Hello and welcome to the Functional Skills Blog for November 2022. This month we will be looking at grammar for Functional Skills English learners.
Grammar is a fundamental part of Functional Skills writing across all levels. At Pearson, we mark the SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation and Grammar) holistically and the key is how it affects the understanding and tone of the text. A spelling mistake or a punctuation error is unlikely to affect the overall feel of a text, but grammar can. If you look at the phrase:
I went shopping tomorrow.
This sentence is difficult to understand. It is written in the past tense but has the future referencing word tomorrow in there. This has a more negative effect on clarity as we cannot be sure what the writer is talking about.
Marked Learner Work
Let’s take a look at some marked learner work at Level 1. This is a learner from an ESOL background. First here is the question:
And here is the response:
And here is the mark scheme:
According to the Chair of Examiners, this scores in the lowest band for both content and for SPaG. We can identify the following grammar issues:
- My day start very erly.
- Work start 6am from meeting.
Issues with tenses:
- I must working very carefuly.
- My day start very erly. I waked up 5am and maked breakfast with white coffe.
- Work start 6am from meeting.
- I waked up 5am.
Use of pronouns and possessive pronouns:
- Quckle eat and jump to the car.
- Team leader give as information.
This learner needs a lot of grammatical support, so let’s look at some ideas to support them and other learners with similar issues.
When learners have a difficult choosing the correct tense for their written work, I like to use timelines to demonstrate the meaning of tenses in English. The first ever grammar book I bought was Teaching Tenses by Rosemary Aitkin (ELB Publishing, 2002). This advocates the use of timelines for tenses. A timeline is a great visual way of understanding the meaning of tense.
The following demonstrates the present perfect for the sentence, I have lived in Southend since 2005. We can see the ongoing link to the past here.
We can compare this with the past simple for the sentence, I moved to Southend in 2005.
Visualising grammar this way helps both native and non-native speakers understand the differences in meaning between tenses.
Getting learners to complete generic worksheets with grammatical errors is commonplace. One of the main issues I have with these error correction exercises is their relevance to the learners. On a recent learning walk, I observed learners completing such an exercise. There was an overall lack of engagement from the learners as the errors were just not relevant to them. They were just not mistakes that they make. To combat this, a better approach would be to use errors that the learners have actually made in their own written work. Let’s look at a number of techniques that you could use.
Using the written work of a particular learner, you can create a worksheet for them to correct. Using the examples from the assessment above we could create the following sentences to correct.
My day start very erly.
Work start 6am from meeting.
I waked up 5am and maked breakfast with white coffe.
Quckle eat and jump to the car.
Team leader give as information.
Just giving them to a learner like this might not be helpful in the first instance, so we can create some scaffolding:
Underline the error and say what it is:
- My day start very erly. (grammar, spelling)
Underline the error without saying what it is.
Finally, once the learner is used to this form of work, you can give the sentences and state the number of errors.
- My day start very erly. (2)
Error Correction Races
You can do something similar with a whole class approach, using errors from across a number of learners. Here learners work in pairs to correct a sentence as quickly as possible before receiving the next one. You can use the same scaffolding approach as above and sample sentences from a across a range of learners. This is a good exercise to increase activity in a class and encourages peer support.
A running dictation is good for practicing a specific grammar point. The following looks at homophones.
- Learners are put into pairs.
- One writes, one runs.
- On a piece of paper on a wall at the other side of the classroom, write the following example sentences:
- Look at the two boys over there. They’re very happy. Their friends are happy too.
- The learners then read the sentences and run over to their colleagues and dictate the sentences back to them. The winners are the first to finish with no mistakes.
- The writer needs to be able to ask the runner questions to ensure that the words used are the correct ones and that their answer has no mistakes.
This is also a very useful exercise for Entry Level learners looking at irregular plurals for example.
Whole Provider Approaches
I took the following photo in Gateshead College and it shows how important English and maths are across the college.
It is important too to have a consistent, whole provider approach to spelling, punctuation and grammar. One that all tutors, both specialist English and non-specialist, can use. A simple key on marked learner work (S = spelling, P = punctuation, G = grammar etc.) across all subjects helps. For English tutors, using work created in any vocational areas, if learners are studying more than just English, is an ideal way to get a better understanding of the written skills of your learners and can provide examples for error correction for use in your classes.
Chris Briggs - Product Manager Post 16 English, Maths and Digital Skills