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Monday, 2 December 2013

Grammar queries: just

I was asked last week if ‘just’ was acting as a determiner in this sentence and was therefore part of the noun phrase:  But they were just ordinary puddles with nothing in them.

We use adverbials for many different reasons and we typically start off explaining their use to primary children as indicating ‘how’, ‘where’ or ‘when’, perhaps moving on to ‘why’ by upper KS2.  However, use of adverbials in English is far more complicated than that.  For example, we use them to provide viewpoint, focus on a part of a sentence and intensify/emphasize information.

In the sentence above, ‘just’ is acting as an adverbial which focuses the reader on what ‘they’ were: ordinary puddles.  Focusing adverbials can add information or limit information; in our sentence, ‘just’ is limiting what has been said.  ‘They’ and nothing else are ordinary puddles.

One flexible feature of adverbials is that they can often be placed in different positions within a sentence.  Invariably some positions ‘sound’ better than others; they flow more naturally because that is the position in which they usually occur.  Sometimes we alter the positions to create effect for the reader.  In our sentence, it is perhaps possible that we could say ‘But they just were ordinary puddles …’ although I have to say I prefer the first construction. 

Other focusing adverbs which act as limiters and could be used in this sentence are:

  • merely
  • only
  • purely
  • simply

Another feature of focusing adverbs is that they cannot be modified by another adverb, so we couldn’t have ‘very just’ or ‘very only’.

Of course, ‘just’ can be used in other ways as well and the key thing is to look at its role in each individual sentence.

I’ve just realised what you said. (Time adverbial – at this moment)
He had just arrived.  (Time adverbial – at that moment)
He was a just man.  (Adjective – describing the man)

Context is everything!

Sunday, 10 November 2013

The Ice Bear by Jackie Morris: developing synonyms with KS2 children

In addition to the ideas for developing sentence level structures using 'The Ice Bear', this is also a great text for developing synonyms with children. 

In the story, the boy finds amber stones and follows the trail of these, collecting them for his mother.  Jackie Morris uses a variety of synonyms for these stones.
  • a pale shard of shining light
  • a piece of amber, smoothed by the oceans, coloured, clear and beautiful, ike a fragment of fire, washed ashore from a far-off place.
  • a trail of shining amber
  • bright jewels
  • fallen stars
  • each shining piece
  • the brightest and the best
  • the treasure
  • the smooth beads of amber
  • the amber treasure
  • the amber
Find an object for children to describe in different ways.  How many different synonyms can they create?

Developing KS2 sentence level writing using 'The Ice Bear' by Jackie Morris

This version of an Inuit myth is another beautiful book by Jackie Morris.  As always, her illustrations are stunning and the story is captivating; however, as a teaching and learning text, it can be used in many different ways.  The rich language will help children improve their description and widen their vocabulary, the story provides opportunities for book talk on many different levels  and the variation in sentence structures make this a valuable text for developing different aspects of writing, dependent on the children’s needs.

Below are some of the grammatical elements you could teach from this book, together with the relevant Sentence Toolkit tools which you can use with these.  Under each element, I have listed a few examples from the text.  Which element you choose to teach will depend on what aspect of writing you want the children to develop, based on their identified next steps.

Expanded noun phrases which provide wonderful description  (Sentence Toolkit: tape measure)
There are many examples in this text of noun phrases using pre-modification only (where the main noun is in final position in the phrase).
  • his bone-tipped spear
  • thin powder snow
  • her golden white fur
The text is very rich in expanded noun phrases which are post-modified with prepositional phrases.  I have emboldened the main verb in the following examples:
  • the scent of snow
  • a pale shard of shining light
  • the smooth beads of amber
  • a hiss of hot breath
There are also examples of noun phrases expanded with relative clauses.  Some of these are introduced by the relative pronoun; however in some examples the relative pronoun is elided and the clause starts with a past participle. 
  • the great white bear who had held them close in the blue ice cave (relative pronoun ‘who’)
  • the place where the boy had sunk to his knees (relative pronoun ‘where’)
  • the bear that had taken the life of his child (relative pronoun ‘that’)
  • a bundle wrapped in a scrap of white fur (the main noun ‘bundle’ is post-modified by a subordinate structure ‘wrapped in a scrap of white fur’.  This non-finite past participle is in relative clause position and could have been written ‘which was wrapped …’)
  • fingers, clawed by the cold (the subordinate relative clause could have been written ‘which were clawed by the cold’)
Similes (Sentence Toolkit: medium size paintbrush)
  • like a raven’s wing
  • like a fragment of fire
Adverbial phrases of where, how and when  (Sentence Toolkit: saw)
  • high into the darkness of winter, over the frozen sea (this could be considered as 3 where adverbials together: high, into the darkness of winter, over the frozen sea)
  • on the hard-packed snow (where)
  • over his footprints (where)
  • with a mittened hand (how)
  • like a flame on the cold white (how)
  • in the beginning of time (when)
  • in the dark months (when)
Compound sentences  (Sentence Toolkit: glue gun)
Compound sentences in this text vary the sentence structures used and create different effects.  For example, the first sentence of the book is a compound structure which links two main points, both of equal importance:
  • In the beginning of time people and animals lived together on the earth and there was no difference between them.
Other compound sentences vary pace or build tension in the text:
  • The storm came in fast but his dogs moved faster. 
  • She dropped the treasure and it lay like a flame on the cold white.  The boy moved to take it, and in flew the bird. 
  • He walked over ice ridges and down into valleys
  • The cold clung to him, it gnawed at him and fear began to suck at his bones. (a list of main clauses in a compound structure)

