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.





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.

Teaching grammar in context – sentence structure

An understanding of sentence structure is both an important aid to comprehension when reading, and vital assistance for students who have been given the instruction: ‘Make your writing interesting!’ (An instruction, by the way, that is of little use unless students are given some clues as to how this might be done.)

So, how can an understanding of sentence structure be taught as part of the reading and writing that is done in the classroom?

  • Interest and style are created by sentence variety. Using only short or long sentences can be equally boring and monotonous for the reader. Demonstrate this to students by showing them a paragraph that is comprised of a series of short sentences, each highlighted in a different colour. Ask students to read the paragraph and to give their opinion of the writing, hoping to elicit from them that it is not very interesting. Encourage them to look at the way the sentences have been highlighted to explain that the lack of interest derives from the monotony of a series of short sentences. Ask students to suggest how it might be improved, or made more ‘interesting’ for the reader.Make the changes to the paragraph as suggested by the students and be explicit about what they have done in order to improve the writing.
  • Depending on their year level and previous experience with metalanguage, you might point out (or get them to identify) how they have changed some simple sentences into compound ones, or how they have created complex sentences by adding adverbial, adjectival or noun clauses. Draw particular attention to those sentences that have been left as simple sentences because you want students to understand that variety in sentence length can make writing more engaging.
  • Students might also suggest changes to the way in which the sentences begin – that is, instead of all beginning with a subject followed by a verb, they might suggest that a sentence should start with an adjective, adverb or phrase. Again, if they make these suggestions, be explicit about what they have done in order to create and emphasise the metalanguage for future use. In particular, ask students what effects are achieved by adding the extra detail.
  • Repeat this activity on another occasion with a paragraph comprised of a series of long sentences. Again, ask students for their opinion of the writing, hoping to elicit from them that it is not easy to read or understand. Encourage them to look at the way in which you have highlighted the sentences to demonstrate that they are all long sentences.  Get students to suggest changes to the paragraph and to discuss those changes as described in the previous activity.
  • Select a short, interesting extract from a novel to read to your students – for example, a description of a person that effectively creates a character in terms of appearance and behaviour; a description of a place that makes it seem particularly attractive, enticing, frightening or disgusting; or a retelling of an event which effectively conveys the pathos, humour or horror of the situation.Discuss their responses to the extract and then explain that you are going to look more closely at how the author has created this piece of writing.Display the extract on an interactive whiteboard so that it can be easily highlighted and marked up. Ask students to identify:
    – the kinds of sentences used by the author (simple, compound, complex, compound-complex).
    – where in the sentences the clauses  have been embedded (at the beginning, in the middle, at the end) or phrases added.  Depending on student experience, you might also ask them to identify the kinds of clauses and phrases.
    – particular words or images that help to create a vivid picture or mood. Again, depending on student experience, you might ask them to identify whether these words are nouns, verbs, adjectives or adverbs, and whether the images are similes or metaphors.
  • From time to time, when students are providing peer feedback on each other’s writing, identify a specific focus for them to concentrate on. For example, in the context of sentence construction, ask students to concentrate on providing each other with feedback about sentence variety. Ask them to offer explicit advice about where a peer might change a simple sentence to a complex sentence, for instance. Encourage them to use the metalanguage. For example, the peer feedback might be:
    Change this sentence into a complex sentence. You could add an adjectival clause to describe the car.
    Or, where students need a little more help, the feedback might be:
    Add an adjectival clause here to describe the car, such as:The car, which had been sitting out the front of our house for two weeks, seemed to have been abandoned.”’
    When you are providing feedback, be explicit about what you are doing so that you create a model for peer feedback – for example: ‘I’m giving Jay an example of an adjectival clause so that he can use one in his writing.’
  • If you encourage students to use editing and reviewing checklists when they are checking drafts of their writing, add a reference to sentence variety so that students become accustomed to reviewing their writing for more than spelling and punctuation. In writing conferences, encourage students to comment orally on their choice of sentence structure and to evaluate the effectiveness.
  • A short, simple sentence can sometimes be extremely effective; it is not necessarily the case that a long and complex sentence is always best. Demonstrate this for students by focusing on the shorter simple sentences in specific texts. Get them to identify, for example, how these sentences can be used to build tension and assist them to see this by substituting the short sentences for longer ones and examining the effect. Other selected texts might use short, simple sentences to grab attention, especially at the beginning of a text, or to sum up an argument. In a set of instructions, too, simple sentences might be more effective than complex sentences. Ask students to use these texts as models for their own writing, and encourage them to explain their choice of sentence construction, based on the effect they were hoping to achieve.

Teaching grammar in context – Verbs

How can you teach verbs in the context of reading and writing?  Here are some ideas:

