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Improve Description, Punctuation and Expression with these Practical Lesson Ideas

Are your pupils’ English skills in need of a boost? Help them describe, express, punctuate and more with these creative activities...

  • Improve Description, Punctuation and Expression with these Practical Lesson Ideas

1 | Descriptive language

When we describe an object we start with what our senses tell us are facts about it: how it looks, what it feels or smells like; if our focus is a character we begin with his or her actions and appearance. The ability to express what we know through spoken language is a vital part of language development, so give your children lots of practice…

Talking pictures

Give each child the same illustration and allow them time to explore it individually. Then ask each member of the group to tell one thing they know from looking at the picture, eg There is a man wearing a bowler hat / He is standing beneath a large clock. Return to the picture and, taking one of the descriptive statements, ask the children to add more detail, eg There is an old man wearing a battered bowler hat / He is stopped beneath a large clock that shows the time 12 o’clock precisely. Model extending the vocabulary used and the detail given.

This activity can be extended into the language of the imagination by going beyond what can actually be seen – the children can make assumptions about what they think has happened before the picture was taken (they must give reasons for their ideas) or they can predict what they think might happen next (again giving reasons).

2 | Express yourselves

We can often recognise when a speaker is afraid or angry by the way in which his or her words are expressed. It’s this universal communication that makes poetry so accessible – and why it’s so important to children’s learning. Give your class frequent opportunities to ‘play with sound’ through poetry…

Echo valley

Have the children seated/standing in two rows facing one another. Introduce the idea that between them lies a deep valley and they must communicate with each other through echoing sounds, words and phrases. To begin with, give the children the words or phrases they are to echo, but as the children become more experienced, allow them to lead. Play with the way in which words might be repeated or the volume might be explored. Extend to lines from songs and poems.

Call and response

Introduce call-and-response songs such as ‘Boom Chicka Boom’ or ‘A Keelie’. These are ideal for warming up voices and developing confidence in ‘performing’. To begin with, you will lead the call as the children respond, but, again, as they become more confident, give different groups and individuals this responsibility. The children can move on to create their own call-and-response verses.

3 | Making sense of morphemes

A word’s ‘morphology’ is its internal make-up or structure, and morphemes are the smallest units of meaning in words. Because they can tell us how a word functions in a setting, it’s important to help children get to grips with what they are and how they work…

Find your partner

This activity explores compound words and requires two sets of cards, each containing one half of a compound word, eg car – park. The children are given one card each and must find their partner to create a compound word. This is not always as easy as it sounds and the children may discover that they can find more than one partner. Consider these six words and the number of compound words you might produce: out, seas, break, play, side, time.

At the end of the exercise, ask the children to define the compound words they have constructed.

My word

The emphasis here is on really understanding the morphemes that are added to words to change their meaning. Give the children a list of known words that have prefixes and ask them to identify the meanings. For example:

dishonest – dis meaning ‘not’ – not honest retell – re meaning ‘again’ – tell again; autograph – auto meaning ‘self’ – self-written.

The children could then invent their own words, eg disview/relove/autolike, and write their own definitions.

4 | Practising punctuation

Putting actions to punctuation, particularly early on in the learning process, helps children to remember them and physically mark their function. A popular example of this is Kung Fu punctuation (you’ll find a number of examples on YouTube), but here’s another activity to try…

Punctuation relay

Split the class into teams. Each team receives a poster with a number of sentences on it. Five to six sentences is a good number. The teams also receive a bag full of punctuation marks. On the command ‘begin’ the children have to select punctuation marks from the bag. Each mark then needs to be placed throughout the sentences. The team that is able to place correctly all of their punctuation marks first wins the game. The points can be awarded by sentence or for completion of all the sentences. You might also want to use full paragraphs; in this case, the winning team will have to use all of their punctuation marks throughout the paragraph to be considered the winner.

5 | Etymological understanding

“A word’s etymology is its history: its origins, in earlier forms of English and other languages, and how its form and meaning have changed.”

Word reading is not so much about ‘learning words’ but ‘learning about words’. In KS2 children need to use their etymological knowledge to understand the meaning of the new words they meet, so give them a boost with these two activities…

Around the world in 80 words

Give the children a map of Europe or the world and a list of words. Ask them to label the countries from which the words originate and match the words to the countries. Use an etymological dictionary both to locate the origins of the given words and to find new examples, eg xylophone (Greek), bayonet (French), umbrella (Latin).

What do you notice?

Divide the children into pairs and give them a set of cards to sort into words from different language origins. Ask them to discuss and explore what these words appear to have in common, eg umbrella, tarantula, confetti, domino (Latin); scheme, chorus, chemist, echo (Greek), or how they came to enter the English language, eg bungalow, dinghy, jungle, pyjamas, shampoo (Hindi/Urdu).

This article is an edited extract of Enriching Primary English by Jonathan Glazzard and Jean Palmer (Critical Publishing, £20), which provides trainees and teachers with creative approaches and enrichment strategies to promote best practice and outstanding teaching. To purchase a copy, visit criticalpublishing.com.

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