This is Issue 20, Spring 2010, click here to come back to current edition
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A visual route into grammar  


Suddenly our pupils are expected to make the leap from learning language contextualised in songs and stories to assimilating abstract grammatical concepts. How can we make grammar more accessible to them? Rocio Martín shares with us the visual aids that help her 3rd cycle pupils get to grips with grammar.


We often find that working on grammar at the end of Primary and even the beginning of Secondary school gets more and more difficult. Visual aids tend to be a good way of helping pupils get to grips with grammatical concepts. I find them a useful aid to getting them to understand how the language works, using the premise that language is like a set of containers; they often maintain the same structures but are filled with different words that have the same functions.


Colours and symbols

By the time they’re in third cycle, children are moving towards being able to bridge the gap between concrete and abstract thought. They are becoming familiar with grammar terminology in their own language and many will be capable of relating this to English. However, given that grammar is still an abstract area compared to the concrete and functional language they’ve been exposed to so far, we should try to make the concepts as visual and pupil-friendly as possible. Colour-coded symbols can work well. These are the ones which I use:


The subject symbol


The main verb symbol




Then I use what I call the walking stick verb symbol  to refer to auxiliary verbs and modal verbs.  These verbs can’t usually stand on their own, hence they need the aid of a walking stick.



•  Pink is related to questions. WH-  stands for wh- question words.


•  Blue is related to affirmative. A tick is the symbol for affirmative.*

• Red is for negative. A cross is the symbol for negative.*


• The symbol for  a complement is C. (Alternatively you could use an ‘O’ for ‘object’.)

* Note:  When pupils are responding, I show them three fingers so that they begin to associate these with the fact that they need to have at least a three-word answer.



I give my pupils the following diagram. It shows how the above symbols can be incorporated into the question / answer format (which both yes / no and wh- type question formats):



Statements are represented like this:





This next diagram shows how we apply the formulae to specific sentences:



I use a picture of a cupboard to represent words – the ingredients of the sentence - which are ‘stored’ in isolation before being brought together and ‘cooked’ in the pot. The cupboard / cooking pot connection  also acts as a visual reminder to pupils that they should refer back to the question to build the answer, because most of the elements in the answer have already been shown in the question.


These diagrams work well in activities where pupils have to order words to build the answer to a given question. In the classroom I make posters of the cupboard and the pot. I also put the symbols onto cards and laminate them, so that I can stick them onto a surface (in my case a flannel board) and put the words for a specific sentence below them.








Once the pupils get used to the metaphor, the grammar concepts come to life and assume some meaning for them. Once the laminated symbols are made, they can also be stuck onto the board and used as headings under which pupils can be challenged to come up with as many words (in a given time limit) as they can to go under each. The cooking pot works for my pupils, but I’m sure many other teachers use different metaphors. I find that relating the grammar to a context they recognise helps my pupils to decode it, understand it and eventually produce it. Now they’re cooking with confidence!

Rocio Martín teachers at CEIP de Barrantes, Tomiño, Pontevedra.


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