Many curricula around the world are now requiring teachers and students to have a shared knowledge about language.
An explicit understanding of linguistic resources allows students to make powerful choices in a range of contexts. In this way, students are not only able to express the meanings they intend to make, but also begin to see that they can do even more than they first thought, to see that, like an artist, they can be most creative and forceful when they have control of the tools.
To help students recognise groupings that identify what’s happening, who or what is involved in that happening and the circumstances surrounding the happening, we can ask certain ‘generic’ questions that we can apply to any text that students have to read and write.
Identifying the groupings in a Procedure
Using a Procedure (eg a recipe) is a very good entry point for introducing students to this type of analysis because such texts involve actions and things that the students can see, touch and do themselves.
Take the following sentence: Sift flour and baking powder together into a bowl.
We can start by asking the students: “What action do we have to take?”. Here, we are trying to locate the process at the front of the sentence (‘Sift’). We could make the scaffolding stronger by covering all the words in the sentence with our hand except for the process at the front. If we then ask, ‘What word tells us what we have to do here?’, we are really limiting the response to the word ‘Sift’.
We can then ask ‘Sift what?’, which will give us the participant grouping ‘flour and baking powder’.
To identify the circumstantial groupings, we can ask the question ‘How should we sift the flour and baking powder?’, and we would get ‘together’. We can finish off by asking ‘Where should we sift the flour and baking powder’ and we would get ‘in the bowl’.
When you are working with students, it is strongly recommended that you keep asking these key questions to identify the various groupings. As the students get better at identifying the groupings, these scaffolding questions can be gradually withdrawn.
The power of colour coding
Colour coding is also important in helping students understand how these groupings work. Many teachers are now using the colours red, blue and green, together with the functional labels, to identify the function rather than the form:
- the green groupings are called processes (the ‘actions’) – they are expressed through verb groups
- the red groupings are called participants (the ‘who’ or the ‘what’) – they are expressed through noun and adjective groups
- the blue groupings are called circumstances (the ‘when’, ‘where’ ‘how’, ‘why’ and so on) – they are expressed through prepositional phrases and adverb groups.
Using our previous example, we get the following colour coding:
Sift flour and baking powder together into a bowl.