Subordinate clauses.  There are examples in this text of the four subordinate structures used to create complex sentences (underlined).  (Sentence Toolkit: all four spanners and also the comma screwdriver where the subordinate clause starts the sentence)  
  • Into this world they were born, in the dark months, when the cold and the wind turned water to stone. 
  • As he reached out a hand to the biggest of the bears(,) the amber treasure fell to the snow.  (Although authors do not always punctuate according to the convention we are teaching in schools, children should learn to use a comma when the sentence starts with a subordinate clause.) 
  • As he stooped to pick up the brightest and best, in flew the raven and snatched it away. (As with many of the sentences in this book, sentence structures are complicated with a mix of compound and complex.  I would be using these with more able writers to vary their compositions.)
  •  Maddened by grief(,) he followed the trail of the running bears, a river of paw prints on the frozen sea. (The subordinate clause starts the sentence and is introduced by the non-finite past participle.  Again when innovating sentences like these, children will need to demarcate the clause boundary with a comma where the subordinate clause starts the sentence.) 
  • He followed the trail, picking up each shining piece, cupping them in his mittens. (2 subordinate clauses introduced by the non-finite present participle.)
  •  She held them close to keep them warm in the blue ice cave that was their world. (Infinitive used to introduce subordinate clause.)
     With level 5 and 6 writers I would also use this text to explore the way authors use structures that are not complete sentences to create effects.  Although the phrases used have a capital letter at the start and a full stop at the end, unless they have a finite verb, they are not complete sentences in English.  However, many examples can be found that ‘break the rule’ and Jackie Morris uses these to great effect.
  • So small.  (Adjective phrase)
  • His last hunt before true winter.  (Expanded noun phrase)
  • Two eyes, black as midwinter. (Expanded noun phrase)
  • Dark hair like a raven’s wing. (Expanded noun phrase)
  • Two hands, fingers clawed by the cold. (Expanded noun phrase)
  • A child. (Noun phrase)
  • A piece of amber, smoothed by the oceans, coloured, clear and beautiful, like a fragment of fire, washed ashore from a far-off place.  (Amber is the main noun and this is post-modified by the three relative clauses starting with past participles ‘smoothed’, ‘coloured’ and ‘washed’.  Although these three verbs are used, since they are non-finite, there is no main clause and the whole structure is an expanded noun phrase.  With support, more able writers will be able to see the pattern of participles and use this structure themselves with an element of understanding about how it is formed.  Others will be able to imitate the pattern.)
To see other texts recommended on this blog, click here.  And for more Texts that Teach, check out this link.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Using adverbs to premodify adjectives and other adverbs

During Sentence Toolkit training last week some questions arose about using adverbs to modify adjectives and other adverbs.

With primary children, we usually introduce adverbs/adverbial phrases as describing where, how or when the action has taken place in a sentence.  We explain how these words can provide our reader with more information and also create different effects, depending on where in the sentence they are positioned. 

We also show children how adverbs and adverbial phrases can be used cohesively, to link to prior information in the text.  These connecting adverbials can be used to structure/sequence the text (as 'in addition', 'moreover', 'furthermore' do when we are structuring paragraphs in a persuasive piece or writing) or they can add writer opinion (for example, 'obviously', 'certainly', 'surely').

However, there are some adverbs that can be placed in front of an adjective or another adverb to provide the reader with more information about 'how much' of the adjective is applicable in the sentence, or 'to what degree' the adverb describes the verb.  Being used in these ways, adverbs can be incorporated into noun phrases, adjective phrases or adverbial phrases.  In the following three sentences, I've highlighted the premodifying adverb.
  • The rather quiet child sat in the corner.
  • The princess was very beautiful.
  • He ate his meal extremely quickly.
There is a confusing terminology around the groups of adverbs that can act in this way.  Depending on the grammar book you look in, this group of adverbs may be referred to as modifiers, sub-modifiers, intensifiers, emphasizing adverbs, or adverbs of degree.  I wouldn't worry too much about these terms/sub-categories, especially not with the children; just model how useful they are in writing!

Once children understand how this special group of adverbs behave, it might be a good idea to collect them on your working wall, so there are a range of words to choose from.  This will avoid over use of 'very' and 'extremely'.

I promised the delegates on the course that I would provide a list of some of these adverbs.  Below are two charts which may be useful for activities, especially in guided work.  Children can experiment with slotting them into noun phrases before the adjective, or in front of other adverbs, to see whether they make sense and add relevant information for the reader.  However, do explore texts and discover more examples with the children to add to your own collections!

Some adverbs which can be used to premodify adjectives

The most common adverbs which can be used to premodify other adverbs