Effective English Teaching: Classroom ideas for Years 4 – 8

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Analysing short written persuasive texts

Help your students to write effective persuasive texts by teaching them to analyse the texts written by others.
If you were to share the following short text, for example, you could ask them to identify where (and why) the writer uses repetition, statistics, examples, modal language, and both positive and negative language:
Where would you rather live – in the city or in the country? I think it’s definitely [modal language] better to live in the country.
For a start, you are free of all that dreadful [negative language] traffic. Traffic not only causes pollution [negative language], but it also causes stress. [negative language] You should [modal language] live in the country if you want a clean [positive language] environment and a relaxed [positive language] lifestyle.
Secondly, you are more likely to know your neighbours if you live in the country. As well as being your friends, neighbours also provide help when you need it. In the city, you are more likely to be lonely [negative language]. You are more likely [repetition] to have to look after yourself if you are in trouble.
Sixty per cent of people [statistics] in a recent survey said that they would much rather live in the country. They love the trees, the fresh air and the open space. [example/positive language]
People who have moved from the city to the country [expert opinion] are usually loudest in their praise of their new home. They don’t regret their decision for one minute.
I’ve never [modal language] lived anywhere else, and I never [modal language and repetition] want to!

Have students use this writing as a model to write a persuasive piece that argues the opposite point of view. Their challenge is to incorporate each of the persuasive devices.

Teaching adverbs in context

Encourage students to identify and discuss the use of the adverbs, adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses that authors use to create

  • a character in a narrative, by providing more information about his/her actions
  • a setting in a narrative
  • a mood in a narrative

Encourage students to use adverbs, adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses

  • in narratives – to provide extra information about someone’s behaviour, to create a mood or setting and to engage the reader
  • in explanations – to provide extra detail to facilitate understanding
  • in recounts – to create a mood, to provide extra detail and to engage the reader
  • in reports – to provide extra detail
  • in all their writing – to create complex and interesting sentences.

A warning about the use of adverbs

Adverbs are a part of speech that some writers try to avoid, or at least use sparingly. Select this link to read quotes from famous writers who advise against their use.


 Some ideas for teaching adverbs

  • While it is important for students to recognize adverbs of manner (they mostly end in ‘-ly’), they could be encouraged to write more precisely and effectively by selecting a strong verb instead of simply adding the adverb of manner to a weak verb.For instance, instead of saying ‘She walked slowly towards the door’, the student writer could choose a verb that more precisely captures how the character walks to the door and that reveals something about the character’s attitude or how she is feeling: ‘she sauntered towards the door’; ‘she crept towards the door’; ‘she slunk towards the door’; ‘she crawled towards the door’; ‘she dawdled towards the door’; ‘she strolled towards the door’ or ‘she shuffled towards the door’.  (Share these examples with the students and get them a. to roleplay the actions and b. to decide what each verb might tell us about the person who moves in that way. For example, if someone dawdles towards the door perhaps this shows some reluctance, whereas if she saunters towards the door she indicates she’s not in a hurry, but is probably quite confident about entering or leaving.)Ask students to review their own writing or the writing of a peer to find opportunities to identify where they have used a weak verb plus an adverb and then to replace these with stronger verbs.
  • Analyse and annotate a text (for example on the interactive whiteboard) to identify where the author has used adverbial clauses as part of complex sentences.
  • Model how to add adverbial clauses to sentences in order to create complex sentences. Start with a series of simple sentences and show students how the addition of the adverbial clauses improves the writing.
  • Use students’ own writing to identify where they have used adverbs, adverbial phrases and adverbial clauses. Identify opportunities for them to add adverbial phrases and clauses to add interest and depth to their writing. Have students work in pairs to review each others’ writing in the same way.
  • Do a Youtube search for grammar songs about adverbs (there are quite a few ) and have students work in pairs or groups to create their own song about adverbs. This is a creative way for students to demonstrate their understanding.
  • Play an adverb game. Create a set of action verb cards (or better still, involve students in the creation of the cards) and a set of adverb cards. Students take turns to select a verb card and an adverb card and to act out the combination. For instance, they might select a verb card that says ‘’open’ and an adverb card that says ‘carefully’. Their task is to act this out for the others to guess. This game serves to reinforce an understanding of how adverbs can add meaning to verbs.




