, past and future tenses of different verbs. (See Resource 3: Verb tense charts for a simple example that you could adapt for your pupils.) She encourages pupils to consult these charts when they are writing.

Activity 2: A verb and adverb detective game

  • Make copies of Resource 4: A praise poem. Where photocopiers are not available, copy it on the chalkboard or the back of an old calendar.
  • Once pupils have read the poem and understood it, let them work in groups to find all the verbs in the poem. Remind them that most verbs are ‘doing’ words. Let each group report back the verbs in one verse (see Resource 5: Verbs and adverbs in the poem).
  • Ask them which tense the verbs are in. In verses 1 and 2, verbs are in the present tense; some in verse 3 are in the future and some in verse 4 in the past tense. With more advanced pupils, discuss why these tenses were used. Ask them what difference does the use of different tenses make to the meaning and effect of the poem?
  • You can use other poems and stories in similar ways.

1. Using real contexts to learn language structures

3. Using peer assessment