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.





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.

Good blogs and interesting ideas

Each week I read many blogs and tweets in which educators share ideas. Here is a random selection of recent blogs that have given me food for thought.

Top of the list for me is the blog written by American educator, Grant Wiggins. In this particular post, (http://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2013/08/04/better-seeing-what-we-dont-see-as-we-teach/#like-1256) Wiggins says that, in their classrooms, teachers can be blind to what is actually happening and more likely to see and hear only what they expect.  In this way they miss the clues that tell them that their students do not understand.  Wiggins doesn’t think that it is an easy thing to pick up on  the clues, but he provides some concrete advice to assist teachers to do so.

Tanya de Hoog blogs as the PiEd PYPer. In some ways the main idea in this post (http://inquiryblog.wordpress.com/2013/08/11/teacher-or-learning-architect/) is very similar to Wiggin’s idea: it, too, is talking about teacher awareness. Hoeg seeks to remind us that inquiry learning isn’t just about asking and answering questions.  Rather, she argues, it is about an ‘inquiry stance’, and ‘when we limit the inquiry stance to just asking questions, we limit the potential for meaningful and contextualized inquiry stance learning’.  Teachers need to be aware of all the different ways in which students demonstrate the inquiry stance. For me, this idea really opened up the whole notion of inquiry learning.

David Didau blogs as the Learning Spy. For this post he begins with a quote from Dylan Wiliam:

Getting students engaged so that they can be taught something seems much less effective than getting them engaged by teaching them something that engages them.

Once again, this post (http://www.learningspy.co.uk/education/the-problem-with-fun/) asks teachers to be aware of what is really going on in the classroom.  Just because the students are having fun, does it necessarily mean that they’re learning something?

Which is not to say, of course, that fun has no place in the classroom.  But its place is one that is planned for, purposeful and, most importantly,  inherent to the learning.

‘I don’t know what to write …’

Generating ideas for writing is one of the challenges of teaching persuasive writing to primary school children.  It’s perhaps easy enough to teach the structure of the persuasive genre; it’s perhaps easy enough to teach the use of persuasive language and devices.  But if children have no ideas to write about, then it’s difficult for them to demonstrate their understanding of the textual features.

So what are some of the ways in which you can build content?

  • If the topic lends itself, show a video or explore a website together. Construct a set of shared notes as a result of the discussion.
  • Think. Pair. Share. In pairs, students discuss what they know about the topic and then share their thoughts and ideas with another pair.
  • As a whole class, brainstorm ideas about the topic, using a concept map. Use the concept map as a basis for organising various possible points of view on the topic.
  • Use todaysmeet and invite children to make comments and ask questions about the topic.  Use their input as the basis for a whole class discussion. Where children have offered ‘I think..’ or ‘I believe…’ comments, encourage them to support their arguments with evidence, and ask others to offer an opposing argument.
  • Ask students to work in pairs or groups to create a table to list ideas for and against a point of view. Have them share their table with another pair or group to build more content.
  • Use a ‘speed dating’ configuration in which children form two lines so that they stand opposite a partner.  Each pair then exchanges ideas on the topic during a specified period of time (eg, two minutes) before moving on to the next partner for a further exchange.
  • Where the topic lends itself, divide the class into groups that represent the stakeholders who are likely to have differing points of view on a particular topic.  For example, if the topic were ‘Students should be encouraged to walk or bicycle to school’, then the stakeholders might be the students, their parents, people interested in promoting a healthy society and teachers. Ask students to consider the point of view that each stakeholder is likely to hold, and the arguments that might be put forward to support each point of view.
  • Conduct a ‘lucky dip’. On an A4 sheet of paper each student writes a statement, an opinion or a question about the topic.  These are then placed in a box and students select one to which they respond.  (This activity could also be conducted electronically on a wiki or in a google doc.)  Students go back to the lucky dip several times, each time reading what has been written previously by other students and adding their own statement, opinion or question.
  • Have a class debate.  Half the class is designated to support one point of view on the topic, and the other half is asked to support the opposing view.

These activities, as well as building the necessary content to be used in a piece of persuasive writing, also encourage thinking skills, promote collaboration and, in some cases, provide opportunities to use speaking and listening skills.

About homework

The research says that homework at primary school level is not effective in improving learning. (At lower secondary levels, it is claimed to have ‘modest’ benefits while at upper secondary  levels it has ‘definite’ benefits.) Against this, some argue that homework plays a role in helping children to accept personal responsibility about learning, and that it helps to create study habits and discipline.

Yet parents will say that homework is a huge source of parent-child conflict. Family life is much more frenetic these days: often both parents work and children play sport or engage in other extra-curricular activities after school. Simply finding the necessary time to do the homework becomes problematic.

And the nature of the homework can cause further stress. Where children are asked to work on large-scale projects at home, sometimes without adequate scaffolding, it can be the parents who assume the burden of research and completion. A question of equity arises here, too. Clearly if you’re the child in the middle-class, educated family then you will have access to resources that a child in another kind of family might not. Teachers face an ethical and practical dilemma when presented with work that they do not believe the child has completed without assistance. Do they simply turn a blind eye rather than risk a confrontation with the parent who has been so involved?

If homework is set and then not completed by the children, this sets up another conflict situation as teachers have to ‘follow through’. Worse, of course, from the child’s point of view, is when completed homework is not checked or reviewed by the teacher and seems, therefore, to have been a complete waste of time.

So given all the associated angst and doubtful value, why do primary schools persist in setting homework?

Part of the answer lies in the fact that parents, paradoxically, demand that their children have homework and are anxious if none is set. They somehow think that the more homework that a child has to do, the more it is clear that this is a school which values academic rigour. Of course that is not necessarily the case. It all depends on the kind of homework that is being set.

The challenge for teachers is to make homework meaningful, to make it consistent and connected with the learning that is happening in the classroom. Asking primary children to spend some home time reading and practising tables might seem a generalised kind of approach, but the benefits of time spent in both of these activities is well documented and will have flow-on effects in other aspects of learning. If the school policy states that other homework has to be set, the activities – like the activities that occur in the classroom – need to be differentiated and able to be completed within a comfortable period of time.  What that is, is up for argument, but most educationalists seem to agree that around 30 minutes of homework for a child in Years 3 – 6 is manageable.

Ideally  the completion of these activities, as well as being seen by children to be worthwhile, should also yield useful formative assessment information for the teacher.  Planning for homework, therefore, will result in a carefully  considered and scaffolded activity that not only provides the child with a degree of challenge but will also reveal information about what the child knows, understands and is able to do, in relation to the learning that takes place in the classroom.

From the parental point of view, conflict can be alleviated by the establishment of a homework routine that includes being clear about when and where the homework will happen. Parents can talk with their children about their reading, ask questions and use some of the well-documented comprehension strategies such as predicting and visualising.They can also inject some fun and variation  into the learning of tables. Where learning a spelling list is the set homework, parents can engage students in activities that go beyond rote learning in order to improve the likelihood of children actually remembering the spelling beyond tomorrow’s test. See my previous blog on this topic.