  • Explore what happens if you change the modal verbs in a text. Select a persuasive text to share with the students on an interactive whiteboard. First get students to identify each of the modal verbs used, and then to change the verbs of high modality into verbs of low modality and vice versa. Ask students to discuss how the effectiveness of the writing changes.
  • To practise the use of modal verbs, have students write sets of rules relevant to the school context – for example, rules for using the library or for behaviour in the playground. They could write rules for both teachers and students.
  • Select (or write yourself) several very short stories written in the past tense. Cut the texts up into sentences and distribute one or two to each student. Ask students to rewrite their sentence/s in the present tense and then to find other class members whose sentences relate to the same story. (They will need to make use of language clues in order to do this.)When they have found all of the sentences in their story, they sit down together as a group and order the sentences into correct sequence to make the story. The group task is to check the tense of each verb to make sure it is accurate. Students could then underline each of the verbs and share their story with another group as a further check.
  • Ask students to work in groups to create a storybook about verbs. Students could take digital photos or download them from the internet and write three lines of accompanying text. The first line could be written in past tense, the next in present tense and the final line in future tense. In addition, each group could focus on a different kind of verb – action, saying, sensing, relating…
  • Ask students to find verbs in magazines and newspapers to make a verb collage of printed text and pictures. As a variation, different groups could focus on different kinds of verbs. The posters they produce could become teaching resources to display in the classroom.
  • Provide students with a series of letters that could have been written to an advice column in a magazine. Ask them to select one and write a reply. Tell them to be particularly aware of the way in which they use modal verbs. On completion, they could share their responses with peers who could comment on the use of modality, as well as providing feedback on the content of the letter and the effectiveness of the advice.
  • Travel articles often use a lot of modal verbs. Share a travel article with the students and ask them to identify the modals and to say whether they are of high or low modality. Ask them to discuss why the author might have selected one kind of modality rather than the other.
  • Analyse a procedural text to identify the use of action verbs in their imperative form. Use the text as a model for students to write their own procedural text and identify the action verbs they have used.
  • Explore the kinds of verbs used by the writer of a narrative. Encourage students to change the action and sensing verbs to create a different impression of a character.
  • In their own writing, encourage students to explain their choice of verb and the effect that they were hoping to create.
  • Share with the students a piece of writing that you have edited to make the verbs bland and ‘weak’. For each verb, get students to suggest alternative ‘stronger’ and thus more effective verbs. This is a good vocabulary-building exercise. Show them the original text, with the author’s choice of verbs intact, and ask them to discuss their their effectiveness. Perhaps they will decide that some of the verbs they have suggested are even better than the originals.

Teaching grammar in context: nouns, pronouns and noun groups

Following on from yesterday’s post, here are some practical ideas for teaching grammar in context.

  • Use picture books to teach nouns and noun groups. A very useful annotated collection, with examples suitable for all year levels, can be found at http://www.the-best-childrens-books.org/teaching-nouns.html
  • Demonstrate for students how the choice of noun in a narrative can convey extra information and create a fuller picture for the reader. For example, what is the impact if a character, a very large man, has a chihuahua as a pet rather than a German shepherd? Or the dog next door that I’m frightened of is a rottweiler rather than a labrador?
  •  Develop vocabulary by asking students to suggest alternative, more specific, nouns for ones that are more general. For example, how many more specific nouns can you find for the words ’man’, ‘house’, ‘tree’, ‘car’? How does the more specific noun create a more detailed picture?
  • Select an appropriate narrative text and ask students to change the nouns and/or noun groups to make a different story. Discuss the effect of their choice of substitute nouns and/or noun groups.
  • Annotate excerpts from a text onscreen using arrows to indicate the relationships between the nouns and the pronouns.
  • Design questions about a text which specifically require an understanding of the pronoun references. Be explicit with students about how an understanding of pronoun references helps them to understand the text.
  • Select a descriptive passage from a text that students are reading and remove all of the noun groups. Read the passage with students, ask questions to ensure that they understand it, and then ask them to visualise what is described. Have them describe what they ‘see’. Then provide them with the original text, with noun groups intact, and ask them to visualise and discuss once again, making comparisons with the first version and commenting on relative effectiveness.
  •  Have students work in pairs on Googledocs or similar to add noun groups to each other’s writing and share the revised writing with another pair for their feedback.
  •  When revising shared writing, look for opportunities to compress the text by nominalising verbs and adjectives and be explicit about the process.

Do you have other ideas to share?

OTISA and Grammar

The approach to the teaching of grammar that we have adopted in this resource reflects a current pedagogical approach.

We start from the premise that the purpose of grammar is to facilitate effective communication with others.  For this reason, a knowledge of grammar rules on their own is not sufficient.  Rather, students need to know how the grammar looks and behaves in context and to understand the grammatical choices made by writers and the intended purpose and effect of those choices.

Moreover, if grammar is taught in the context of students’ own reading and writing, the learning is more likely to be both relevant and engaging.

However, we also need to be sure that students are assisted to transfer their learning from one context to another.

For this reason the OTISA resource offers opportunities for students to consolidate the learning that has occurred in their classroom, and then to apply it in other situations.  The instructional introductions that occur in each element are intended to remind students of their prior learning and to reinforce the metalanguage that becomes the basis of the dialogue between teachers and their students.

We are currently developing Professional Learning modules that explain the grammar basics for teachers and suggest ways in which these can be taught in context in the classroom. The modules will be ready for the 2013 school year.

Using OTISA in the classroom – developing metalanguage

For teachers

If your students understand grammatical terms – that is, they understand the metalanguage – they are then better able to make a conscious decision to employ those grammatical features in their own writing to add depth and interest.

In addition, if students know and understand the metalanguage, you will be better able to provide them with feedback that is focussed and specific.  You could, for example, suggest that they might make their writing more engaging, or provide extra information, by adding noun groups.  This kind of feedback gives students something specific to work with.

OTISA can be of assistance to you in this regard in that it provides students with the opportunity to consolidate their understanding of the metalanguage.  As part of your feedback, if you think there is a need for students to revise understanding of the way in which a particular grammar feature ‘works’, then you can refer them directly to the relevant element and activities. (If you use the Teacher Reporting functionality, you can send students  an electronic message to this effect. This message will be available to them when  they next log in to OTISA.)