Functional grammar Word People

Word People is a kinesthetic teaching and learning activity in which students act out sentence structures. The activity can be particularly popular with students who face difficulties in reading and writing. The original idea of acting out “human sentences” with colour-coded cards was developed to explore simple, compound, and complex sentence structures.

Word people activity exploring formal sentence structures

However, the activity can be easily adapted to functional elements in sentences using subject matter representations through Participants, Attributes, Processes, and Circumstances. Student groups of four could act out their “chunk of meaning”, while holding a colour-coded cards (see previous post for colour key).

This activity is particularly suitable for clauses with action processes, as illustrated by the (traditional grammar) example above. The performing students are encouraged to create their own sentences and think about action process they can easily act out. The audience is asked to guess the sentence.

References:

  • Humphrey, S., Droga, L., & Feez, S. (2012). Grammar and meaning. Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association Australia. (in particular pages 13-15)
  • Walter, J. (n.d.). “Word People”. Acting out sentence structure. Presentation

Relevance to Australian Curriculum content descriptors:

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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)

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Mapping functional meaning and grammatical forms

Students need opportunities to develop knowledge, understanding and skills of the functional and the formal nature of language. In a previous post, we explored the idea of introducing young learners to experiential functions of text through the systemic functional linguistics (SFL)  metalanguage of Processes, Participants, and Circumstances.

These “chunks of meaning” (Derewianka, 2011, p.55) correspond to traditional grammatical forms. For example, Participants (people, places, things) correspond to nouns, noun groups and pronouns. Processes (actions) correspond to verbs and verb groups. Surrounding Circumstances that detail the ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ correspond to adverbs and adverbial groups. In a more advanced functional analysis, we can further differentiate Participant from its description, introducing the functional category of Attributes. Attributes take the form of adjectives and adjectival groups.

There are a lot of possible written text-based teaching and learning activities around mapping functional meaning and grammatical forms, some of which will be explored in coming posts (1, 2). However, these require some sort of legend or key. The following key is proposed, indicating traditional (mostly word-based) grammar forms by typographical emphasis (bold, italic, underline). This requires text formatting which can be performed by the teacher in advance. The functional elements, which often involve multiple words in a row, can be highlighted by the students using colours. This approach allows student to focus on mapping functional elements of language. At the same time, they are provided with an opportunity to develop an understanding of the formal nature of language.

Key for working with functional and formal grammar

Applied to the opening sentences of ‘The secret garden’, this would look like:

Mapping functional meaning and grammatical forms using typographical emphasis (teacher) and highlighting (students)

The developed key is an example for the practical implementation of a continuum in approaches to describing language. As proponents of functional grammar argue, it is important not to “abandon
traditional grammar but [… to] build on it” (Derewianka & Jones, 2010, p.10).

References:

  • Derewianka, B., & Jones, P. (2010). From traditional grammar to functional grammar: Bridging the divide. NALDIC Quarterly, 8 (1), 6-17.
  • Derewianka, B. M. (2011). A new grammar companion for teachers. Primary English Teaching Association Australia.
  • Hodgson Burnett, F. (1911). The secret garden. Project Gutenberg EBook.

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)

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Experiential language functions through visual texts

In systemic functional linguistics (SFL), the first function of language is to express an Experience. An Experience can describe an event or state and is represented in texts in terms of Processes, Participants, and Circumstances.

A fantastic way to introduce young learners to experiential functions of text and the SFL metalanguage of Processes, Participants, and Circumstances is by analysing visual texts and asking the questions of:

  1. What can you see in the picture?
  2. Who or what are the main Participants? (Who is acting? Who is receiving? Who is perceiving?)
  3. What Processes are the Participants engaged in? (What actions? What interactions? What reactions?)
  4. What can you tell about the Circumstances? (When is …? Where is …? How is …? Why is …? With what is …?)

Images that illustrate well-loved narratives such as fairy tales make great resources for visual texts. However, this activity can also be used to compare functional linguistic choices of different genres and text types.

Little Red Riding Hood is talking to the bad wolf in the wood

Little Red Riding Hood is talking to the bad wolf in the wood

Further reading:

  • Humphrey, S., Droga, L., & Feez, S. (2012). Grammar and meaning. Sydney: Primary English Teaching Association Australia. (in particular pages 13-15)

Relevance to Australian Curriculum content descriptors:

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