October 6, 2022

“I love teaching English. There is so much more freedom and room for creativity than there is in maths. There are just less rules you know?”

No, I don’t know and it’s “fewer” not “less.”

There are a LOT of rules in English – it’s a very complex language. Of course, children need opportunities to be creative in their writing but they will seize those opportunities with more success if they are taught the basic conventions effectively as they go. So here you have it: my Room 101 of phrases heard in English lessons.

1. “Wow Words”

What’s a WOW word? I think the teachers who use this phrase mean “powerful language,” in which case I’d prefer they just said “powerful language.” WOW words often seem to be interpreted as “big” or “long” words which, when shoe-horned into writing makes it clunky and awkward. Arguably, the most powerful words in a wedding ceremony are “I do” which as individual words may not seem very significant but it’s about the context.

2. “Have you included adjectives?”

I don’t know when we came to consider the adjective the foundation of good writing. Endless lessons on describing settings and characters using adjectives have sent out the message to a generation of children that they need adjectives in every sentence. Oh and not just any old adjectives like old, big, small, hot, and cold. No, they need to be longer adjectives (I believe these are the aforementioned WOW words.), and the more the merrier. So we end up reading about the ancient, decrepit man and the boiling, scorching sun. One of my Year 5 pupils once wrote the sentence: “The big, grey elephant walked through the jungle.” I had to explain that, for most people, the word “elephant” immediately conjures up the image of a big grey animal that lives in a jungle. Unless the elephant in question is red and small the most effective way of describing an elephant is by using the word “elephant”.

3. “Use a comma when you need to take a short breath”

Please don’t use a comma when you need to take a short breath. What is a “short breath?” How MUCH shorter is it than the breath one should take when they see a full stop? My concern is that generations of children are unable to use sentence punctuation and also have irregular breathing patterns as a result of teachers telling them this. Please, for all our sakes, learn how to use a comma to link clauses and then teach your children to do it.

4. “Don’t forget to put a full stop at the end of your sentence”

The reason that child still doesn’t remember when to use full stops is that you haven’t taught them where the “end of a sentence” is. Teach them about clauses – children that can read can understand clauses.

5. “A verb is a doing word.”

No, it isn’t. Not all verbs are actions and teaching this to children causes difficulties when they come across a sentence like this: “The boy was happy with his present.” Am, are, is, and were, which are all forms of the verb be, are the most commonly used verbs in the English language, and yet children struggle to identify them because they don’t end in “ing” and can’t be performed in an English lesson.

Whilst we’re on the subject – please stop telling children adverbs are “ly” words. What about: straight, faster, close, tight, outside, inwards, too, quite, just, so… the list is endless.