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Grammar by Lucy Pollard

Updated: Oct 20, 2020

What it is, why it matters, and how it relates to SLT.

Grammar has been hitting the headlines recently. A new National Curriculum was introduced into schools in 2014. According to the government, this National Curriculum is “more challenging” and has introduced new standards in reading, maths, spelling, punctuation and grammar. This has led to a change in the way children are tested in school (these tests are also known as SATs).  As of the school year 2015 – 2016, children reaching the end of Key Stage 2 in Year 6 (aged 10 and 11) will take new tests, with a greater focus than previous years on a child’s abilities in grammar. All this has left many parents and people who work with children a bit worried. So what is grammar? And why does it matter? And what does all this have to do with Speech and Language Therapy?

Grammar means language structure. There are two main aspects to language structure – word order and word forms (some people would call these aspects syntax and morphology, but let’s not worry too much about that). Does that explain it? Probably not. Let’s look at some examples. Consider this sentence:

It is raining.

Now think about how you would turn that into a question. You’d probably do this:

Is it raining?

You’ve changed the word order by swapping around ‘it’ and ‘is’ to make a question. Excellent grammar skills! Now how about if you wanted to talk about the rain that happened yesterday. You might say this:

Yesterday, it was raining.

You have changed the word form by changing ‘is’ to ‘was’. It’s changed from a present tense form into a past tense form. Well done! More grammar! There are many ways in which we can change the structure of the language we use. When learning about grammar, it’s helpful to label up the different parts of language so that we can learn about them more easily. These labels include words like verbs, nouns, adjectives, pronouns, prefixes, suffixes and contracted forms. It’s a child’s knowledge and understanding of these sorts of terms that the new Key Stage 2 tests will look at.

All this matters because the structure of the language we use changes the meaning. A child who has difficulties with using grammar may struggle to get their meaning across. If a child says “it rain”, we can’t be sure if they are talking about it raining now, or a time when it rained on the way to school the other morning, or that they are worried that it will rain during football practice next Saturday. Children with these sorts of difficulties may find it difficult to tell their parents or carers about what they got up to at school that day, or to tell their teacher what their favourite thing was about their holiday. These difficulties may affect their ability to access the curriculum and they may need support in school, for example to help them with reading comprehension or with writing a narrative. A child who has severe difficulties in this area may struggle to communicate some of their basic wants and needs. So, grammar matters. There are a few structured approaches that Speech and Language Therapists can use to support children with difficulties with grammar (for example Shape Coding, Colourful Semantics, or Structure To Enable Meaningful Sentences (STEMS)). If you feel your child needs help in this area, you can refer them to your local Speech and Language Therapy service.

Lucy Pollard

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