Download all the resources mentioned in this blog post here.


It’s been years since there were changes to grammar, punctuation and spelling in the curriculum, yet the teaching of specific grammar terminology is still the cause of many Twitter spats, lively debates and teachers pulling their hair out in the staffroom.

So why after so long, is grammar terminology still an issue – and does it need to be? My answer is no.

For me, the answer is keep it simple and fun, learn it in context and practise with daily drip-feeding of terminology. As teachers we plan immersion into new vocabulary with every unit we teach, so teaching expanded noun phrases should go hand in hand with this.

Here I share my favourite strategies and activities for teaching expanded noun phrases.

Activity 1 | Say Six Things

This activity is called ‘Say six things’ and really is as simple as it sounds. Add a picture stimulus to the centre box or use our examples.

To begin with, ask children individually or in pairs to write six nouns that they can see in the picture. For example, for this picture they might write ‘trees’, ‘leaves’, ‘branches’, ‘elephant’, ‘grass’ and ‘river’. 

Now move on to expanding the ideas. Give each child or pair some small sticky notes and ask them to choose an adjective to describe each noun, then write them on the sticky notes. I always paraphrase when using terminology – I have no problem at all with reminding children that adjectives are describing words if it helps them remember it.

Place the notes over the boxes they have written the nouns in. Repeat two or three times until each box is covered with several layers of notes. For some reason, when the sticky notes come out, even the most reluctant writers want to join in. It never fails to get great outcomes.

This is a lesson in itself and it’s important not to rush the teaching and generation of vocabulary. By gathering responses each time by asking for nouns and adjectives you are revising pupils’ prior knowledge of this terminology. It’s also the perfect opportunity to address any misconceptions about word meaning.

The following lesson can then be dedicated to turning these ideas into expanded noun phrases. Modelling is the key here, with explicit labelling of terminology every time. This activity is an easy and adaptable activity and a great way to teach thesaurus skills. It’s also a perfect opportunity to discuss the ‘appropriateness’ of a word.

Download this resource here.

Activity 2 | Character Slinky

A character slinky is a fun way to teach expanded noun phrases. It’s particularly effective with SEND pupils and supports EAL pupils with learning adjectives. Fold a narrow length of card concertina style (like a fan). Open out the card to create a character body.

Ask children to attach a head, arms and legs to their card before adding a different adjective in each space created by the concertina.

To extend this activity, prompt children to focus on specific nouns related to their character as they add them – nose, eyes, legs, for example. This helps encourage children to look deeper into a character rather than think of the most basic adjectives.

Once the character slinkies are filled up, model turning the ideas into expanded noun phrases, then move to using these in full sentences.

Activity 3 | Dicey Characters and Settings

The great thing about teaching grammar in context, rather than as a stand-alone lesson, is that you can kill two birds with one stone. Expanded noun phrases are a great way to revise commas in a list at the same time. This activity works particularly well as a morning starter and can be completed as a thesaurus/synonym activity.

The best thing about it is it teaches ‘feelings’ vocabulary, which pupils invariably find difficult. I can’t be the only teacher who despairs when they hear the words ‘joyful’ and ‘forlorn’ as a synonym for happy and sad. Where do they get this from? It’s not me!

Using this resource, let children fill in six adjectives in the first column, or use our examples. Children must first roll a dice to see which adjective they need to find a synonym for.

For example, if a child rolls a one they must then find synonyms for the word ‘happy’ and fill them in in the three boxes along the row – ‘cheerful’, ‘jolly’ and ‘smiling’, for example. Continue the activity until the table is complete.

Next, looking at a picture you have provided or their own character or setting, pupils must choose two appropriate adjectives to turn into an expanded noun phrase in a full sentence. For example, if their image is of the BFG, they might write, “The jolly, smiling giant grinned fondly at Sophie.”

Download this resource here.

Activity 4 | Sentence Generator and Zones of Relevance

Children working at greater depth are likely to grasp the use of expanded noun phrases quickly. To enable them to work at greater depth from a grammar point of view, the following two resources can be adapted and used again and again.



A sentence generator enables pupils to generate adjectives and conjunctions with the roll of a dice. The challenge here is that children must build a sentence around these given words by selecting an appropriate noun.

For example, if a child rolls a one then a three, they must include the words ‘although’, ‘murky’ and ‘dull’ in a sentence. The challenge here is that all the other words they use must be appropriate too.

So a child working at greater depth might come up with an expanded noun phrase in a sentence like this: “Although the sun was out, it was murky and dull in the forest.” Get children to record the words they’ve used by putting an ‘X’ in the box. They can then roll the dice again and repeat the activity a number of times.

Be sure to model the activity carefully first to ensure children fully understand what they need to do.

Once pupils become confident with a thesaurus, they can also be challenged with a ‘zones of relevance’ board to make their expanded noun phrases even more effective.

Give children a stimulus and words to accompany it. They must decide how relevant the words are in the context of the stimulus. If a word is irrelevant, put it outside the circle. If it is relevant, decide how relevant – the more relevant it is, the closer it must be to the centre.

Once pupils have decided, they can then use the relevant vocabulary to create sentences containing expanded noun phrases.

Download these resources here.

All of these strategies are tried and tested methods to teach expanded noun phrases in a fun and meaningful way. It’s unlikely that the debate over grammar terminology is likely to go away any time soon but does teaching terminology have to suck the life out of learning? Absolutely not!


How to teach expanded noun phrases

  • Use paraphrasing alongside the terminology to support children who haven’t grasped it. The more you do this, the more they will remember it. Prompt cards with pictures can help.
  • ‘Drip feed’ the terminology – daily practice during lesson starters will help pupils become fluent. Keep it simple with a picture stimulus and ask pupils to pick out the nouns, then add adjectives to describe them. Then ask children to create sentences which contain expanded noun phrases.
  • To support SEND pupils, give basic picture cards of nouns and cards with adjectives on. Match the cards to the appropriate adjectives.
  • Give opportunities to practise during reading sessions – ask pupils to find examples of expanded noun phrases in their guided reading book as an independent follow-up task.
  • Use visualisation to show the importance of expanded noun phrases. Read aloud a basic setting description with no adjectives and ask pupils to draw what they hear. Repeat with a description containing expanded noun phrases. How do the two pictures compare?
  • Use different colours to underline noun phrases and adjectives to show how the adjectives expand the noun phrase.

Rebecca Jakes is a Y2 teacher at Preston Manor Lower School in London. She has worked previously as an associate English advisor.