Grammar teaching has ‘negligible’ effect on story-writing – study

Pupils did not improve their narrative writing following a grammar teaching intervention, study finds.

02 March 2022

A new report suggests the national curriculum’s focus on teaching grammar may not help pupils to write more effectively.

A study funded by the Nuffield Foundation, and co-authored by researchers from UCL and the University of York, assessed whether Year 2 pupils’ writing improved after a grammar teaching intervention called Englicious.

The study involved 70 Year 2 teachers in 70 primary schools, and 1,736 pupils, with children’s writing assessed by a narrative writing test and a sentence generation test before and after the grammar intervention.

The researchers found that while the intervention helped pupils to generate sentences, it did not impact their ability to write stories, which it found to be “negligible”.

“The lack of effect on narrative writing is the main outcome of our research, and is consistent with previously published studies on grammar and writing at primary education level,” the paper says.

A smaller positive effect from the intervention was seen for how well pupils could generate sentences from two-word prompts, although the report adds that this was not statistically significant.

The researchers said that this was nonetheless an “encouraging finding, and not one that has been seen in previous research of grammar for writing approaches”, adding that pupils being able to generate more sentences was “regarded as a desirable aspect of learning to write”.

The paper recommends that the grammar requirements in the national curriculum for primary pupils should be reviewed to evaluate their appropriateness for improving pupils’ writing.

Professor Dominic Wyse (IOE, UCL’s Faculty of Education and Society), lead author, said: “The lack of impact of grammar teaching on pupils’ narrative writing raises questions about the extensive grammar specifications that are part of England’s national curriculum.”

“Currently, the content of England’s national curriculum requires children aged six to seven to be taught grammatical terms such as: noun phrase, statement, command, and tense,” he added.

“Older primary school children have to learn terms such as subordinate clause; adverbial; modal verb; active and passive.

“Although teachers praised the Englicious intervention for its hands-on and interactive approach, our results match other experimental trials which do not provide enough robust support for extensive grammar teaching as the best way to improve writing.”

Kevin Courtney, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said: “This report adds to the accumulating evidence that the National Curriculum for English stands on weak foundations.

“In January, a comprehensive review of the literature from UCL concluded that research evidence did not support the Government’s phonics-centred model for the teaching of reading.

“Now, the UCL/York research suggests the way that primary schools are required to teach grammar does not support children in their writing.”

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