Narrative writing: beginnings and endings

Beginnings are hard, and endings even harder, but the explicit teaching of specific techniques will make students aware of the choices that they have as writers.

Encourage them to try these ideas for beginning a narrative. (Some beginnings might mark the first event in the narrative; others might lead into a flashback.)

1. Dialogue

“Shut the door as you leave,” said the Principal.

2.  A question

Have you ever wondered why some people don’t like carrots?

3.  A statement

I can’t believe I was so stupid!

4.  A dramatic event

The car teetered briefly on the edge of the cliff before slowly sliding down into the sea.

And try these ideas for ending a narrative:

1. A surprise

And you won’t believe it, but I found that lost letter at the back of a kitchen drawer!

2.  A moral

So next time I think I can judge someone by their appearance I might think again.

3.  A hint of something more to come

The liteks were defeated for now, thought Zavo, but what would happen when summer came?

4.  Dialogue

“What was that all about?” Dad asked.

5.  A summary

In the end, then, it all turned out well. The children went back home and the monkeys were returned to their jungle home.

Explicitly naming and teaching these strategies will mean that you have a shared metalanguage to use in your feedback.

One way of extending students’ reading comprehension skills

What is a Three-Level Comprehension Guide?

A Three-Level Comprehension Guide is a reading strategy designed to support and extend students’ reading comprehension.  It involves a series of statements about a text, some true and some false. Students are asked to agree or disagree and to justify their responses.

The statements are organised, as the name suggests, in three levels:

Level One: these statements involve literal comprehension, where students search for answers directly stated in the text.  This is sometimes called ‘Reading on the lines’.

For example,

It was after dinner when Jack realised that his dog had disappeared.  T/F

Dinosaurs lived about 150 million years ago.  T/F

Level Two: these statements involve making  inferences.  Students use the information directly stated in the text and combine it with other information  – either from the text or from their own knowledge and experience – in order to decide whether the statement is true or false.  This is sometimes called ‘Reading between the lines’.

For example,

Sally thought that Jack should have taken better care of his dog.  T/F

The Mesosaurus probably lived in the water.  T/F

Level Three: these statements ask students to apply their understanding about the text.  They use both the literal and inferential information to make generalisations, create responses, form an hypothesis,  explore implications or form a point of view.  This is sometimes called ‘Reading beyond the lines.’

For example,

 Being a pet owner means that you need to be responsible. T/F

Dinosaurs are popular with children because there are so many different kinds.  T/F

Why use Three-Level Comprehension Guide in the classroom?

A Three-Level Comprehension Guide not only caters for differentiation within your classroom but also promotes a deeper understanding of what comprehension is all about.

It helps students to

  • move beyond a superficial reading of the text in order to extract more meaning
  • understand the difference between literal and inferential meaning
  • learn how to make inferences
  • engage and interact with the text by using it as a basis for creating, hypothesising, generalising and discussing.

How can you create a Three-Level Comprehension Guide?

  • First decide what it is that you want your students to read and understand about the text.  Perhaps your focus is on the examination of characters and their motivations, or maybe you want students to understand the specific content of a non-fiction text. Either way, these are the ‘big picture’ understandings that you want your students to achieve.
  • Write a series of statements, both true and false, about those big picture understandings.  These will become your Level Three statements.
  • Then write the Level One or literal statements.  They should relate to the Level Three statements.
  • Finally, look for inferences in the text and write statements about these.

How can you  use a Three-Level Comprehension Guide in the classroom?

Have students work in groups to discuss and agree on the responses.  Remind them that while the answers to the Level One statements are very clear, the answers to Levels Two and Three statements might not be so definite.  And that this is where their discussion and justification of their responses will be relevant.

