Functional grammar Silly Rainbow Sentences

Silly Rainbow Sentences is a common teaching and learning activity, where words or part of simple sentences are color coded. Students draw a full set of colour cards and align these according to the colours of the rainbow. They then write down the sentence and read it out loud. These sentences are syntactically correct, but semantically incorrect and often quite funny. Many examples and variations of this activity can be found on Pinterest.

The Silly Rainbow Sentences activity can be adapted to explore systemic functional properties and characteristics of language by using the colour-coded key for functional elements Participants, Attributes, Processes and Circumstances introduced in a previous post. A functional approach to Silly Rainbow Sentences works best if a particular language aspect or functions guides the construction of the original set of sentences.

For example, the topic could be clauses with relation processes. As part of a student-led investigation, the students are asked to write down their own set of sentences on coloured cards.

Original sentences written on colour-coded cards

The cards are collected, shuffled and distributed. The students create sentences following the same colour sequence, e.g.:

Functional Silly Rainbow Sentences

In some cases, the students will have to make informed decisions around verbs, singular and plural to create grammatically correct sentences (corrections in black).

This activity can be expanded by asking the student (or student groups) to trade cards in order to form semantically correct sentences. This promotes interaction and peer discussion, making the literacy activity socially more meaningful.

Further reading:

  • Exley, B., & Kervin, L. (2013). Playing with grammar in the early years: Learning about language in the Australian Curriculum: English. Australian Literacy Educators’ Association. (in particular Chapter 4, Colour coding: meanings in clauses)

Relevance to Australian Curriculum content descriptors:

  • Year 1: Identify the parts of a simple sentence that represent ‘What’s happening?’, ‘What state is being described?’, ‘Who or what is involved?’ and the surrounding circumstances (ACELA1451)
  • Year 1: Explore differences in words that represent people, places and things (nouns, including pronouns), happenings and states (verbs), qualities (adjectives) and details such as when, where and how (adverbs) (ACELA1452)
  • Year 2: Understand that nouns represent people, places, concrete objects and abstract concepts; that there are three types of nouns: common, proper and pronouns; and that noun groups/phrases can be expanded using articles and adjectives (ACELA1468)
  • Year 3: Understand that verbs represent different processes, for example doing, thinking, saying, and relating and that these processes are anchored in time through tense (ACELA1482)
  • Year 4: Understand that the meaning of sentences can be enriched through the use of noun groups/phrases and verb groups/phrases and prepositional phrases (ACELA1493)
  • Year 5: Understand how noun groups/phrases and adjective groups/phrases can be expanded in a variety of ways to provide a fuller description of the person, place, thing or idea (ACELA1508)
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