Your observation of how students perform across the three levels of questions will provide you with information that you can use in a formative way.

‘While reading’ strategies to help comprehension

In order to make sense of a text, a competent reader unconsciously uses a variety of comprehension strategies. But many students need to be explicitly taught these strategies – and given opportunities to practise them – before they can be used effectively.

A mini-lesson focus on a strategy could involve a shared reading experience in which the strategy is demonstrated, followed by individual reading where students can consolidate the use of the strategy – using texts that provide specific opportunities for its application. A follow-up class or group focus on the strategy over a period of time, with constant reference and individual conference, will further serve to embed its use.

Some of the following strategies apply to the reading of any kind of text; others are more appropriate for either fiction or non-fiction.

  • Identifying the purpose of reading. Am I reading for entertainment or pleasure, or am I reading for information?  Does the material need to be remembered? The purpose of the reading will determine how carefully I need to read. Do I know how to skim and scan a text?
  • Identifying key points in paragraphs by learning to recognise topic sentences. If I highlight the topic sentence in one colour and the additional information in another colour I am able to demonstrate my understanding visually.
  • Underlining or highlighting key points while reading could help me to recall information later.
    (Alternatively, teacher provision of  headings and guiding questions for note-taking exercises from both print and non-print texts will help readers to focus attention.)
  • Monitoring my understanding as I read will also aid understanding. Is this making sense? Am I understanding what I’m reading? How can text clues help me to understand?
  • Asking questions as I read. Is this important? Why did this character do or say that? What does the author want me to think about this? Can I ask a literal question about what I have read?  Can I ask an inferential question about what I have read?

    Ask verb-based questions : ‘does’…, ‘is…’, ‘has…’, ‘who did …’, ‘what did…’, ‘will…’, and adverb-based questions: ‘when…’, ‘where…’, ‘why…’, ‘how…’.

    (Using the metalanguage – ‘verb’, and ‘adverb’ – will allow for some incidental grammar teaching.)

  • Making predictions about what might happen next in terms of plot or how a particular character might or should behave. I base my prediction on what I already know about the character or about similar texts.  I revisit my prediction when I have finished reading to see whether or not I was correct.
  • Making connections while readingThis post and this one explain the ‘making connections’ strategy.
  • Using context clues to help me work out the meaning of a word that I don’t know. Look at the surrounding words in the same or nearby sentences.  Do these offer clues as to what the unknown word might mean? (How important is this word to my understanding?)
  • Visualising. What can I see in my mind when I read this sentence or paragraph?  Who is in the scene?  What do they look like? Where are they?  What are they doing?

When conferencing with students, specifically ask them to identify and explain the strategies they used to help them to understand a text.  The insights you gain from their answers can be used in a formative way.

What is OTISA, anyway?

Have you tried out the OTISA online literacy resource yet?

We’ve designed OTISA – Online tutoring: improving student achievement – to support the Australian Curriculum in English.  This table shows what is covered by the resource and how it links to the AC.

In particular, we believe it provides excellent support for the teaching and learning of grammar.

We acknowledge that grammar is best taught and learned in the context of reading and writing, but we also believe that learning needs consolidation.

Which is what this resource provides.

Before each set of activities, students can read or listen to a brief revision of the main points. And the activities themselves are self-correcting, with explanations.  You could follow up on classroom work, for  example, by setting in-class or homework activities for students to confirm their understanding.  Importantly, your online access allows you to view how your students have performed, and will tell you whether or not learning has taken place. This information, of  course, will help you to decide on your next teaching steps with groups or individual students.

OTISA also provides focussed and concise professional learning for teachers.  If you would like to brush up on your grammar knowledge, and read practical suggestions related to the teaching of parts of grammar in context, you can do this quickly and easily. With your colleagues, you could use some of the suggestions as a basis for planning.

Available on subscription, OTISA provides students with access both at school and at home.

If you would like to explore the resource, please email info at otisa dot com dot au (email address written like this to avoid spam!)   to receive your one week trial teacher subscription.